The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) announced today that it has acquired one of the most significant works by trailblazing figurative artist Emma Amos. The painting Equals (1992), which was featured both in the first major retrospective exhibition of the work of Amos and in critical reviews, is the most emblematic of the series depicting falling figures which she developed between 1988-1992 and continued into the 21st century. Equals is now on view at the DIA.
The female in Equals is Amos herself, seen floating in free fall against the backdrop of a giant American flag. Replacing the flag’s field of stars is a photographic image of a Southern sharecropper’s shack. The composition is framed in patches of African fabric alternating with printed portraits of civil rights leader Malcom X. Stars can be seen throughout the painting with a large red equal sign in the center. The equal sign signifies the importance of her message: equality. The red, white and blue depicted in the artwork helps to translate the message that the U.S. is a diverse nation which should exhibit sovereignty.
“When I first saw this piece while visiting with Amos in her New York City studio in the early 1990s, it immediately drew my attention because of its bold colors and powerful brushstrokes, and its dynamic depiction of bodies in free fall as a microcosm of racial and gender disparities in society,” Valerie Mercer, who has served as curator and department head of the DIA’s Center for African American Art for more than 20 years, said.
The falling figure in Equals, as well as those in the other pieces in this series, convey the anxiety that Amos described as a response to a sense of the “impending loss of history, place, and people” among African Americans.
A pioneering artist, educator and activist whose career spanned more than six decades, Amos (1937-2020) is best known for her vivid, colorful and innovative works that examine the intersections of race and gender in American life.
The DIA was the first major art museum in the U.S. to have a permanent collection of galleries and a curatorial department devoted to African American art. Since 2016, the museum has added to the collection over 80 works by African American artists, including highlighting, exhibiting and collecting works of art by important African American women artists, many of whom are not as well-known as their male counterparts.
Equals was a DIA purchase, with funds donated by the Ernest and Rosemarie Kanzler Foundation to the Center for the African American Art.
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About the Detroit Institute of Arts
The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), one of the premier art museums in the United States, is home to more than 65,000 works that comprise a multicultural survey of human creativity from ancient times through the 21st century. From the first Van Gogh painting to enter a U.S. museum (Self-Portrait, 1887), to Diego Rivera’s world-renowned Detroit Industry murals (1932–33), to the first museum in the United States to have a permanent collection of galleries and a curatorial department devoted to African American art, the DIA’s collection is known for its quality, range and depth. The DIA’s mission is to create opportunities for all visitors to find personal meaning in art individually and with each other.