Portraits of Women With Their Weight In Dough is an on-going photographic and video series inviting women from diverse backgrounds, to labor in the creation of and to pose with, their weight in dough over a two hour time frame. The women are selected through an open call process and asked to respond to the project by telling Amato why they want their portrait taken with their weight in dough.
In 2019, the project was awarded a City of Chicago, Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, Individual Artist Program Grant. In 2023, the project was awarded a New York State Council on the Arts, Individual Artist Grant.
"I had spent an exuberant amount of time during the pandemic trying to perfect the art of bread making, raising sourdough like a pet that would routinely die of starvation.
I grew up in a tiny apartment in Queens as the eldest of six children. Cooking always happened in small and confined batches. My mother hated to cook despite being good at it, and was keen to tell everyone how much she hated every step of the process. She would remember a favorite food and make it for a special occasion, a birthday, anniversary, or a baptism. Being mindful of how to prepare the dish to a specific taste while mindlessly growling at her ingredients and never being satisfied with her own cooking. Meals were how she told us she loved us.
Food was a ceremony.
'Thanks for dinner'.
'You're welcome'. The chicken was dry.'
I've realized that I have a similar relationship with food. Words of affection feel forced in my mouth, like a phantom tongue that isn't my own. Food as offering, food as embrace, and food as an apology.
'I made you a snack'
'I brought you a cheesecake'
'Come over for dinner!'
An invitation to dinner is an offering- I will make you something delicious. But please don't ask me for more. I have a limited reservoir of energy that gets depleted very very quickly. Please don't speak to me while I'm cooking. I will be irrevocably stressed because I can't explain why I feel like I'm going to die if every morsel of this meal isn't enjoyed. The fabric of my being is intrinsically connected to a charcuterie board. My worth as a friend is weighed by an invisible supermarket scale that hangs from my neck.
My parent's apartment never felt like my home. It was the place that I slept at night. Always uneasy because it felt like something that could be taken away.
Don't get too attached, it might all evaporate.
My big girl apartment, the apartment that I spent a whole quarantine decorating is a peek a boo into my brain.
If I like you, I'll let you see the inside of my brain.
If I love you, I'll let you see the inside of my brain and I'll feed you.
If I feed you, I'm trying to tell you not to leave me."
"As a post-operative male-to-female transsexual, I will never give birth to a child, I will never reproduce, I will, in short, never have a “bun in the oven.” Dough is the primordial goo of gastronomy, the unformed zygote of sustenance, and the chthonic origin of nourishment. The combination of dough on naked skin creates a haptic oven, the fusion engendering a transformation. Covered in 190 lbs. of dough, I will be both womb and child, creature and creatrix, a genderqueer Wonder Bread that bubbles, rises, forms a crust, and never goes stale."
"I have been fantasizing of just lying in my bed for days or weeks or months, to submit to a physical and mental exhaustion I have been feeling for some time. To be a participant in the project would mean I am just lying in my bed held down by the dough. I am forced to lay down and can go anywhere, do anything else but just be. I am not multi-tasking or being productive. It"s a fuck you to capitalist busy culture. There is also something loving about being held by the dough, but at the same time overwhelming and grotesque. I don't like sharing my writing and I am also a private person in many ways. The idea of having an intimate portrait of my home and myself feels extremely vulnerable. Part of what draws me to the project because I was so moved by the intimacy of the other portraits. Sharing something so messy and private feels radical. Especially when as women we are supposed to keep our home so tidy and neat, then clutter is always overtaking my home. Showing the dough overtaking my home and myself feels extremely honest, when my instinct is to hide."
"I just got romance scammed. How starved of love does one have to be to want to continue reading the words of a stranger on the other side of the screen, all the while suspecting that one is indeed being scammed? The beautiful words flowed endlessly and effortlessly and made me feel gorgeous inside and out. They released all the good hormones inside my body – oxytocin, serotonin, dopamine and endorphins and I always felt as high as a kite. I finally ended it when I realized that they were only words and I was living in a fantasy, just wanting to feel loved by someone who didn’t really love me at all. I was also married for 17 years and probably loved for only half of them. We can be scammed virtually or in real life by the ones whom we fall deeply for. But what we really need is to fall deeply for ourselves. It’s a deep wound that probably begins in childhood and tries to end when we are adults. The dining room represents one of the many places we try to heal that gaping wound many of us have – we surround ourselves with food and conversation, with friends and family. We try to please others at the table. We always try to make others feel loved. But how much can one eat, how much can one talk, to distract oneself from the pain inside? Maybe we are just scamming ourselves. I want to be honest about the “mistakes” I make because that is the first step in healing – admitting it. We have only to delve deep and search for the true reason for our decisions in life – it can only help us grow into who we are supposed to become, into the person we can fully love. I represent all women who are working on loving themselves. There is not enough dough in the world to measure the starvation we have felt in our hearts."
