Amani Lewis is an artist based in Baltimore, Maryland. In 2016, she graduated from the Maryland Institute College of Art with a BFA in General Fine Arts and Illustration.
“I grew up in Columbia, Maryland, a predominantly white new-suburban town. Once I attended the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, for the first time, Black people made up most of my community. The drastic differences between these two experiences challenged my self-identity. At quick glances, it’s easy to allow the stereotypes associated with Baltimore (drugs, alcohol, homelessness, poverty, and crime) to skew one’s understanding of individual personal experiences. I am constantly challenging these perceptions, and digging into the root causes by asking questions such as: How have these issues been ignored over time? What can we do to change these realities? In my work, I draw viewers into my compositions, and aim to reveal a missing, but, vital element in these conversations: the people.
For the past two years, I have worked as a full-time Guide at the Glenstone Museum. One of my key responsibilities is to research artists in the collection and impart this knowledge on visitors. I found inspiration in artists like Robert Gober, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Barbara Kruger, and Willem de Kooning. Others, like Hank Willis Thomas, Jordan Casteel, Hannah Price, Mickalene Thomas, Njideka Akunyili-Crosby, Dawoud Bey, Romare Bearden, and Mark Bradford have also made great impressions on my practice.
In painting, as in society, ignorance allows for the fabrication and consumption of a “pretty picture.” By examining how Baltimore is depicted in the news, press, and across social media, I have deepened my understanding of how this city is perceived through an exterior lens. I begin with found and original photography of quotidian life in Baltimore, and then layer on expressive contour lines, a process that shifts the viewer’s focus away from the reality of the lives and circumstances of my subjects. In creating a visual cacophony, I compel the viewer to look closer, to hone in on distinct pockets of the canvas, and in the process, uncover aspects of the narrative that are seemingly—and perhaps willingly—overlooked.
As the viewer looks closer past the vibrant colors and chaotic contours, they may witness the substance that lies beneath the surface; perhaps realizing that we exist in a state of constant manipulation, controlled by those with the privilege to perpetuate inauthentic perceptions. I invite my audience to step out of this cycle to piece together the full story.”