Despite being well-established and critically acclaimed in the states, Ellen Gallagher is little talked of in Britain. This Summer Tate Modern is playing host to her first significant solo show in the UK with a retrospective which covers various art forms and themes.
What is immediately apparent among Gallagher’s oeuvre is a strong interest in identity and race. Gallagher herself is mixed race and much of her work considers attitudes to black culture. Most notable and memorable among this is Wiglette from Deluxe 2004 where the artist has placed hundreds of wig adverts in a tile like pattern and stuck yellow plasticine wigs on the models. The models to me become almost ‘alien-like’ the hairstyles she has given them seem bizarre and perhaps this is Gallagher’s purpose to question the need to try and be different to who we are with the trivial blonde wigs. She has also covered the eyes with white. If we go along with the saying that ‘the eyes are windows to the soul’ then I take this as meaning the women are now soulless.
As well as these images Gallagher presents us with drawings, film and paintings in various media. There is almost too much to take in. However some of my favourite works are collages in which Gallagher has made incisions into the paper. These collages depict marine life which seem a far cry from her blonde wig wearing women. However, it has been noted elsewhere that this interest in the aquatic comes from a fascination with a sort of ‘black atlantis’ and the descendants of slaves who lost their lives during the Middle Passage.
There are nearly 100 works to be seen and perhaps it serves best to read up on Gallagher before making a visit. While I was particularly moved by her paintings, her collages are certainly worthy of note. That said, the works on show certainly provoke a lot of thought and offer something a little different for Spring/Summer.
Ellen Gallagher AxME is on display at Tate Modern until 1 September