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Exiles & Nomads is an ongoing series that includes many materials: architectonic structures of discarded wood, and spiraling glazed clay sculptures that evoke floating dwellings of the Ma’dan people of the marshlands of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers; cast glass life size portrait heads and glazed ceramic figures that have hybrid racial and ethnic physiognomies; paint used as visceral substance, or as illusion. These works witness and record private stories and public histories of life and death, ethnic cleansing, and the diaspora of Arab Jews…
Cross-disciplinary works also incorporate industrial neon text, plate glass, steel, cloth; light boxes and duratrans photographic imagery, and cibachrome photographs. Sculpture is simultaneously painting and photography, accretions that are both abstract and representational, engaging paradox, contradiction and ambiguity. My subjects emerge from my own ancestral diaspora—Sephardi Jews from Iberia, North Africa, and the Middle East in a perpetual state of exile and transition, evoking qasida, duende, and saudade — languages of melancholia and longing — an interconnecting web of the ancient past with the present. Rooted in the natural world, family and community are symbols of potential renewal and radical social change in our global state of emergency and heightening eco-side, offering the potential to “repair what has been broken.”
La’am=Yes/No (Between the Scarab and the Dung Beetle) is a body of work that is a cante jondo for tikkun olam— a deep song, a talisman to repair what has been broken—to reconcile disparate peoples and to heal the earth. This installation combines sculpture, painting, and photography from multiple series over the past fifty years—mirroring a diverse group of exiles/nomads/tribes that are capable of living in harmony in spite of and because of their differences. These hybrid accretions of painted sculptures form an elliptical story about a seemingly invisible people— Arab Jews — a people at the core of potential peace and a two state solution for Palestinians and Jews. Both peoples are situated in a “no-man’s land” between the blessed scarab and the dung beetle, living the contradictions of La’am, which means both Yes & No. The scarab and the dung beetle, like the Palestinian and the Arab Jew, are yin/yang, recto/verso, parallel and mirrored in their simultaneously oppositional and congruent identities. The scarab and the dung beetle, like the Palestinian and the Arab Jew, are the same creature: simultaneously a blessed mystical amulet and a wretched insect born into feces and destined to live in exile—to roll its home across the earth.
Influenced by Sumerian art forms, my works are intended to evoke physical, spiritual, and cultural healing. Hamsas and amulets are placed on faces to conger healing poultices for spiritual and bodily wounds. Eyes are often closed, and mouths are open in meditation and prayer.
We are Arabs—Sephardi/Mizrahi/Oriental Jews—and have lived and co-existed with other Arabs across the Near/Middle East and North Africa, from Morocco, Libya, and Tunisia, to Turkey, Jerusalem, Yemen, India, Iran, Syria, and Iraq for thousands of years. Because we identify as Arab, we are not easily recognized as normative Jews by German and Eastern European/Ashkenazim. Nor do we fit easily into the stereotype of Jew by Christians and Muslims. Ancient chronicles of the Arab Jew are at the origins of Near/Middle Eastern and North African history, language, culture, sensibility, music, clothing, and cuisine. As we all know, recent generations were forced to flee North Africa, Iran, and Arabia for survival, abandoning our homes, our lives. Somewhere between the blessed scarab and the persevering dung beetle lays the secret of peace in the Middle East—with the Arab Palestinian and the Arab Jew—now bitter cousins. When the world is out of balance, a deep song is urgently needed to heal the earth and repair what has been broken.
Micaela Amateau Amato is represented by Heather James Gallery in Palm Desert, CA, and Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and Angles Gallery in Los Angeles. She exhibited her work with ACME INC in Los Angeles, and Hackett Projects in Santa Fe and was represented in New York City by Kornblee Gallery, Sandra Gering Gallery, Bertha Urdang Gallery, Nancy Hoffman Gallery, Barbara Gladstone/Villani Gallery, Ruth Siegel Gallery; and in Chicago with Marianne Deson Gallery. Her work is in the public collections of the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago; The Museum of Art & Design, NYC; Palm Springs Art Museum; Bard College’s Hessel Museum for Curatorial Studies/NYC; Rose Art Museum/Brandeis University; San Francisco MOMA; Chase Manhattan Bank. Her private collections include: Albert&Vera List, Eric&Carol List Schwartz, Lucy R. Lippard, Sam Hoi, Eileen Guggenheim, Carol and Arthur Goldberg, and Paula Cooper. Amateau Amato’s work has been reviewed in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Artforum, Art in America, Art News, Arts Magazine, and many other periodicals. She has been a writer and curator for fifty years (Preparatory Notes/Thinking Drawings-NYU, Mysterious Messages, Austin TX) and was the curator and editor for the exhibitions and books Couples Discourse, and Uncanny Congruencies, Penn State Press. She has lectured on her work at the Brooklyn Art Museum, The Drawing Center, The Neuberger Art Museum, Paintings Edge, LA., as well as many universities across the US (Chicago Art Institute, Brown University, Claremont Graduate School, NYU, University of Georgia, etc.).
Micaela Amateau Amato’s mixed media works incorporate painting, photography, sculpture, (neon, cast glass, ceramic) and text. Often engaging forms of self-portraiture and nomadic identities in a dialogue with her Mediterranean ancestry from Iberia, Morocco, Turkey, and Rhodes, Amateau Amato’s work embodies a multiple self that is mediated by her personal and political engagement with diasporic history. The series “Dodecanese Apparitions” combines painted gouache anthropomorphic images seen through photographic transparencies and film negatives. Her current series, “All the land was sea,” uses detritus/wood/clay as reference to eco-suicide and our environmental state of emergency. “La’am = Yes/No Between the Scarab and the Dung Beetle” includes examples from a dozen different series that symbolize a meeting of multiple tribes in dialogue and reconciliation. As cultural nomad, Micaela Amateau Amato is a Professor Emerita of Art and Women’s Studies at Penn State University.