When initially seen from some distance, this work by Ghada Amer appears abstract; it recalls the paint drippings in the Abstract Expressionist canvases of Jackson Pollock, as well as the blending of foreground and background planes in American color-field paintings. Upon closer observation, however, it becomes clear that this work is not part of the modernist canon, and that it is not composed of purely abstract gestures. Rather, it contains colorfully embroidered, stereotyped images of women in autoerotic situations that were borrowed from pornographic magazines and copied onto the canvas. These female images are fragmented, duplicated, and ordered within a grid pattern. Swallowed up within the tangle of surplus embroidery threads as if they were bashfully hidden, they erupt back out with a kind of textural and calligraphic exuberance. Alternately appearing and disappearing, their existence flickers continuously between presence and absence.
By employing erotic female images conceived by men as objects of voyeurism, Amer participates in the contemporary feminist discourse on sexual and gender identity. The image of the domesticated, submissive woman who spends her time embroidering intersects here with another kind of submission - the compliance of women with commercialized eroticism and with femininity as seen from a male point of view. Amer’s statement is far removed from the militant tactics employed by an earlier generation of feminist artists. By contrast, her works may appear as merely decorative templates from which brutality has been entirely omitted, so that they exude the simplicity of folkloric craft objects; yet the traces of almost obsessive manual labor invested in the act of embroidery have a troubling effect on the viewer.
Ghada Amer - Coulures Colorées, 2000.