Magi Amma: A Retrospective by Margaret Stainer, Director, Louie-Meager Art Gallery 2005

Magi Amma is a contemporary Renaissance woman with skills in sculpture, bronze casting, ceramics and computer science. Her hi-tech qualifications include posts as an art director at Sun Microsystems and Apple Computer. She is an activist who not only has created such political artwork as the Coup d’Etat Coloring Book, but has also served as President of the National Woman’s Caucus for Art. She has shown in many venues in California and nationally.

There are selected works from three series in the gallery, The Tarot Series, The Chair Series and the Techno Series. All of the artist’s work contains sociological and political ideas, albeit with an underlying feminist philosophy.

Amma’s palette consists of subtle weathered grays and rich rusty browns affected by the vicissitudes of time, highlighting the beauty of aged people and objects. Her images combine natural and found materials, recycled into art, which reflect the ecologically concerned artist. Amma uses symbols such as wings, wheels, nests, ladders, cages and confined female figures as metaphors of the questionable state of the social and financial equality of the 21st century woman.

Bird nests and cages add linear elements to Amma’s forms. The nests allude to the free flying spirits of birds, the ancient messengers to the gods. The bird’s nests are starkly contrasted with the literal traps of cages. One of her cages, The Star from the Tarot Series, shows an elegant bronze woman reaching up in exaltation, although she is entrapped in her metal cage.

Amma’s Chair Series has strong feminist undertones. In The Glass Ceiling, the sitting female has her head in her hands in an oppressed or hopeless attitude. Yet there is the hint of a powerful heritage in her feathered arm band. An accompanying commentary explains the artist’s views on the discriminatory glass ceiling. The chairs Self Portrait and Madonna and Child reveal aspects of the female persona in both secular and religious garb.

The Tarot Series presents the artist’s interpretation of the ancient, fortune-telling Tarot Cards. These include The Fool, Strength, The Star, Justice, The Hermit, The Tower and The Magician. The artist’s use of the Tarot is authentic, as she also “reads” Tarot. These assemblage sculptures are constructed with aged wooden boxes, seashore driftwood from the artist’s Santa Cruz hometown, furniture parts, rusty metals, bird nests, natural detritus, as well as bronze and ceramic elements. They are populated with Amma’s fully clothed, featureless, female ceramic figures. Most of the female figures are partially hidden from view, some with their faces turned away from the viewer.

Autobiographical elements occur in Amma’s work, as seen in Self Portrait and Birdcage of Love, a wedding/divorce piece from the Techno Series. This stark white wedding piece reveals not only traditional wedding paraphernalia trapped within a cage but also a dysfunctional television, while Amma’s authentic divorce court documents “paper” the cage floor. A commentary, offering the artist’s views, accompanies the piece.

Amma’s work is a personal form of visual poetry. It is rich and evocative and pushes boundaries in its use of materials, aesthetics, politics and the psyche.