Amalia Amaki is a beautiful woman – a genuine natural-born woman – and a friend whom I came to know just recently. She is a “natural born artist” in the true sense of these words. She was born to fill the shoes of great artists like Georgia O’Keeffe whom the world has admired down through the ages. She is gifted with an amazing talent, smart, intelligent, committed to the causes she believes in and this includes the Black community, and she is full of information about lots of things – especially ART. However, before I go further, let me explain how to pronounce her name, because it took me months to get this correct.
Amalia (Ah-maul-ee-ya) Amaki (Ah-ma-kee)
Born in Atlanta on July 8, 1949, her mother and father, Mary Lee and Norman Peek, named their daughter Lynda Faye Peek. Lynda changed her name in 1974 to Amalia Amaki. Somewhere between then and now, she has traveled to all 50 states and every continent on the globe including Antarctica. This alone makes her a wonder-woman and a unique history maker.
Looking back at her early formative years, one can see she was going to do something “special” with her life. She grew up on Boulevard in Atlanta’s Fourth Ward, walked to John Hope Elementary School and David T. Howard High School, where she graduated receiving awards in English, math, science and art, and was voted “Most Likely to Succeed.”
While a student at Georgia State University (GSU), she was active with the Black Student Union and was a feature writer on the school newspaper, The Signal. In 1970, she was inducted into Georgia’s chapter of Sigma Delta Chi (The Society for Professional Journalists). The same year, she received the Sigma Delta Chi Award for writing an article addressing the life of black students on predominantly white campuses during the civil rights era. She graduated the following year on the Dean’s List, and was the recipient of the Senior Award and Leadership Award.
After years of work in corporate America in the airline industry and in banking, and making art in her free time, Amaki returned to school in 1978 to pursue a degree in art. At the University of New Mexico (UNM), she studied under several well-known photographers, printmakers and art historians. It was architect Bart Prince who exposed her to his innovative architectural design style and played a role in her introduction to painter Georgia O’Keeffe. While a student at UNM, she was juried into a show of young African American photographers in California. The piece was purchased and marked the first sale of her art. She obtained her B.A. degree from the University of New Mexico in photography and art history and worked as a museum assistant at the University Art Museum for two years while pursuing her degree.
When her study was complete in Mexico, she returning to Atlanta. She was hired to catalog the Paul R. Jones Collection of African American art through the Apex Museum (then Collections of Life and Heritage). Dan Moore, founder and director of the Apex, facilitated the initial meeting that led to her organizing and writing for several exhibitions of work from the Jones Collection.
In 1985, Amaki went to France as an Emory University Foreign Study Fellow. She earned her M.A. degree and a Ph.D. in twentieth century American art and culture from Emory University in the Institute of Liberal Arts. It was also during this period that she became a contributing writer to Art Papers and an art critic for Creative Loafing, both papers local to the Atlanta.
With a clear “calling” on her heart to give back to her people, from 1987 to 2000, she taught art history at Spelman College; Morehouse College; Atlanta College of Art; Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw, Georgia; and North Georgia College and State University, Dahlonega, Georgia. She moved up the professional ladder and became Associate Professor of Art History for several seasons at Spelman College and the University of North Georgia. She served as a guest curator at the Southern Arts Federation in 1996; the Museum of Fine Arts at Spelman College in 1997 and 1998; the Marietta-Cobb Museum of Art in 1999; and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in 2004.
In the summer of 2004, Amaki was a visiting scholar at the Student Art Centers International (SACI) in Florence, Italy – her assignment was to teach photography. However, she happened upon an opportunity to lecture about the Paul Jones collection – a project which she had just been introduced to in Atlanta.
Becoming the Curator of the Paul R. Jones Collection of Art and Assistant Professor of Art in the Art History and Black Studies Departments at the University of Delaware in 2001seems to be her favorite job. But when this task came to an end, Amaki came back to her roots and served as a Scholar-in-Residence at Spelman College for the 2005 – 2006 school year.
I have come to understand that Amaki’s art captures the lives of African women of the Diaspora through media from everyday life (photography, quilts, buttons, boxes and household items). We talked one afternoon about buttons and I showed her my collections which I have for no reason other than to replace buttons lost. But the buttons in Amalia’s work are special. Her work redefines the lives of past and present African American heroines and heroes and contrasts their depiction in the mainstream media. Her solo works, Amalia Amaki: Boxes, Buttons and Blues have been on exhibition at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.
She has published a number of articles including “Art: The Paul Jones Collection in Art” and Everyday Life: The Paul Jones Collection, an exhibition catalog by the Marietta-Cobb Museum of Art, Marietta, Georgia in 1999. I am proud to say that I have this in my personal collection of Art publications.
She has been commissioned to create art for many corporations and public projects including Valdosta State University, the High Museum of Art/Creative Hearts Youth Art Community Quilt Project, SCLC Women, The Coca-Cola Company, and more. But most importantly, she has two pieces hanging at Hartsfield Jackson International Airport.
Over the years, Amaki has served as a member and/or on several boards including the Emory University Alumni Board of Governors, Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts, High Museum of Art, Georgia Museum of Art, SCLS Women, and the Board of African American Achieves, to name a few. She has received prestigious awards that include a National Black Arts Festival Artist Award, National Endowment for the Arts Regional Fellow in Photography, Emory University Alumni Award of Distinction, and many more.
There is a personal and spiritual side to Amalia—she is not all academician. But she is all artist and loves her work. At the same time, she carves out time to help other artists in their pursuit of perfection in creativity. The two things we have in common that are special: we are members of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and we attend Cascade United Methodist Church.
Amalia has cultivated a professional relationship with many celebrity individuals for whom she has created works of art. She is always very private about whom she works with and what she creates. This is one of reasons she has been so successful. The likeness of her client pictured in this article speaks for itself. Congrats Amalia!
Without a doubt, when you love your work and you work hard; when you love your people and you have a giving soul; and when you love God and you let the holy spirit guide your life, you will inevitably make history. Amalia makes the best kind of history – history that tells good stories and promotes respect.