Emma Amos

1937Atlanta, United States 
 | 2020Bedford, United States 

Emma Amos — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Portrait of Emma Amos in her studio, 1990s, © DR

American painter, printmaker and weaver.

Born 1937 to two successful Black parents, a pharmacist and a business manager, Emma Amos was raised in Atlanta, Georgia where she began painting and drawing at the age of six. After a combination of self-teaching and formal instruction, she enrolled in a five-year professional art programme at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. In her fourth year she studied abroad at London Central School of Art, where she majored in etching. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts from Antioch in 1958, she returned to London to receive a diploma the following year. Upon returning to the United States in 1960, E. Amos began showing work at Alexander Gallery in Atlanta. She relocated to New York that year, where she worked as an assistant teacher and a weaver in the studio of renowned textile designer, Dorothy Liebes (1897-1972).
While studying for a master’s degree in art education at New York University, E. Amos joined the Spiral group – an active collective of African-American artists led by veteran artist Romare Bearden (1911-1988), committed to exploring questions of political engagement and formal innovation. The youngest and sole female in Spiral, she was heavily influenced by the group’s members. By the time she received her master’s degree in 1966, however, the group had dissolved. She and her husband, Bobby Levine, had two children during this time, and she raised them while she continued working as a designer, illustrator and weaver. E. Amos enjoyed a long teaching career – first teaching at the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Art and later, at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, where she served as a tenured professor until her retirement in 2008.

E. Amos was no stranger to the difficulties of navigating the art world as a Black woman. While her work from the 1960s and 1970s focused on themes of Black middle-class domestic life drenched in colour and abstract forms (Flower Snifer, 1996), later works revealed a greater emphasis on selfhood and identity with an experimental approach to materials. Openly confronting and complicating issues such as racial ambiguity, Blackness and womanhood, her work was highly political in relation to the white- and male-dominated art world. She would go on to write for feminist journal Heresies, co-founded by Lucy Lippard, as a member of the New York based Heresies collective in 1984, later becoming involved with other art centric feminist groups such as the Guerrilla Girls.

Although long recognized as an expansive artist and thinker, E. Amos has only recently gained a mainstream museum audience, coinciding with the last years of her life, with the inclusion of her work in the major exhibitions Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, initiated by the Tate Modern, London, and We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965-85, initiated by the Brooklyn Museum in 2017. In 2018 her work was featured in the show Histórias Afro-Atlânticas at the Museu de Arte de Saõ Paulo and the Tomi Ohtake Institute, both in Saõ Paulo, Brazil. She was also celebrated with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Women’s Caucus for Art, USA, in 2008. The first career retrospective of her work took place in 2021: Emma Amos: Color Odyssey, organised by Shawnya Harris, the Larry D. and Brenda A. Thompson Curator of African American and African Diasporic Art at the Georgia Museum of Art in Athens, Georgia.

JaBrea Patterson-West 

A notice produced as part of the TEAM international academic network: Teaching, E-learning, Agency and Mentoring

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