I quite randomly went to see this exhibition at the Tate Modern a while ago. It was quite interesting... Strangely enough I had a really long conversation with a friend about African hair not too long ago, earlier on in the day this same friend had given a talk on Malcolm X, his life and his conversion to orthodox Islam.
It was during his second pilgrimage to Mecca, after Malcolm X broke off from the Nation of Islam that he came to accept and understand the concept of brotherhood in Islam. In a letter he wrote; 'I have never before seen sincere and true brotherhood practiced by all colours together, irrespective of their colour.' One of my favourite lines in the Quran is the following: 'O mankind! Lo! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another.'
So anyway as my friend and I were talking about Islam, in particular race and Islam, I was reminded of how beautiful and simple the concept really is (or at least should be). We're made the way we are by God right, we were coloured and shaped by Him and thus we are perfect. Colour, shape, appearance... these aren't things that we should obsess over. These should be things we accept openly- colour, any colour is a given, the norm, something that just is, something you shouldn't be ashamed of, something you shouldn't try to change. Somehow we got talking about how skewed our (societies) perceptions on beauty have become, even (or maybe especially) amongst people from ethnic minorities. In Pakistan, as in Somalia, the elders still consider fair to be beautiful, skin lightening creams are widespread... so this is when we got onto the topic of African hair.
Ellen Gallagher is one of the most acclaimed contemporary artists to have emerged from North America since the mid-1990s. Her gorgeously intricate and highly imaginative works are realised with a wealth of virtuoso detail and wit. This is her first major solo exhibition in the UK, providing the first ever opportunity to explore an overview of her twenty-year career.
Gallagher brings together imagery from myth, nature, art and social history to create complex works in a wide variety of media including painting, drawing, relief, collage, print, sculpture, film and animation. The exhibition explores the themes which have emerged and recurred in her practice, from her seminal early canvases through to recent film installations and new bodies of work.
In her series of wig-map grid collages, Double Natural, POMP-BANG, andeXelento, Gallagher has appropriated and incorporated found advertisements for hair and beauty products from the 1930s to the late 1970s from publications such as Ebony, Our World, and Black Stars. These advertisements fostered ideals in black beauty through wigs and hair adornments, which Gallagher has then recontextualised, collaging the Afro wig elements and embellishing them with plasticine. As she comments: ‘The wig ladies are fugitives, conscripts from another time and place, liberated from the “race” magazines of the past. But again, I have transformed them, here on the pages that once held them captive.’