"Woman is that who is always hidden" - Ghada Amer, 2004
In Ghada Amer's exquisite work, Eight Women in Black and White, images of partially dressed women loom into view through a veil of delicate tracery lines which, ostensibly, seek to protect the women from the male gaze. In this way the present work cuts to the very heart of Amer's oeuvre and deals with the contradictions inherent in the depiction of women in a modern, multi-ethnic culture.
Eight Women in Black and White relates directly to Amer's experiences during her frequent visits to her homeland. Discussing her journeys to Egypt, which she has found has become increasingly conservative in the years since she left, she comments: "When I go home, I feel so conscious of my body, every time, conscious of the relationship to the body of everything I wear. Everything is so hidden that if you have a finger out, it becomes the focus of sexuality." She rebels at this constraint, and her pictures are "a vengeance against this" (G. Amer, quoted in L. Auricchio, "Works in translation: Ghada Amer's hybrid pleasures - needlework art pieces," Art Journal, Winter 2001).
As well as challenging social norms with the pictorial nature of her work, Amer also uses the medium as part of her message. Her unique style is the result of her wanting to try and find what she describes as a woman's way of painting. The result came from her chance discovery of a western magazine in Egypt which was described as a "Special Edition for Veiled Women," in which all the images of western women had altered by the addition of veils, sometimes hats and the lengthening of their skirts and sleeves. As a result Amer began playing with the idea of collage to alter the context of her women, "I cut all the patterns that came with the magazine, did collages, etc...and one day I got the idea to just replace the pencil with needle and thread. It was the women's tool "par excellence". ." (G. Amer quoted in T. Millet, ibid, p. 32). By executing a substantial part of the work in needlework - a traditionally female occupation - she subverts both the image and message by using a technique that has been traditionally used to subjugate women the world over. At the same time, she wanted to explore the possibilities of combining traditional male and female modes of expression, "To me painting is a male tool; it was invented by men and has been used by them for centuries (That is OK, I love painting!!) And embroidery is a woman's tool. It is tedious, time consuming, and fragile. So I wanted to put both languages together." (G. Amer quoted in T. Millet, ibid, p. 32). The result is a rich and multi-layered work that resonates with both aesthetic beauty and political integrity.