Gardens with a Politically, Socially Conscious Message

Hoy el 70% de los pobres en el mundo son mujeres
[Today 70% of the Poor in the World are Women]

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 1×1 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.

 This garden was installed along a wide Boulevard in Barcelona 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. 

This garden project [Today 70% of the Poor in the World are Women] was produced twice:

Versions

2001

Curated by Rosa Martinez
La Rambla del Raval
Barcelona, Spain

2020

Part of the International Women’s Day Celebrations
MAZ (Museo Arte Zapopan)
Zapopan, Mexico

Love Grave

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 Georges 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.

The Love Grave garden was produced three times:

Versions

2003

Forefront 45, curated by Lisa Freiman
Indianapolis Museum of Art
Newfields, Indianapolis, USA

2018

Eighth Biennale of Melle, France
Le Grand Monnayage, curated by Chloé Hipeau-Disko and Frédéric Legros
Melle, France

2020

Sculpturally Distanced, curated by Lisa Ballinger
Anderson Ranch Arts Center
Snowmass Village, Colorado, USA

All Oppression Creates a State of War

Invited to create a garden installation for the first Biennale of Rabat, Morocco, Ghada Amer chose the nineteenth century fort (Fort Hervé) for her new artistic production. This fort, the first concrete construction in Africa, was an especially apt space for her installation because a military fortification is by definition a male space, one reminiscent of battles, attacks from enemy forces and oppressive regimes.

For this installation, Ghada Amer selected a citation (“All Oppression Creates a State of War”) from one of her favorite French philosophers, Simone de Beauvoir. While de Beauvoir was referring primarily to gender and female oppression, Ghada Amer expands this notion to all sorts of oppressions, including especially political oppression and military regimes under which many African nations still live. Situating this political reference inside a fort is a particularly judicious choice.

This installation is composed of the block letters from Simone de Beauvoir’s citation built as though each letter was a flowerbed. The shape of the entire citation follows the circular contours of the fort rampart. Each flowerbed is filled with hardy, salt, wind and sun resistant local plants.

Versions

2019

First Biennale of Rabat: Un Instant avant le monde, curated by Abdel Kader Dahmani Fort Hervé
Rabat, Morocco

Cactus Painting

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 16000 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 5 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).

The Cactus Painting garden was produced three times:

Versions

1993

Curated by Rosa Martinez. Outside garden (projected to be 70m x 70m) at the Mar de Fondo group exhibit held at the Roman Theater of Sagonte, Valencia, Spain.
This garden was unfinished due to budgetary cuts that did not permit the purchase of all the cacti (Cactus Elongatas and Verdologas) that were needed.

2000

Indoor garden at the Ghada Amer: Monographie et Jardins solo show at the Centre de Création Contemporaine (CCC), Jardin du Musée des Beaux-Arts de Tours, Tours, France.
This was again an incomplete project due to time constraints, lack of space, and insufficient natural light for the cacti to grow properly.

2018

Gigantic indoor garden installation (16000 cacti): Solo show, Ghada Amer: Dark Continent in the Centre de Création Contemporaine Olivier-Debré (CCCOD), Tours, France (2018).

Hunger

Invited by the National Museum of African Art to create an “Earthwork,” that is a large sculptural work which uses earth as material. Ghada Amer chooses to focus her sculpture on the subject of hunger. She highlights a global problem at the same time that she alludes to a specific issue: the fact that politicians in her native Egypt and elsewhere prey on the hungry by promising food in exchange for votes. Bags of rice and other edibles are therefore bartered for political support.

At the same time, by creating this garden, Ghada Amer hopes to remind visitors of the intimate connection between food and the earth. As she repeats, “food comes from the earth and not from the supermarket.” Her aim is to bring crops to the center of cities and to feed people from local productions.

In this installation, Ghada Amer carves the letters of the word “Hunger” on the lawns of the Smithsonian gardens in Washington, D.C and fills them with rice plants. At first, visitors can only see and read the letters of the word “Hunger.” However, as the plants grow, the word Hunger disappears, replaced with rice plants, ready to be harvested. In other words, crops erase hunger. (Because this site specific installation was to last for one entire year, rice was planted during the summer months, and was to replace with kale for the winter months).

Ghada Amer intended to gather visitors around a rice meal, harvested from her garden installation. That plan was squashed however. Ducks and birds happily moved in faster than human guests and they feasted on the unexpected plantation in the midst of the burgeoning city. “Nature always wins,” observes Ghada Amer with a smile.

Versions

2013

Part of the show Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor
curated by Karen Milbourne
National Museum for African Arts and Smithsonian Gardens
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institute, Washington D.C, USA

S’il Pleuvait des Larmes

For this garden installation, Ghada Amer frescoed the entire poem of Boris Vian (1920-1959) If it rained tears [LYRICS] in Italian on the existing structure of an abandoned garden located inside a monastery. While in his poem, Boris Vian was speaking about the destruction caused by the second world war, Ghada Amer alludes in her installation to the War on Terror and the Iraq War initiated by the United States in 2003 and in homage to all the dead civilians, casualties of war.

Ghada Amer explains that she built this garden as though it was a Muslim tomb, without much adornment, or like a monument in tribute to all dead soldiers, a sort of tomb of the unknown Iraqi soldiers.

Versions

2004

Curated by Achile Bonito Oliva
Certosa di San Lorenzo [Monastery of San Lorenzo]
Padula, Italy

Peace Garden

Peace Garden was presented at the Miami Botanical Garden in Florida and opened coincidently during the US invasion of Iraq. The garden consists of a peace symbol, as in “ban the bomb,” made of carnivorous plants.  On the day the show opened, the garden became a site of a performance organized by Ghada Amer where she and three assistants served live worms and crickets to visitors to feed the plants. The use of carnivorous plants to construct a peace sign represents the shift in attitude from an earlier generation that promoted and used this symbol but then, over time, came to take peaceful ideas much less seriously.

Versions

2002

Art Basel Miami Beach
Miami Beach Botanical Garden
Miami, Florida, USA

S’il pleuvait des larmes

Boris Vian

S’il pleuvait des larmes
Lorsque meurt un amour
S’il pleuvait des larmes
Lorsque des coeurs sont lourds

Sur la terre entière
Pendant quarante jours
Des larmes amères
Engloutiraient les tours

S’il pleuvait des larmes
Lorsque meurt un enfant
S’il pleuvait des larmes
Au rire des méchants

S’il pleuvait des larmes
En flots gris et glacés
Des larmes amères
Rouleraient le passé

S’il pleuvait des larmes
Quand on tue les coeurs purs
S’il pleuvait des larmes
Quand on crève sous les murs

Sur la terre entière
Il y aurait déluge
Des larmes amères
Des coupables et des juges

S’il pleuvait des larmes
Chaque fois que la mort
Brandissant les armes
Fait sauter les décors

Sur la terre entière
Il n’y aurait plus rien
Qu’les larmes amères
des deuils et du destin.