|Emma Amos "Tightrope" 1994 Private Collection|
This piece, Tightrope, shows the tricky balance of being an artist and a woman and black, in a profession and a tradition that has been typically male and white. Amos has commented that she was originally drawn to the paintings of Gauguin, who was one of the only painters depicting "beautiful brown women." (from, Creating Their Own Image.) As she learned more about Gauguin's notorious misogny her admiration for the French artist began to be displaced by feelings of grief and commiseration for his 13 year old Tahitian "bride" to whom she refers in the corner pieces of this multi-media piece,. The same pose is also caricatured in the printed tee shirt carried by the central figure, obviously for personal wear as needed. The central figure is of course Amos herself, navigating the tightrope act of being female, an artist and a person of color. Her costume, partially cloaked, is a cheeky nod to the cartoon character Wonder Woman, whose superhuman powers are needed to successfully carry off such a difficult feat. I suggest too that the artist is very obliquely referencing beauty. Along with her other attributes of strength and agility and intelligence, Wonder Woman also had the gift of stunning personal beauty. In the real world, beauty can be a source of some power, but can sometimes be a drawback as well, which I believe is the reason for the artist partially concealing her own beauty with a ragged black coat.
Amos seems to have managed the balancing act of life highly successfully. She and her late husband were married for over forty years, and raised two children. While her family was young she focused on textile arts such as quilting, weaving and sewing. In 1980 she began teaching at Rutgers University, receiving tenure in 1992 and continuing to teach there until her retirement from academia in 2008. She has received many honors and fellowships, including the Pollock-Krasner Grant and a Yaddo Artist Residency. Her work is in the collection of the Library of Congress (USA), the National Gallery of Art (USA) and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, as well as numerous other public and private collections world-wide. She maintains an active studio practice and is represented by Flomenhaft Gallery in NYC. The artist's website can be seen here.