at PEM

Ghada Amer and Sarah Erving

French Kiss, 2003, Ghada Amer Sarah Erving Sampler


Caption (Left Image): French Kiss, 2003, Ghada Amer, acrylic and embroidery on canvas, Courtesy of the artist and Deitch Projects, New York
Caption (Right Image): Sarah Erving, PEM

In French Kiss by Ghada Amer and in Sampler by Sarah Erving the artists composed their embroidered pieces using rhythmically repeated linear and spatial elements to convey their ideas about female identity in their respective lives.
In Sampler, Sarah Erving created horizontal bands of pattern in undulating lines across the work using a single stitch called the cross-stitch which never varies in size. The lines created by the stitches vary in width, color and shape and the patterns they create vary in height and embellishment, creating a rhythmic progression that moves the viewer’s eye across and around the piece. Although Erving limited herself to one stitch, she used it in different combinations to create varied lines and shapes. She organized the whole space of her composition with attention to each element’s relation to the whole as well as to the other elements. It is interesting to note that the design is symmetrical with just one variation near the top. Whether the offset of the second band was intended or not, it gives energy to the piece.
In French Kiss, Amer chose to embroider, on a stretched and painted canvas, a diagonally repeated motif of faces in profile about to kiss. The faces are difficult to see at first. What appear to be paint drips are actually thread ends that would be concealed in a traditional needle work. Amer left them hanging down on the front of the piece covering the embroidered broken outlines of the kissing faces motif. Like Erving, Amer limited her embroidery to just one stitch, choosing the running stitch. The short-spaced lines of this simple, straight stitch and the long, sinuous lines of the dangling thread tails create related linear rhythms that balance the diagonal rhythmic arrangement of the faces motif and the patches of red and blue.


Ghada Amer was born in Egypt in 1963, studied art in France and the U.S., and now lives and works in New York City. She has an international reputation and has participated in major art shows around the world. In the early 1990s her installations and paintings began to address the position of women in relation to Islamic fundamentalism, but in so doing she raised questions about the position of women in the West.  Although her work began with images of Muslim women, Amer states that it is “is intended to speak to both sides, to every side. I speak to both Muslim and non-Muslim, to women and to men as well.”
Amer was trained as a painter but taught herself to embroider because it is perceived as a female craft. She says, “… at some point I replaced the pencil by the needle. I thought it was the best way to speak about women.” While acknowledging the needlework of women like Sarah Erving and evoking the gender association attached to sewing, Amer has released it from the confines of perfection that young girls like Sarah were required to meet by leaving the threads dangling from the piece. The tangle of lines created by the threads initially engages the viewer, who then discovers the diagonally repeated motif of faces.

Related Web Links: 1 |2 
Samplers, also called sams or exemplars, were needle works recording a selection of different stitches, designs and often, but not always, verses, dates and the artist’s name.
If a verse figured into the design, samplers were viewed as moral or religious teaching tools, and in general they gave the artist practice with stitches, letters and numbers. They also served as reference works for future sewing projects and were proof of the artist’s skill and her suitability for marriage. Samplers were part of every Western female child’s education in femininity in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Very young girls were expected to produce perfect works, removing stitches to correct any mistakes and to incrementally improve their skills by attempting ever larger and more difficult projects.
Sarah Erving’s Sampler includes a portrayal of two men carrying a gigantic bunch of grapes on a pole – a motif that references a biblical story in Numbers 13 about Caleb and Joshua returning from spying on the land of Canaan for Moses and the Israelites. The giant grapes they bring back are intended as proof of the extraordinary abundance of the Promised Land. 
Painted with Thread The Art of American Embroidery by Paula Bradstreet Richter, published by the Peabody Essex Museum
Plain & Fancy - American Women and their Needlework, 1700-1850 by Susan Burrows Swan
The Subversive Stitch – Embroidery and the Making of the Feminine by Rozsika Parker
Sarah Erving (1737 -1817) was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the daughter of merchant mariner John Erving and Abigail Phillips. Shortly after her marriage to Samuel Waldo he commissioned her portrait from John Singleton Copley.

Art Elements and Principles
Six art elements can be thought of as the building blocks artists use in forming an art work. Seven art principles that organize the “blocks” can be thought of as the construction methods.

Elements - The building blocks
1. LINE A mark/stoke longer than it is wide: straight/curved, horizontal, vertical, diagonal, and thick/thin.
2. COLOR What we see when light is reflected or absorbed by surfaces: saturated/diluted and warm/cool.
3. VALUE (Luminance) Degree of lightness or darkness of colors: tint(light)/shade(dark)
4. TEXTURE Appearance of surfaces both represented (2D) or physical (3D): smooth/rough, glossy/flat, undulating/jagged, and transparent/opaque.
5. SHAPE (2D) FORM (3D) Area defined by lines, colors, values and textures: geometric/organic, soft/hard and sharp/smooth.
6. SPACE Distance or area between lines or shapes: deep/shallow, crowded/empty, and grounded/floating.

Principles - The construction method
1. UNITY Each element in art work is necessary, none can be left out with out changing the work significantly.
2. BALANCE Even distribution/arrangement of elements in an art work.
3. DOMINANCE One element is given more importance than other elements in an art work.
4. REPETITION Use of an element(s) more than once in more than one way in an art work.
5. RYTHYM Arrangement in an art work of element(s) in an ordered sequence to create/suggest motion.
6. CONTRAST Use of opposite elements (see parings above) in close proximity.
7. VARIATION Incremental changes in any element(s), especially a dominant element in an art work.
Cross Stitch is a simple and ancient double stitch in the form of an X that has been used worldwide. Since it was also the predominant stitch used for marking clothing, household linen and samplers it is also known as “marking stitch.”
Running Stitch is a small, straight stitch evenly spaced creating a dashed line that is used for seaming, darning, quilting, gathering and decoration. In a common variation, the artist fills in the spaces of the first line with a second stitch, creating a solid line.

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