Ghada Amer | Gardens

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  • Since 1997, Ghada Amer has widened her artistic practice by creating gardens in outdoor, public spaces.  She has conceived, drawn, and built gardens in a range of locations across several continents.
    Redefining the Genre of Garden Installations:
    Ghada Amer’s production innovates the very genre of artistic gardens, redefining architecture, landscape art, street art, and vegetal graffiti (as with Jérôme Le Réty or Catherine Mosbach for instance). Her gardens change the genre into a hybrid model where art, public space, and spectators merge and are transformed through a dynamic encounter.
    A Transformative Stroll:
    Walking through Ghada Amer’s gardens alters our relationship to public space. We no longer walk through a space but we inhabit it. These are no longer public spaces, but artistic ones. They are not anonymous sites, but places of reflection, of meditation. To quote Kurt Vonnegut’s observation on meditation: “Like life, gardens are not a road. We enter and exit them through the same gate, wandering. Where we go matters less than what we notice.” We enter Ghada Amer’s gardens through the same door, exiting from the same place we entered. Her gardens do not lead to a particular endplace. There is no specific goal when we stroll through them. Wandering, noticing anything along the way is the very objective of walking though Ghada Amer’s gardens. And this wandering is transformative. It encourages us to redefine our relationship to art and offers us new definitions and experiences of beauty. 


    A New Medium:
    Even though Ghada Amer was at first reluctant to create gardens, being intrigued at how she could bring her signature embroidered paintings to the outdoors, she quickly realized that gardens could offer an alternate way to experiment and express some of the concepts present in her painting.  With Ghada Amer, outdoor public gardens, like painting, are domesticated through the introduction of a feminine occupation, gardening. In this way, planting flowers can be considered an activity equivalent to her signature embroidery, one that transforms public spaces and museum grounds into gigantic artistic installations and decidedly female garden art productions. Not surprisingly, gardens have become today an integral part of Ghada Amer’s portfolio and central to her development as an artist.
    Aesthetics Meet Politics and Gender:
    As always, aesthetic considerations are at the core of Ghada Amer’s garden practice. And as always, her gardens raise important social and political questions equally ubiquitous throughout her wider artistic work (paintings, drawings, ceramics, and sculptures). Key themes explored in her gardens revolve around the status of women in society, identity, gender roles, and political or ideological propaganda. As Ghada Amer writes, “Aesthetics alone is not enough. And a message alone is just propaganda.”
    All of Ghada Amer’s gardens are ephemeral, except one. To date, Happily Ever After in Ornellia
    (Tuscany, Italy, 2009) is Ghada Amer’s only site specific, permanent garden.
    - Sahar Amer
  • Cactus Painting

    Cactus Painting

    Solo show: Ghada Amer: Dark Continent, Centre de Création Contemporaine Olivier-Debré (CCCOD), Tours, France, 2018

    Solo show: Ghada Amer: Monographie et Jardins, Centre de Création Contemporaine (CCC), Jardin du Musée des Beaux-Arts de Tours, Tours, France, 2000

    Group show: Mar de Fundo, curated by Rosa Martinez, Sagunto, Spain, 1998


    Just as the title indicates, this garden is intended as a new language of painting, a painting with flowers, or in this case with prickly cacti. It is in its third and largest rendition in 2018 that this garden achieves its most complete meaning, as a profound critique of the history of painting by white, male, Anglo-Saxon artists that excluded women from the practice. The gigantic dimension of the garden made up of 16,000 cactus plants interrogates the place of women artists in postwar American abstract painting. The abstract geometrical design of the garden, while paying lip service to large cartesian paintings such as those by Frank Stella or Josef Albers’ “Homage to the Square” (1950-1976), artfully challenges the formal precision of abstraction. Ghada Amer uses geometry and abstraction to paint sexual forms with her cacti: Her green phallic cacti stand proudly amidst large red leaves, evocative of vaginas.  Ghada Amer does not shy away from the sexual allusion of her piece, calling in fact her assemblage a “phactus” (phallus + cactus).


    The gigantic 2018 rendition of Cactus Painting required a team of 25 members to produce and a full five days of work before the design of the installation could emerge. The team worked from a drawing by the artist, and used conventional techniques of cloth weaving to produce the garden, crisscrossing the space of the installation with weft thread (for the width) and warp thread (length).

  • Hoy el 70% de los pobres en el mundo son mujeres, [Today 70% of the Poor in the World are...

    Hoy el 70% de los pobres en el mundo son mujeres

    [Today 70% of the Poor in the World are Women]

    MAZ (Museo Arte Zapopan) Zapopan, Mexico, 2020

    La Rambla del Raval, Barcelona, Spain, 2001


    This installation uses sand boxes instead of flower beds and spells out the titled statistical statement. Each letter of this statement became a sand box measuring 1x1 meter and was made of red painted timber, serving both as a sculpture and a playground for children. The complete statement could only be read from an aerial view or slowly as one walked along.


    In Barcelona, this garden was installed along a wide Boulevard in the middle of an economically and socially depressed area of the city, with the hope of reviving it. It invites us to reflect on the gendered distribution of wealth globally, including in the so-called First World.

