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Obsessed with ‘Love’

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There’s one feminist in Brooklyn who isn’t stumping for Hillary. Ghada Amer, a well-known artist whose first retrospective in the United States opened at the Brooklyn Museum on Feb. 16, focuses on the roles of women in her artwork, but thinks that Mrs. Clinton has already bungled her job.

“She voted for the war,” Amer told GO Brooklyn the day before the primary elections, “and I will never forget that.”

Equally unforgettable will be the work that Amer is exhibiting at the museum’s Sackler Center for Feminist Art.

While best known for canvases with erotically charged images stitched onto them, the exhibit of Amer’s work — called “Love Has No End” — will feature rarely shown sculpture, drawings, garden projects and more.

Working with Amer, 45, on a monograph of her work, curator Maura Reilly said, “I began to see this tremendous complexity and breadth to her work that I realized a lot of people didn’t have access to, because it’s not what museums and galleries have emphasized. What a great opportunity for the museum to show this work.”

Comprised of 50 pieces of art, “Love Has No End” covers the Sackler Center’s familiar ground of women’s issues — Amer’s work was included in the Center’s inaugural show — but also touches on the identity of Muslim women. In pieces like “I Y Paris,” a photo of Amer and two friends wearing burqas in front of the Eiffel Tower, the artist challenges viewers with a narrow view of how Muslim women live their lives.

“I don’t have messages, I just have things that concern me: Women, the war, injustice,” said Amer, an Egyptian-born Muslim who lives and works in Manhattan and Paris. “These are old concerns for me. I did the burqas in 1997 and no one was doing that.”

It’s this fearlessness and unique vision that Reilly felt would make Amer a hit with the Sackler Center’s audience.

“I think Ghada’s absolutely a feminist,” Reilly said. “We’re very interested in looking at the ways in which feminist art is manifest visually from a global perspective. I think this is a really interesting way to look at contemporary feminism.”

Pieces like “Barbie Loves Ken, Ken Loves Barbie,” two straightjackets embroidered obsessively with its title — “It’s a wild sculpture about love, desire, pain and an obsessive nature,” said Reilly — and “La Femme,” an embroidered and painted canvas that depicts a woman ironing, incorporate aspects of crafts into high art, making a self-reflexive glance at “women’s work.”

And while “Love Has No End” looks at selections of Amer’s work from 1988–2008, a number of what Reilly said are the most poignant pieces have been created in the past few years.

“People who know her work really well will be surprised in the show to see a lot of her anti-war work,” said Reilly. “Post 9-11, she’s done a lot of work that has been pro-peace and anti-war. It’s been difficult for any Muslim living in this country, so she’s made some garden pieces and some paintings that have dealt with ideas about terrorism.

“We have a big installation called ‘The Reign of Terror’ which [is] really moving. It involves wallpaper…it’s a huge wall that has hundreds of definitions of the words ‘terror,’ ‘terrorism’ and ‘terrorized.’ It’s really unique and offers a great breadth of this brilliant mind.”

And as for Amer, she’s pleased to exhibit her wide-ranging works together, giving viewers a better idea of her work as a whole.

“An artist can do different types of work,” she said. “I would like for people to know that I do other things: sculpture, painting, gardening. It’s a lot of the same stuff but in other mediums. I have shown these pieces separately, but I have never shown them [together]. They’ve always been scattered.”

Now that they’re all together, what does the artist hope the whole will communicate that its separate parts might not?

“Art cannot do anything to stop injustice,” Amer said. “I’m not pretending that I can change lives; otherwise I would be a politician or revolutionary. I’m just saying how I feel about the world.”

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