Kenyon College



Ellen Gallagher
(American, b. 1965).

Untitled, 2002.
Mixed media.
22 1/4 x 30 inches.
Courtesy of the collection of Francie Bishop Good and David Horvitz.

Ellen Gallagher’s Untitled mixed media work on paper illustrates how the artist often explores the forces that shape black identity. Her processes involve a rich form of critical play, fusing and layering historical references, personal fantasies and alternative realities. Similar to many other works by Gallagher, variability emerges from and within a grid-like arrangement. In Untitled, the wild flow of the papercut hair entraps and adds movement to the structured rows of dark faces that oscillate between minimalist design and abstract figuration, contributing to a sense of collective identity. On closer inspection the colors of the faces express a multitude of shades. The cut paper words entwined in the hair are taken from wig advertisements and function as critique of the construction of identity in a consumer driven world. A single paler-skinned female head is represented outside of the grid, possibly a self-portrait of the bi-racial artist who felt both within and outside of a collective African American female identity.

The distortions of the facial features recall a historical reference, commenting on the 19th century entertainment form of minstrel shows in which white people would perform in exaggerated black painted faces. The pronounced googly eyes and mouths caricature African Americans during such performances. For Gallagher, the minstrel stage perverted the African American body into what she terms the “American blackface.” Gallagher’s caricatures of racial typology, paired with the language of the “enhancements” offered by wig advertisements, parody the actual perils of the social construction of identity.

Jessie Alperin ‘18