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Exhibition Root Fragments by the artist Karen Ami – SomoS Arts | 27.03.-30.03.2024

Editors’ Choice

In the Root Fragments solo exhibition, Chicago-based American interdisciplinary mosaic artist Karen Ami presents from 27 March 2024 a group of mosaic artworks, ceramic sculptures, drawings, and collages created during her residency at SomoS Arts in Berlin in the winter of 2024. This exhibition emerges from Ami’s deep engagement with family brokenness, displacement, and reunion within the historical framing of a post-Holocaust diasporic community.

image above: Karen Ami, Shroud, 2024, Ceramic and mortar on board, 11x14x4 in, 28×35.6×10 cm, Courtesy SomoS Arts

In her evocative fusion of personal narrative with broader historical contexts, Karen Ami scrutinizes the fissures left by history, using art as a vehicle for overcoming these disruptions. Root Fragments beckons viewers into a realm of reflection, where the process of reassembling fragments serves as an allegory for insight and endurance amidst adversity.

Ami examines the broken pieces of her family history here- her grandmothers were murdered in a German concentration camp, and her mother, a young child, was hidden in Berlin throughout the war. Her mother survived and found refuge in the USA, where she was forced to give Karen up for adoption. Ami seeks “not so much to mend but to reconfigure” the fragmented past into a form of metaphysical reconciliation. Her work represents a matriarchal exploration of female lineage, tracing the genealogical thread from herself through all her mothers and grandmothers.

Her painstaking and time-consuming mosaic technique repositions crafting from a traditionally domestic activity to a potent feminist act of addressing trauma across generations. Ami’s mosaics can be viewed as a form of Trauerarbeit —the “work of mourning” traditionally conducted through crafting—that merges the tactile with the cerebral, a meditative act of remembrance and healing in which slow-paced, mindful creation serves as a conduit for processing grief.

DEEDS.NEWS - SomoS - Karen Ami - Witness
Karen Ami – Witness, 2024 Ceramic and mortar on board 11 x 14 x 4 in / 28 x 35.5 x 10 cm, Courtesy SomoS Arts

Never merely serving as a window into another world but rather consistently foregrounding their own fragile physicality in an act of defamiliarization, the mosaic reliefs toy with our perception in their ambiguous fluctuation between the two and three-dimensional, relying on an inspired mix of ceramic collage and assemblage. Imbuing cosmic expansiveness with a sense of urgency and exuberance that evokes the Chicago Imagists and Underground Comics of the likes of Robert Crumb, their dynamic scenes are nevertheless rendered in a restrained palette in which grays and blacks prevail. Also, Ami’s studies in Meso-American and Pre-Columbian sculpture resonate in her raw depictions of the bodily.

Furthermore, Karen Ami’s art resonates with the “Confrontational Crafting” of the Feminist Art Movement that emerged in the United States during the early 1970s. This movement, which often subversively employed Craft and Ceramics, championed the ethos that “The personal is political.” Indeed, this maxim elegantly encapsulates Ami’s artistic vision, revealing a nuanced interplay between the intimate and the communal, the individual narrative and the collective historical consciousness. In Ami’s work, this blend manifests as a masterful synthesis, underscoring the indelible link between the microcosm of individual experience and the macrocosm of universal truths.

Delving further back into art-historical lineage, Karen Ami’s nuanced practice of auto-iconoclasm also situates her within the broader narrative of the Art of Destruction. This artistic stance serves as a potent metaphor for the self-destructive tendencies of twentieth-century society, as exemplified by a diverse array of artists, including Gustav Metzger, Yves Klein, Shozo Shimamoto, Lucio Fontana, William S Burroughs, and the avant-garde collective Throbbing Gristle. These artists, in their visceral response to the traumas of the Holocaust, the Atomic Bomb, and the Cold War, engaged in acts of ripping, burning, tearing, cutting up, puncturing, and otherwise violently disrupting their materials.

Ami’s contribution to this genealogy is marked by a critical divergence—her art navigates through destruction toward a horizon of repair. This distinguishing element of her practice contrasts with the often unilaterally negative articulations of her predominantly male predecessors in the Destructive Art movement. Through her work, Ami embodies a process that not only acknowledges the inevitability of fragmentation and disarray but also champions the possibility of healing and reconciliation, positing the act of mending as an equally powerful, if not more profound, response to societal and personal cataclysms.

