It’s hard to miss the large, shimmering gold tapestry by Olga de Amaral on display for the exhibition Golden Opportunities in the Textiles Gallery. From far away, your eyes can feast on the tapestry in its luxurious entirety. In the same alluring sense, it also demands a closer look. Step closer and your eyes can scan over the thin fibers and study each gold leaf.

Olga de Amaral studied fabric design at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan, then returned to her home country, where she has lived and worked during an international career spanning more than five decades. During the 1960s she played an important role in transforming traditional two-dimensional textiles into sculptural works of art. Her works often take the form of large tapestries, often covered with layers of gold or silver leaf, which transcend the boundaries between painting, sculpture and textile, integrating art, craft and design through engagement with both materials and process. De Amaral’s work is inspired by her exploration of Colombian culture, and her use of gold evokes the history of Colombia as a center of the production of exquisite cast gold ornaments and objects, as well as the later use of gold in Spanish colonial art. Luxurious, alluring, sensual, sumptuous, De Amaral’s works have been described as “golden surfaces of light.”


De Amaral has stated, “For years I have worked with seven lives, fourteen hands, seven women who infuse each small element with Colombia’s vitality. The communal process impregnates each bundle of strands with the spirit of each of these women’s lives; each element acquires a unique patina, as does the knob on the door to a frequented room. These layers of work and time finally affect the surface quality. It is difficult to explain what happens in that space. The time, the changes, the choices, the pace of the work, the silence or music, the personal stories…This team of weavers, this place, is my strongest and deepest connection with my country. To me they embody Colombia. With them, I manage to make quantities of these elaborate threads and long lines of material which I call strands, strips or chords.”

Untitled (from the Alquimias series)
Colombia, 1989
Olga de Amaral, (Colombian, born 1932)
Acrylic, gold leaf and woven fiber
Gift of The Contemporary Museum, Honolulu, 2011, and gift of the Dell
Family and MSD Capital, L.P. (TCM.2008.11a-c)

Golden Opportunities is on view until April 14. 

Text also written by textiles curator Sara Oka.