Ellen Gallagher’s first major UK retrospective is currently being held at the Tate Modern until 1 September. The title of the exhibition, AxME, is a play on words: to resemble the cartoon corporation Acme, known for its outlandish products that fail catastrophically, also a reference to the African-American vernacular for “Ask me”.
Gallagher’s work is gorgeously intricate, bringing together myth, nature, art and social history in painting, drawing, relief collage, print, sculpture, film and animation. In 2007 a series of her Watery Ecstatic paintings, inspired by the myth of the Black Atlantis – an underwater city populated by the descendents of Africans thrown off slave ships – was shown at the Tate Liverpool. To know more about her work and how she creates be sure to read this Guardian interview with her from a few weeks ago. Also: Jackie Kay’s review of her Tate Liverpool show, Coral Cities.
A standout piece from AxME, a piece that gives a good feel for the focus of Gallagher’s creativity, is a series of wig-map grid collages appropriated and incorporated from old African-American magazine advertisements. Gallagher transforms these hair and beauty product faces from the 1930s-1970s into new world beings, some look like startled astronauts, others like startling aliens. Much of what Gallagher creates has the sheen and feel of a too distant future, unsurprisingly she cops to being particularly inspired by groundbreaking African-American science-fiction novelist Octavia Butler. Accordingly the Tate Modern have arranged a talk to discuss Afrofuturism in the context of Gallagher’s work. Speakers Amna Malik, Hazel V. Carby, Zoe Whitley and Lilli Reynaud-Deward will ‘explore and complicate readings of Afrofuturism and its influence on contemporary artists’ practices, creating an intricate understanding of the genre and its evolutions’.
Coined by Mary Dery, Afrofuturism is an emergent literary and cultural aesthetic that relies heavily on elements of science fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, Afrocentricity, and non-Western magic realism to talk about the African Diaspora. Afrofuturism is my jam because it distills a belief beyond belief, a reckless optimism in the future. One of the most important things about being a diaspora African alive and trying, especially creatively.
Until 1 September
Adult £11.00 (without donation £10.00)
Concession £9.50 (without donation £8.60)
Saturday 15 June
£15, concessions available
London SE1 9TG