Professor Jennifer Borland’s Gender in Visual Culture seminar recently studied the Femfolio, a portfolio of prints by artists whose work was central to the feminist movement of the 1970s created at the Brodsky Center for Innovative Editions. This week’s post is adapted from a paper by undergraduate student Kristen Brown, who investigated Emma Amos’s 2006 print, Identity.
The digital print with hand lithography by Emma Amos titled Identity raises questions of race, culture and personal identification. This print is part of a portfolio of prints called “Femfolio” that features contemporary art of twenty women that took part in the feminist art movement of the 1970s. Amos creates a blend of symbols and textures in Identity that invites the viewer to explore what makes each of us unique through the vehicles of race, culture and facets of our beings.
A strong, proud woman stares unapologetically out at the viewer. A dark line that follows the topography of the face splits it nearly in half. It is this line that draws the most attention to the separate facets of the face, almost creating an illusion of two distinct faces. The left face has a darker skin tone and is in profile, the gaze cast towards the viewer from the corner of her eye. The right side of the face is a much lighter skin tone and when considered separately from the left half, seems to be at a three-quarter angle, looking at the viewer.
Amos depicted the woman making eye contact with the viewer from both sides in order to create a cohesive expression that works as a single face. Textural, drawn lithography lines distinguish sections of the face. The cheekbones, forehead, chin, sides of the cheeks and neck each have a few directional lines that flatten the facial planes. These angular planes, combined with the varying points of view, seem to draw inspiration from the basic ideals of cubism. However, her more traditional modeling of values and colors to create a sense of three-dimensionality within the subject breaks away from a flattened, angular cubist style.
The way in which the face is divided in half with two skin tones prompts the question: Is this piece about being biracial? The two faces can stand-alone or blend to create a single, cohesive face and expression. Despite being made up of two separate faces, the over all impression is unity. Not unlike a person being biracial, that may still feel, for example, wholly American. In an essay for Art Journal, Amos explains “By the way, I have no use for the term African-American, even if it does slip out of my mouth on occasion. Being parts African, Cherokee, Irish, Norwegian, and God knows what else, I refuse to cede the high status of being un-hyphenated American to people who hide their hyphens behind whiteness or those who came to these shores way after my ancestors did” (Amos, Emma, “Contemporary Feminism: Art Practice, Theory, and Activism–An Intergenerational Perspective,” Art Journal, Vol. 58, no. No. 4 (1999): p 9). Amos, being multiracial herself, categorizes herself as American first and foremost.
Parted at the line that creates the two faces, voluminous hair flows out. The bulk of the hair is created with a variety of painted line styles. The colors within the hair include deep blue, bright and muted yellows, splashes of red and orange, hints of green and a deep maroon. The lines vary from thin—not much thicker than the mark a Sharpie would make—to bold, thick brush strokes. Some lines are short while others run the length of the woman’s face. Within the hair are various shapes and symbols done with lithography, giving them a more textural drawn quality. These symbols include planets, musical notations, plants, hands, lips, eyes, short drawn lines and decorative circles.
These symbols are both cultural and natural, perhaps woven together to create an understanding of individual identity within the world. Individuality is created as the individual picks and chooses what broader part of the world and culture is important to them. The two fingers almost touching most commonly conjure up memories of Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam. This symbol could be about the importance of art, art history or even religion. There are plants and leaves that could symbolize the environment and nature. A hand placed on top of a plant stem could relate to conservation. The viewer’s individuality is also echoed in this way, each person being drawn to specific symbols and the importance they could mean to them personally.
Amos is creating a dialogue for individuality and yet simultaneously unity in Identity. The illusion of two faces that also create one cohesive face speaks to heritage and race, but also the belief that despite that, people are not so different. She also incorporates symbols that speak to a broader world and cultural impact, yet the viewer is able to pick and choose what symbols they want to focus on, reinforcing their own individuality and identity within this network of possibilities. Identity allows the viewer to explore the concept of identity both within themselves and how we see others.