"I want to take my portrait with my weight in dough because I think it is a powerful project. With this material, I feel I can connect with my past, find my roots and honor the previous generations. As a kid, I remember my grandmother making bread, wearing black clothes as an indication of mourning, and with her rough sculpted hands punching the dough to provide food. My hometown in Greece is famous for the old bakeries and the art of bread making. Part of our routine with my dad was to go every Saturday morning in the old castle of the city to find the old bakery by the corner. The place is located in North-Western Greece and the region as a whole is rugged and mountainous. As a result, the economy was based in sheep and goat pastoralism, wool making, polyphonic laments and dough-based traditional foods. All of these practices surrounded women's labor in the isolated mountains. Because of the roughness of the region and the extreme poverty in many cases, there is also a lot of history of immigration. People left and were not ever able to return home. Mostly, they immigrated to Germany, Australia, USA, and Canada. This year, I find myself in my 3rd year in Chicago, I will be turning 30 in June. I don’t know how or in which way but It feels like a big moment. It feels like the end of an era, it feels like an epilogue. I find myself displaced, I don’t know how, what or where I can define my home and so I would like to take the moment to pause time and honor/recenter with my past.”
“Right now I am feeling a little weird in my home, which serves multiple not-totally-compatible functions as my workspace, my studio, my getaway, my cat’s playground. It’s also the first place I’ve shared with a partner. (I have multiple partners, and I just live with one.) Obviously, a lot of people live with partners, but for me it hasn’t been easy or even all that pleasant for my home to be a symbol for love/caring/obligation/service/mutual planning/blah/blah/blah on top of everything else. Lately I don’t feel in control of what being at home means for me. Sometimes I drink a whole bottle of wine in bed. Sometimes I wake up early to write and record music. Sometimes I do the dishes and sometimes I dissolve into a puddle. Is my home restoring me? Or am I using it to depress, to suppress, to give up.”
"I love the messiness of the material, the fact that it has its own life in regards to how it moves…I love that it takes up space, something women in my generation were taught not to do. I love that the way it takes up space is unapologetic and shameless, something I find inspiring. The way it spreads reminds me of the fairy tale "Sweet Porridge", collected by the Brothers Grimm, of a magic pot that overflows with porridge because the person ordering it to cook did not know the magic word to make it stop, and so the porridge engulfs the entire village, the domestic task is out of control. I love that it makes weight, this big taboo in American culture, visible."
"I remember when you first told me about your work with dough. I immediately responded to these projects and felt like the perfect artmaking material to me. It not only signals the body, but it also lives, breaths, grows, dies, rots. It reminds me of my own flesh – specifically the fatty tissue of my ever-growing (sigh…) belly. Like many women, my relationship to my body is a complex one. My weight has always fluctuated depending on my lifestyle, yet the number on my driver’s license has never changed. I even keep my weight a secret from my partner of 11+ years! I keep it a secret partially out of shame, but also because the number is deceiving. I work out fairly regularly and I would classify myself as being quite strong. “Muscle weighs more than fat”, as they say. Publicly “outing” my weight in this way, but also together with a group of women, is a symbolic gesture. Together we are suggesting, “we are all different, and we are all worthy”. Taking a portrait with a stand-in for my body’s weight is also a gesture of self-love. We take portraits with the things that we love so, to me, a portrait with my body double says, “I love me”. Unlike your family, my own mother (who was a single, working mother with two children and at many times, two jobs) didn’t cook well and never made the time to make fresh bread. My grandmothers, however, helped cultivate my relationship to the kitchen. They also taught me other creative processes like crocheting, embroidery, gardening, and watercolor painting. Learning these kinds of labor has made me into the artist and the woman that I am now. While my grandmothers have both passed, I remember them though objects in my home. My grandmother’s green chair sits in my bedroom."
"I want to feel the weight of the dough and be engulfed in its mass. I see myself in the dough. The dough is slippery, grotesque, expansive, and suffocating, yet undeniably sexy—it’s sublime and I can’t get enough of it. The material reflects how I feel existing in my own body. I love the way the material expands and crawls outward.
The dough takes up space in a way I aspire to, in a way that is usually deemed unacceptable for women because it is un-contained and boundary-breaking.
I’m also drawn to this project because of the title—“Portraits of Women With Their Weight in Dough”. I’ve always had a contentious relationship with womanhood. I’m a queer non-binary dyke, and although femme, my female-coded body never felt quite right. Yet I hold desperately to womanhood—a womanhood that exists and is expressed in a non-female body.
I cannot let go of the long history of women in my family, and I love being identified in relation to them. My mother is a free-spirited, silly, and creative woman, who experienced years of abuse and gaslighting. My baba who fled war, gave birth in a displaced persons camp, and raised nine children in a country not her own. These women are so precious to me and their stories are my lifeblood.
They taught me how to survive and connect me to my womanhood. Following their example, I am trying to bake challah every Friday (it is the woman’s job to bake the challah.) It’s a traditional role, one that was performed by the women in my family for as long as I can trace back. Yet in an age of industrial food and commercially prepared bread, kneading dough every week feels revolutionary. It doesn’t feel like a domestic chore, but rather a ritual connecting me to my ancestors."