Framing in Emma Amos’ “Stars and Stripes,” by Zoe Carlson

"Stars and Stripes" Emma Amos, 1992

“Stars and Stripes” Emma Amos, 1992

The power of framing coalesces in this striking piece by Emma Amos, showing the viewer the dynamic relationships between different framing devices, or lack thereof. The subjects of the piece appear to be the African American children in the blue-tinted photograph in the corner; however, the placement of them is jarring. Usually the subject is the most important aspect of a painting, and requires the most attention. But, in this case the children are relegated to the very corner of the piece and do not capture the attention of the viewer in the way that a subject should. Instead, it is the “X” that occupies the center of the piece; its subtlety brings a complexity to the work that would otherwise not exist. Perhaps the “X” is in fact meant to be the subject, signifying that the ideals and values of America do not extend to this marginalized group of society.

The children are represented by a photograph, and occupy the space of the stars on the American flag. They are framed by the stripes of the flag, which are rendered in a more painterly style, creating a unique juxtaposition between realism and abstraction. Amos deviates from the American flag with an absence of stars, but also in the number of stripes. Instead of thirteen stripes, Amos has painted 21.

The painting itself is not framed, and its edges have the ragged roughness of hand-made paper. The absence of a frame and clearly defined edges presents an option for growth. Just as the painting is not constricted by a frame, America is not restricted to the perceived boundaries between race, class, gender, and other differences that add to the construction of an Other. But, we must first recognize these framing devices, or absence of a framing device, in order to move past

by Zoe Carlson


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