Socialist Worker

Ellen Gallagher's art challenges racism with wit and pain at the Tate Modern

by Lorraine Huddle
Issue No. 2360

Bird in the Hand

Bird in the Hand (Pic: Ellen Gallagher 2006)

Ellen Gallagher’s art references African-American culture over the last hundred years, from minstrels to hip-hop. 

Bird in Hand is a good example of this, referring to the myth of a black Atlantis. It is populated by mutants descended from the unborn children of African women thrown overboard for insurrection in the slave trade. 

Her art also refers to many other disturbing instances in black American history. 

This includes the cruel study of the effects of syphilis on 400 black men in Alabama from 1932 to 1972, who were refused treatment.

But her work is also funny.

Beauty magazines in the 1940s and 1950s encouraged black people to look more white to improve their social mobility. She has reworked these pages, adding wigs in bright yellow plasticine.

Her range is stunning. There are animations, collages, two-sided drawings and intricately crafted paintings. Her meanings are another, rich layer to delve into. 

Ellen Gallagher: AxME
Until 1 September, Tate Modern, Bankside, London SE1 9TG

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Article information

Tue 2 Jul 2013, 17:43 BST
Issue No. 2360
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