This month, Bethan Lewis, Project Curator (Arts Council Collection) at the Walker Art Gallery focuses on Michelle Williams Gamaker, whose work can be seen in Walker Art Gallery’s current National Partners exhibition, As Seen on Screen.
Michelle Williams Gamaker is a London-based moving image and performance artist. Her work explores the legacy of 20th-century British and Hollywood studio films by restaging them and recasting their characters. The resulting alternative narratives redress the marginalisation of people of colour in the original films by restoring them as central figures who challenge their fates. The artist calls this ‘fictional activism’.
Williams Gamaker's Arts Council Collection work, House of Women, 2017 (an extract from which can be viewed below), portrays auditions for the role of Kanchi in a re-make of the 1947 film Black Narcissus. In the original film Jean Simmons played the Indian character. As Simmons was white, her face was painted with dark makeup, and she wore a jewel in her nose in order to portray the ‘exotic temptress’ of Rumer Godden’s novel. In House of Women the artist auditions only Indian expat or first-generation British Asian women and non-binary individuals living in the UK. They read an alphabet that refers to the history of photography and gender politics. This artwork reflects on how cinema has reduced race and gender to clichés.