Strange Beauties: The art of Amina Harper


Within a few months after I moved to Minnesota in the early 1990s, I ran to view the Minnesota Museum of American Art’s exhibition, “Spirits: Selections from the Collection of Geoffrey Holder and Carmen de Lavallade.”

The museum’s collection of Haitian, African and African-American folk art treated me to a euphoric experience of color, form and phantasm. Of it all, the Haitian art was my favorite as it is of an aesthetic sensibility that is truly ancestral and pure.

In retrospect, the first time that I viewed the art of Amina Harper, I was taken to the same place of awe and inspiration. Mind you, I knew Harper long before she executed her first rendering of mind and heart into artwork that mattered. I knew her as a knobby-kneed girl, singing, smiling, and loving life as happy children do. She has not much deviated from that personal sense of joie de vivre. Now grown, her artistic inclinations reflect her special sense of beauty – strange beauty.

Left: Capricornica (Amina Harper)

Allow me to revisit the Holder/de Lavallade art collection to explain my “strange beauty” reference. In the “Spirits” exhibit catalogue’s foreword, Holder attributes his collector fancy to a belief of fairy tales and mythology, of magic. Amidst a variety of people’s distinct magic and culture, he found his treasures his. In essence, Holder’s term describes the art that Harper makes from the scape of her singular soul’s heart and mind.

Left: Chimera (Amina Harper)

Harper creates from the mind and the heart, and both visceral landscapes are allegorically rich. Self-admittedly, she creates from the many versions of herself that live in her head and “have great stories to tell.” Artwork featured at her recent show “Chimera,” hosted by Minneapolis’ Smitten Kitten, illustrated what dances and twists around in that head of hers. Billed as a “sex-positive” art show at this venue popularly known for its progressive adult sex toys, “Chimera” resonated with Harper’s signature provocative, often erotic style full of bright colors and fantastical storytelling.

Harper’s drawings, her paintings, her writing that she executes in a variety of genres all possess this flash of spirit … strange … beautiful.