The making of Ami’s mosaics follows a highly symbolic, even alchemical process that “reimagines and pulverizes the past to create a new space for repair, enabling acceptance and growth,” as the artist describes it. In an almost ritualistic act of creative destruction and resurrection, her works are assembled into mortar from the detritus of broken or cut ceramic tablets that she painted, carved, and incised with drawings, markings, hermetic private symbologies, and poetry that carry shards of memory. This recombination is always fragmentary and multilayered by design, never literal; providing hints but leaving the full story up to our individual imagination.

In an interplay resonating with various cultural, religious, and scientific narratives that contemplate the origin of life from mud, her clay works engage in a self-referential conversation about their material essence—earth—and its connotations with the body, fertility, reproduction, and the cyclical nature of life and death.

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Karen Ami – Origins, 2024 Ink, collage, on paper 16 x 12 inch / 40.6 x 30.4 cm, Courtesy SomoS Arts

Central to the Root Fragments exhibition stands Ami’s bold reclamation of her German-Jewish heritage. Utilizing German earth to craft her ceramics, Ami confronts and transforms the Jewish experience rooted in that very soil, defying and subverting the “Blood and Soil” ideology’s xenophobic geodeterministic rhetoric that established a direct relationship between land, race, climate, and history. Ami’s magical act of artistic defiance not only reclaims her family’s legacy from the shadows of tragedy but also repositions it as a beacon of resilience and renewal.

In the exhibition, the intimate clay sculptures and mosaics are accompanied by a series of energetic graphic black and white drawings and collages. Appreciative of the immediacy and fluidity of the medium, Ami uses the drawings as templates for her mosaics. In the drawings, mildly psychedelic, with abstracted, cosmic, sometimes almost theosophical flourishes, Ami develops private mythologies that follow their own hidden logic. Referring to them as “notes,” serving to keep the artist bound to her original intention, they are eventually transferred to ceramic plaques, fired, and then smashed to be used in her mosaics. In this pre-fragmented state, they give us a glimpse of Ami’s flowing, confident drawing style.

In a second group of paperworks, Ami again plays with perception and self-referentiality. In an act of artistic self-cannibalization, she combines cut-up photos of the finished mosaics with shards of ink drawings to create collages with intriguing Trompe-l’œil effects.

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Karen Ami – Twogether, 2024 Ink and collage on paper 9 x 2 inch / 23 x 30,5 cm, Courtesy SomoS Arts

Retaining the unframed state of the drawings enhances their enigmatic presence, allowing their raw intimacy and tactile qualities to speak directly to the viewer. As one navigates through the exhibition space, the works engage on multiple levels: initially, from a distance, their bold, graphic essence commands attention, symbol-like in its starkness. Drawing nearer, a dynamic interplay between the audacious and the intricate emerges, revealing a complex network of textures and lines. It is in this close, personal communion with the drawings that a richly detailed universe unfolds, beckoning the observer into a meditative exploration of its dense web of references and interwoven stories.

Poignant but not without joy, at least on the level of creation, the artworks in Root Fragments bear witness, underscoring that despite the deep scars of history, the essence of Ami’s heritage remains vibrant, resilient, rhizomatic. Her exhibition vividly illustrates the enduring impact of historical events on present lives, openly exploring themes of loss and healing. By tenderly cultivating the roots of her lineage, Ami nourishes her ancestral legacy up into the light, allowing it to flourish anew.

About Karen Ami
Karen Ami (b. 1961) is an acclaimed Chicago-based visual artist, curator, community arts organizer and creative practice researcher who primarily works in mosaics and ceramics. Ami relies on an academic foundation from The Boston Museum School and Tufts University (BFA), further honed at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (MFA) with a focus on ceramics and sculpture. Presently, she is immersed in research on post-generational trauma and identity for her PhD at the Liverpool School of Art and Design and the TransArt Institute for Creative Research. Ami is the founder and director of The Chicago Mosaic School, the first and only school in the United States focusing on mosaic arts. Her artworks find residence in public and private collections worldwide.


Opening: Tuesday, 26. March, 6 – 9 pm

Wednesday, 27. March – Saturday, 30. March 2024
Opening hours: Tue – Sat, 2 – 7 pm


SomoS Arts
Kottbusser Damm 95
10967 Berlin


Entry free

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