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Ghada Amer is an acclaimed Egyptian avant-garde artist working in New York, and one of the best known Arab contemporary artists working in the West today.


Amer was born in 1963 in Cairo, Egypt, to a family of Muslim Egyptians. In 1974 her family moved to France, and she obtained a B.F.A. in 1986 and an M.F.A. in 1989 from École Pilote Internationale d’Art et de Recherche, Villa Arson, Nice, France. In 1991 she finished her studies at the Institut des Hautes Études en Arts Plastiques in Paris, and later studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. In 1996, she moved to New York. Three years later Amer was an artist-in-residence at The Art Institute in Chicago, and a recipient of a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) fellowship at the Venice Biennale in 1999. She currently is based in New York.


While traveling from France back to Egypt in 1988, Amer noticed how many more women were wearing veils, and also discovered the magazine Venus . It took photos of Western models and superimposed on them more conservative clothes, hairstyles, and veils, in order to depict the women in a more conservative, Islamically acceptable way. Inspired by the concept both of the odd juxtaposition of cultural attitudes toward women and the idea of superimposing one art medium onto another, she began experimenting with placing embroidery on top of paintings and photographs. For her, painting always has been a male-dominated art form, whereas embroidery long has been understood as belonging to the world of women. She chose to combine the two media, symbolically feminizing a male space. Amer works with textile installations, embroidery, and paintings, and insists on calling her works embroidered paintings, in defiance of a French male professor who refused to teach her the masculine art of painting.


Name: Ghada Amer

Birth: 1963, Cairo, Egypt; resident of New York

Nationality: Egyptian

Education: B.F.A., 1986, and M.F.A, 1989, École Pilote Internationale d’Art et de Recherche, France; Institut des Hautes en Plastiques, France, 1991; School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA


  • 1988: Sees a copy of Venus magazine, transforming her vision of her artwork
  • 1995: Featured at the Istanbul Biennale
  • 1996: Moves to New York
  • 1999: Artist-in-residence at The Art Institute in Chicago; recipient of a UNESCO fellowship at the Venice Biennale
  • 2000: Show at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, the first-ever solo show for an Arab artist at the museum
  • 2004: Show at the Modern Art Institute, Valencia, Spain
  • 2005: Paints “Knotty But Nice” (later featured on the cover of ARTNews in September 2006)
  • 2005: Global Feminisms show at the Brooklyn Museum
  • 2006: Show at the Gagosian Gallery, New York

Called terms such as institutional feminist and a post-feminist by some art critics, Amer’s work by and large deals with questions of women and sexuality. “All my work is about love, sexuality, the empowerment of women, it shows children with porn or erotic messages, because even when you are young, you are taught the same message, that one day the prince will come for you” she has said. She also has been quoted as saying, “The power of woman, I am fascinated by this power. Is it power or not power, what are the limits?” and “Feminism can be empowered by seduction.” (“Art or porn? Artists push boundaries in Singapore.” http://www.reuters.com.)

Amer has criticized feminism for squelching female sexuality in its reaction to male oversexualization of women. Some of her work undermines both the objectification of women in commercial male pornography, and the feminist reaction to it, by appropriating images from pornographic magazines and using them as the basis of paintings that assert the power of female sexuality. Works such as Colored Drips/Figures en Zigzag (2000), Waiting for J (1999–2000), Coulures Noires (2000), and KSKC (2005) depict women in various autoerotic positions, yet in an empowered manner. Such works revel in ambiguity. By deliberately employing images taken from pornographic magazines, what exactly is she saying about female sexuality, the objectification of women, and female empowerment? Adding to the confusing messages, Amer freely admits that the hardcore American pornographic publication Hustler is her favorite magazine.

Amer also has taken aim at dogmatic Islamic attitudes toward sexuality, and her attitudes and works dealing with female sexuality in particular are in part a reaction to growing Islamic conservatism in Egypt. Her 2001 work Encyclopedia of Pleasure was named after a medieval Arabic-language Islamic compendium of international literature about sexuality that has been banned in Islamic countries for centuries. Amer translated portions of it dealing with women’s pleasure into English, and stitched them onto fifty-seven zippered, canvas boxes that were strewn about the gallery floor.


Well known around the world for her confrontational artworks, Amer is one of the only Arab artists to achieve prominence in the field of international avant-garde artists. Her works have been featured in a number of one-person shows around the world, including at the Istanbul Biennale in 1995; Hanes Art Center, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill in 1996; Johannesburg Biennale in 1997; Espace Karim Francis, Cairo, in 1998; the Venice Biennale in 1999; the Institute of Visual Arts, Milwaukee, in 2000; The Short Century: Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa show in 2001; Ghada Amer: Reading Between the Threads show at the Henie Onstad Kunstcenter, Oslo, in 2002; Gagosian Gallery, Los Angeles, in 2002; the Indianapolis Museum of Art in 2003; the Looking Both Ways: Art of the Contemporary African Diaspora show in 2003; the Modern Art Institute, Valencia, Spain, in 2004; Gagosian Gallery, New York, in 2006; and the Global Feminisms show at the Brooklyn Museum in 2007.

In her native Egypt, some of her works are too provocative to be shown—public display or discussion of sexuality and nudity is not allowed—although she mounted a solo show at Espace Karim Francis in Cairo in 1998. Moreover, her 2000 show at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art in Israel—the first one-person show ever mounted by an Arab artist at the museum—was roundly condemned in Egypt by opponents of normalization of relations between Egypt and Israel.


Ghada Amer will be remembered as a major expatriate Egyptian feminist artist, one of the few to break into the ranks of the internationally known avant-garde artists.


Contemporary visual artist Shirin Neshat was born to a Muslim Iranian family on 26 March 1957, in Qazvin, Iran. She left Iran in 1974 to study art in the United States, and by 1982, had obtained a B.A., M.A., and M.F.A. from the University of California at Berkeley. She is now based in New York. Her works address the experience of being a woman in Islamic societies, and also deal with her personal angst of being an Iranian living in exile. Her photographic portraits of women overlaid with Persian calligraphy, especially in her 1993 to 1997 Women of Allah series, were highly acclaimed. So were her videos, including Turbulent (1998) and Rapture (1999). Rapture was produced by the Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont, and was well received at its worldwide avant-première at the Art Institute of Chicago in May 1999. In 1999, she gained even more international attention when she won the Golden Lion at the Biennale of Venice with the two aforementioned videos. In 2002, she was able to display her work in Iran for the first time: a two-screen video installation called Tooba . The Üniversität der Künste in Berlin awarded her an honorary professorship in 2004.

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