Subversive Seamstress


With precise stitches and neatly embroidered rows, Ghada Amer interweaves politics, feminism, sexuality and anti-war ideologies into her work. The first American career survey of her work, Love Has No End, is up at the Brooklyn Museum through October. The show comprehensively examines each stage in the artist’s development.

Amer, Egyptian by birth, is best known for inserting herself into the historically white male domain of abstract expressionism with needlepoint, a feminine craft. The artist makes abstract paintings by sewing thread onto canvas and letting the long filaments hang along the surface of the painting, where they tangle together in a multicolored snarl. Oftentimes the canvas is first painted with abstract swaths of color or embroidered with scenes of female autoeroticism.

Amer has also embarked on projects that span designing a peace garden filled with carnivorous plants and then staging a performance where guests at the opening were invited to feed the hungry shrubs a meal of flies and worms to installing letter-shaped sandboxes in a Barcelonan parking lot that spelled out a feminist call to arms: Today 70% of the Poor in the World are Women.

She explores women’s roles in fairy tales and pop culture through her drawings, paintings and sculpture, and also makes pieces that unflinchingly discuss terrorism, race and politics. One installation involved a room wallpapered in a bright pink, yellow and green pattern. Written in small type, over the entire surface of the paper, were the English definitions of terror and terrorism. A table setting was laid out adjacent to the walls with a message for the viewer left on the plate: there is no definition or word for terrorism in the Arabic language.

Commingling the genteel occupation of needlework with forceful and thought-provoking themes and concerns, Amer is not reticent about getting her point across, no matter how taboo. She proves that in overturning historical or gender biases, and pointing out conundrums in politics and sexuality, a woman’s work is never done.

(Ghada Amer (Egypt, b. 1963) Barbie Loves Ken, Ken Loves Barbie, 1995-2004 Embroidery on cotton (Each): 70 7/8 x 27 9/16 x 4 in. (180 x 70 x 10.2 cm) Copyright Ghada Amer. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery.)

Get the latest Travel & Culture stories in your inbox.