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Amalia Amaki: Boxes, Buttons and the Blues
Amalia Amaki, Blue Lady, detail, 2004, color photograph,
28" x 30".

WASHINGTON, DC.-The ladies sing the blues and jazz this summer in Women & Blues, two exhibitions that prominently feature women from these American musical genres. Amalia Amaki: Boxes, Buttons and the Blues, featuring 80 mixed-media works by renowned artist Amalia Amaki, draws influence from sources as varied as singer Billie Holiday and surrealist photographer Man Ray. Women in Blues and Jazz, an ancillary exhibition, is comprised of approximately 45 photographs of female blues and jazz performers from the 1920s through the 1950s. Together these exhibitions create a summer of Women & Blues and heat up the National Museum of Women in the Arts from June 10 through September 25, 2005. A press preview for Women & Blues is scheduled for Wednesday, June 8, 2005 from 10 a.m. to noon.

Amalia Amaki: Boxes, Buttons and the Blues - Amalia Amaki: Boxes, Buttons and the Blues, a mixed-media exhibition presented chronologically in three thematic sections, features photographs, quilts, souvenir fans, mixed media works, and digitally manipulated photographs. Incorporating fabric, beads, pearls, buttons, paint, and glitter, Amaki, in many of her works, turns found objects, photographs, and quilts into playful visual puns. Her beaded and button encrusted heart-shaped candy boxes, for example, are full of tempting faux chocolates made from brown buttons.

A mid-career retrospective, this exhibition examines the breadth of Amalia Amaki’s (b. 1949) work spanning more than three decades. Drawing from such sources as blues music, photography, familial history, and American heritage, Amaki’s work challenges traditional views of African American culture and focuses on positive images of African American life – love, loyalty, pride, and strength. Amaki’s work examines the cultural contributions that black people continually make in America as well as addresses cultural issues relevant to African American life.

Amalia Amaki is an artist, art historian, curator, and scholar of American art and culture. Perhaps best known for mixed media quilts that celebrate the lives of African American women blues singers and button-encrusted cyanotypes, Amaki is also recognized for commissions completed for Atlanta Hartsfield Airport, Absolut Vodka, and Seagram’s Gin. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Georgia State University, a Bachelor’s degree in photography and painting from the University of New Mexico, and a Doctorate from the Graduate Institute of Liberal Arts at Emory University. Currently she is the Curator of the Paul R. Jones Collection and Assistant Professor in Art, Art History, and Black American Studies at the University of Delaware. Her work is in the permanent collections at numerous museums including the High Museum of Art (Atlanta, GA), the Museum of Fine Arts (Houston, TX), the Minnesota Museum of Art, Emory University (Atlanta, GA), and the Spelman College Museum of Fine Arts (Atlanta, GA).

Amalia Amaki: Boxes, Buttons and the Blues is generously sponsored by The Coca-Cola Company. A collaboration between the National Museum of Women in the Arts and the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, Amalia Amaki: Boxes, Buttons and the Blues, will be on view at Spelman College Museum of Fine Art in Atlanta, Georgia from January 26 through May 13, 2006.

A color catalogue about Amalia Amaki, including essays by Andrea D. Barnwell, Director of Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, Leslie King-Hammond, Dean of Graduate Studies at The Maryland Institute College of Art, and Gloria Wade-Gayles, the Eminent Scholar’s Chair in Independent Study at Spelman College, accompanies the exhibition. Co-published by NMWA and Spelman in association with University of Washington Press, this 136-page book includes a fully-illustrated checklist. The hardcover edition retails for $35.

Women in Blues and Jazz - Created as a companion exhibition to the Amalia Amaki retrospective, Women in Blues and Jazz, comprised of approximately 45 photographs, focuses on the musical achievement and significance of such blues and jazz performers as Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Shirley Horn, Bessie Smith, Sarah Vaughan, and Dinah Washington. From performance photos to publicity stills, this exhibition celebrates the women’s entry into the musical world of blues and jazz. Whereas some photographs express the glamour and style of the performers, others reflect the deep humanity of these artists on and off stage.

Borrowed from the Library of Congress, the Archives Center at the National Museum of American History, and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, among others, this exhibition features images taken by photographers including William P. Gottlieb, Stanley Kubrick, and Carl Van Vechten.

The video The Ladies Sing the Blues plays continuously offering a taste of the music which moved these women to the forefront of the blues and jazz genre. These clips from movies and performances complement the selection of artists included in the exhibition. In addition, extended labels feature biographical information as well as lyrics of the performers’ songs.

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