  • Love Grave

    Love Grave

    Group show: Sculpturally Distanced, curated by Lissa Ballinger, Anderson Ranch Arts Center, Snowmass Village, Colorado, USA, 2020

    Eight Biennale of Melle, France: Le Grand monnayage, curated by Frédéric Legros and Chloé Hipeau-Diskos, Melle, France, 2018

    Solo show: Forefront 45: Ghada Amer, curated by Lisa Freiman, Indianapolis Museum of Art, New Fields, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA, 2003


    Despite the inclusion of the word “love” in the title of this garden, Ghada Amer insists that her intent in this installation is primarily to speak about the violence and absurdity of wars and their effect on human lives. This garden, along with Peace Garden (2002) and S’il Pleuvait des Larmes (2004), speaks directly to armed conflicts, and especially about the “War on Terror” begun by George W. Bush in 2003 and the long Iraq war.


    This garden was created by digging the capital letters of the word “love” six feet into the ground as though preparing it for the burial of that four-letter word. The dichotomy inherent in spelling the word “love” by means of a symbol of death calls attention to the connections between Eros and Thanatos, between love and death, plenitude and emptiness. It alludes both to the oft-unavoidable ending of love stories and the outcome of wars where we inevitably lose loved ones. 

  • Love Park

    Love Park

    Group show: Afterglow, curated by Laurie Ann Farrell, Savannah College of Art and Design, Lacoste, France, 2007

    Parc du Château du Rivau, Léméré, France, 2001

    Solo show: Ghada Amer: Monographie et Jardins, Centre de Création Contemporaine (CCC), Jardin du Musée des Beaux-Arts de Tours, Tours, France, 2000

    Third International Biennial: Looking For A Place, curated by Rosa Martinez

    Site Santa Fe, Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA, 1999


    Contrary to what one might think, Love Park is not a garden in the traditional sense with flowers and grass. Rather, it is a romantic promenade through a garden with benches and signs.

    For this project, Ghada Amer built 10 wooden benches and split each across the middle. Each half bench is positioned in an opposite direction, and faces a sign post with a citation from an internationally known author (Shakespeare, Rumi, Camus, Saint-Exupéry, Paglia, etc.), though all attribution has been purposely omitted. Visitors are invited to sit on any side of the bench and to read the citation facing them. 


    Unlike traditional love seats where partners sit next to each other and look together in the same direction toward the same future, in Ghada Amer’s garden, lovers are forced to sit on opposite sides and to look in different directions. Not least, each reads an unsigned quotation on love, visible only to her/him.  Each set of quotations proposes contradictory messages, highlighting the inherent lack of communication and distance between couples. Love Park is a conversation in which lovers are unable to grasp the meaning of love.


    In renditions of this garden produced for English speaking publics, the following quotations were used, for example:


    Sign a: American Feminism has a man problem.

    Sign b: It is man who rules! Man does not ask if he pleases. If he is lovable. He is only concerned with his pleasure. His pleasure decides what is beautiful and what is ugly for him, and only for him. Man exists only for himself and for no one else.


    Another example:

    Sign a: She had always dreamed of a love in which her body and soul could grow old together, like two fingers of a hand.

    Sign b: In love, only conquest and breaking-up are interesting; the rest is filler.

  • Women’s Qualities

    Women’s Qualities

    Desert X, curated by Neville Wakefield and César García-Alvarez, Sunnylands Center and Gardens, Coachella Valley, Rancho Mirage, California, USA, 2021

    Frieze Sculpture, Rockefeller Center, New York, New York, USA, 2020

    Second International Contemporary Art Festival: Leaving the Island, curated by Rosa Martinez, Young Chul and Hou Hanru, Metropolitan Art Museum, Pusan, South Korea, 2000


    This garden carves in a number of flowerbeds and in block letters traits (qualities) most often associated with women according to a poll conducted with people from the particular country or region in which the installation is situated. Plants selected for each flowerbed are native to the local area, with a primary focus on their hardiness.


    In the Sunnylands rendition (2021), the women’s qualities are displayed in seven flowerbeds arranged in a large outdoor circle. The English words reproduced in this version reflect what people from the California Coachella Valley associate with women: Beautiful, Loving, Nurturing, Resilient, Strong, Caring, Determined. All flowers in this garden rendition were selected from medicinal plants, and for their different shades of green, and the color of their blooms.


    In the first version of this garden produced at the Metropolitan Art Museum of Pusan in the context of a group show for the second Pusan Biennale, Leaving the Island, curated by Rosa Martinez, Young Chul and Hou Hanru (2000), Ghada Amer asked Korean museum staff members and visiting artists what traits they commonly attributed to women. She selected the eight words that were repeated most often and carved them as floral inscriptions in Korean characters. For this garden, Ghada Amer used a local flower that blooms only once a year for two months, coinciding precisely with the timing of the garden exhibit. Once all the plants bloomed, all women qualities blossomed into deep red flowers.


    The most commonly cited words (women’s qualities) that Koreans gave and that served as a basis for the 2000 garden installation were: virtuous, chaste, submissive, fair skin, large breasts, rich, diligent, sensual.


    Twenty years after the first rendition of the Women’s Qualities garden in Seoul, Ghada Amer was curious to know what New Yorkers thought about women’s most important traits (qualities) and how these might differ from the ones reported in her questionnaire from the year 2000 in South Korea.  The twelve most commonly cited women’s qualities that she discovered in her interviews with passersby in New York City were: Hard Working, Good Cook, Strong, Resilient, Beautiful, Sexy, Happy, Nurturing, Smart, Patient, Kind, Independent, Elegant. She selected these for her Frieze Sculpture, New York in 2020.

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