“Emma Amos: Color Odyssey” Exhibition Showcases Works by Trailblazing African American Artist at MWPAI
May. 24 2021

“Emma Amos: Color Odyssey” Exhibition Showcases Works by Trailblazing African American Artist at MWPAI

Bold mixed-media paintings by a trailblazing artist who challenged society regarding race, gender, and privilege will be showcased in Emma Amos: Color Odyssey,” on view June 19 through September 12 in the Museum of Art, Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute. 

“Emma Amos: Color Odyssey” is a major retrospective of the artist’s distinguished six-decade career. The exhibition features more than 60 artworks Amos created from 1958 to 2015.

Though Amos is best known for her large-scale paintings incorporating African fabrics, she also embraced multiple types of materials, innovative printmaking techniques and photo-transfer, weaving, and collage. Her compositions reveal personal narratives about art, historical figures, and the representation of people of color, particularly women. Amos combined her interests in painting, printmaking, weaving, and collage into vibrant stories that present a layered understanding of what it meant to be a woman and artist of color during the era of Civil Rights and the feminist movements of the past 50 years.

Like many women, especially for women of her generation, Amos kept a demanding schedule as a wife, mother, artist, and art professor, while being a powerful voice for social change. Later in her life, Amos eventually revealed she was a member of the “Guerrilla Girls,” a group of anonymous women artists advocating for parity in the art world through activism and protest. In a 2011 interview, Amos reflected, “It was tough…But I did it, you know. I just felt like it was necessary.” 

Amos was interested in art from a young age in her hometown of Atlanta, GA, even though segregation prevented her from being able to fully enjoy and experience the arts in museums and other public “separate-but-equal” spaces. “Emma Amos: Color Odyssey” demonstrates her presence and growth as an artist, and highlights the social change for which Amos fought so vigorously. Amos had an activist’s spirit throughout her career. As a young artist in New York City, she was the only woman in Spiral, a group of Black artists who came together to examine their relationship with art and activism. Amos did not like separating “Black” art from all other art; being Black was a political statement, but she wanted to address various issues including race, gender, class, and power within the art world and in society as a whole. Amos actively fought against male chauvinism in the art world and evolved as a feminist artist sensitive to the nuances of race, age, and class-oriented politics of her time through her teaching at Rutgers University and writing, but most importantly, through her art.

A companion exhibition, “Call & Response: Collecting African American Art,” on view June 19 through November 28, explores the Munson-Williams Museum of Art’s efforts to diversify its collection during the past 30 years. Included in the exhibition are works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Romare Bearden, Robert Blackburn, Lorna Simpson, Dread Scott, Kara Walker, and Carrie Mae Weems. “Call & Response” will be interpreted by seven community commenters who will contribute a collection of responses to the art via a multi-media app, using music, personal history, and comparative works of art.

“Emma Amos: Color Odyssey” is organized by Shawnya L. Harris, Larry D. and Brenda A. Thompson Curator of African American and African Diasporic Art, the Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia. Remarking on the exhibition, Harris observed, “Amos is one of several Black women artists whose contribution to art history deserves attention and critique. Putting together several decades worth of her work provides a special opportunity to learn more about her career, techniques, and ideas, inviting re-evaluation and new audiences in relation to her artistic progression.” Amos died in May 2020, but her legacy lives on in the art she created and the contributions she made to a better society. 

The Georgia Museum of Art has published a scholarly exhibition catalog to accompany the show, with essays by Harris; Lisa Farrington of Howard University; artist LaToya Ruby Frazier; Laurel Garber, Park Family Assistant Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art; artist Kay Walkingstick; and Phoebe Wolfskill, associate professor in the departments of American studies and African American and African Diaspora studies at Indiana University.

Exhibition admission is free to Munson-Williams members and SNAP/EBT cardholders. There is also free admission on Sundays for all City of Utica residents. General admission is $12 adults and $6 students. Children 12 and under are free.

“Emma Amos: Color Odyssey” is sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Willson Center for Humanities and Arts, the W. Newton Morris Charitable Foundation and the Friends of the Georgia Museum of Art.

At Munson-Williams, lead sponsor is Gilroy, Kernan & Gilroy Insurance; associate sponsors are Elizabeth R. Lemieux, Ph.D.; Alan and Linda Vincent: and The M&T Bank/Partners Trust Bank Charitable Fund, a donor-advised fund of the Community Foundation.