On Two / from the series Face It, 2001
Amalia Amaki, American, born 1949
image: 19 15/16 × 12 1/2 in. (50.6 × 31.8 cm) sheet: 23 1/16 × 17 in. (58.6 × 43.2 cm)
Gift of Paul R. Jones in honor of the African American Art Advisory Association at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Habits of Mind
- OBSERVE DETAILS Observe details / time to think and reflect
Discussion through works of art encourage how to approach ambiguous and complex ideas, thoughts, and feelings. The MFAH offers a democratic space where students and teachers can develop, practice and articulate these habits of mind. Remember that the quality of the conversation is what is important, not finding the artist’s “answer.” Slow down and take the time to make careful observations. Talk about what you notice, and try to avoid jumping to conclusions and interpretations. Be sure to give enough time for silent looking and thinking.
Connecting to the Work of Art
Amalia Amaki is an accomplished artist, curator, writer, art critic, and teacher. Her work focuses on photography and mixed media. Born and raised in Atlanta, Amaki received bachelor’s degrees in journalism and psychology from Georgia State University; a bachelor’s degree in photography from the University of New Mexico; and a master’s degree in modern American and European art, as well as a doctorate in 20th-century American art and culture, from Emory University. She has taught art history at Spelman College, Morehouse College, the Atlanta College of Art, and the University of Delaware. In addition to her work as an artist and educator, Amaki has worked as an art critic and contributing writer for magazines such as Art Papers and Southern Homes, both published in Georgia. Her art is also featured in the permanent collections of several museums, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the High Museum of Art in Atlanta; and the Tubman Museum in Macon, Georgia.
Amaki is known for assembling and manipulating photographs of people both known and unknown to her. These images are often combined with found objects, such as fabric, buttons, sheet music, gloves, and fans. On Two is an example of Amaki’s use of photography to create art that is suggestive of family ties and connections, whether real or fictional. As the artist explains, “I can get attached to photos even if I don’t know the person. It doesn’t take much for me to feel related to someone.” This work, like others from the Face It series, combines the familiar with the fantastic to create imagery that embraces and celebrates African-American family, culture, and life.
The original photograph used to create On Two depicts two young African-American children dressed in costume, posing as if in the middle of a delightful dance. The girl wears a whimsical Sunday hat and holds a splayed fan just behind the head of her dance partner, a young boy wearing tights. A photograph of a large pair of purple gloves is superimposed on the foreground of the picture, while photos of parts of faces float across the background. The girl’s cummerbund and shoes have been painted red. The inclusion of a fan is characteristic of Amaki’s work and stems from her childhood. Local companies would advertise their products on the fans they distributed to African-American churches, which could not afford air-conditioning to combat the hot Georgia summers. Amaki would play with these fans in the church she attended with her mother. The artist has stated that much of her art is derived from memories of her childhood.
Amaki’s work uses an assemblage of old photographs and found objects. Her subject matter pays homage to the experiences of African-American men, women, and children, while also addressing misconceptions about their lives. Amaki’s art demonstrates that if we refuse to accept everything we are taught, then we become open to seeing things in a more enlightened way. “I’m not interested in depicting anger or blacks as victims,” Amaki has explained. “I prefer to show the positive side—to talk about normalcy.” By incorporating images and objects that recall memories of childhood, family, and the everyday, Amaki’s work transcends the issues of race and addresses a universal need for the familiar.
- Look closely at the two central figures. Who are they? What are they doing at the moment of the photograph? What are they feeling?
- Now, look closely at the elements surrounding them. What do you see? How has Amaki presented these elements? What might they symbolize?
- How did the artist make this artwork? Look closely and determine all different techniques she may have used.
- What are the visual commonalities between the central figures and the surrounding elements? Look for shapes, colors, patterns, or other elements that repeat throughout the composition.
- Do you think that these are people that the artist knew, or not? Why?
- How would this work be different if it was in another medium, such as only painting or only photography? What mood would it have?
- Consider the title of this work and the title of the series to which it belongs. Do these titles help explain what you see? Why or why not? What do they reveal about Amaki’s intentions?
- Amaki uses photographs of people both known and unknown to her. What do you think she is saying about the two children in this work?
• Amaki’s work makes use of symbolism in its photographic imagery and in its use of fans, gloves, and cutouts of photographs. What is a symbol? What do the images in this work symbolize?
• What is Amaki saying about the African-American experience? Research artists such as Aaron Douglas and Elizabeth Catlett. What does their work say about this theme?
• Amaki is influenced by experiences and events from her childhood. Look at this image. What type of experience do you think would have inspired On Two?
• Can you think of any childhood experiences that might inspire a work of art? How would you convey your ideas? What medium would you use? Would you employ symbolism? Explain or make a sketch of your ideas.
Resources Available to Order
The Learning Through Art program is endowed by Melvyn and Cyvia Wolff.
The Learning Through Art curriculum website is made possible in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
All Learning and Interpretation programs at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, receive endowment income from funds provided by the Louise Jarrett Moran Bequest; Caroline Wiess Law; the William Randolph Hearst Foundation; The National Endowment for the Humanities; the Fondren Foundation; BMC Software, Inc.; the Wallace Foundation; the Neal Myers and Ken Black Children’s Art Fund; the Favrot Fund; and Gifts in honor of Beth Schneider.