Emma Amos: The Story of Postmodernist African-American Artist
min Read13 February 2023
Emma Amos is a great example of how a female Black artist can confront racism and sexism in the art world. On May 20th, 2020, Amos left us at the age of 83. We want to honor her life and oeuvre by telling you her story, hoping it will inspire many others.
Emma Amos was born in 1937 in Atlanta, Georgia. Her parents, India De Laine Amos and Miles Green Amos owned a drug store and worked there. They had many connections within Atlanta’s Black intelligentsia though, including the writer Zora Neale Hurston and the sociologist and activist W. E. B. Du Bois.
At an early age Amos showed a great affinity for the arts and her parents encouraged her to strengthen it. When she was a little girl she created paper dolls and learned how to draw by herself. At 11 she took her first art lessons at Morris Brown College and, when she was in high school, the Atlanta University art shows included some of her works.
About her hometown and her childhood Amos stated:
Even though Atlanta and most cities during my youth were segregated, the arts, schools, and smart creative people were beacons of light. The city was a good place for black people with big dreams, and it continues to be a major site for black colleges, businesses, artists, and political figures. It is important to me to point out that both of my college-educated parents had fathers who were born slaves. This was a good reason for my brother, Larry, and me to believe that we had to continue to excel, as our family had done under much more difficult circumstances.
Emma Amos, Artist’s website.
After she graduated at 17, Emma Amos started studying painting, printmaking, and textile design at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. In her fourth year, she went to the Central School of Art in London. There she mastered the techniques of printing, etching, and also began painting with oils.
After her first exhibition at Alexander Gallery in Atlanta, Amos moved to New York in 1960 in order to join a more stimulating art scene. However, in the Big Apple, she didn’t find the open-minded, progressive environment she was looking for. She couldn’t find a job or exhibit her works because art galleries, studios, and colleges rejected her based on her age, gender, or the color of her skin.
But Amos didn’t give up. She found a job as an assistant at the Dalton School, where she finally had the chance to meet artists from the East Hampton art scene.
Then she worked with textile designer Dorothy Liebes and this time as a weaver and designer made her fall in love with fabrics. In fact, we can see the technique of mixing painting and fabrics in many of her pieces.