“Racial mixing is often under-considered as we think about the formation of black consciousness or self-identity. So many of us are amalgams in one way or another, but we may not know it.” So comments Theaster Gates in relation to his new body of work, Amalgam, due to go on display at Tate Liverpool this December, marking the Chicago-born American artist’s first major solo exhibition in the UK.
The show takes its departure from the little-known history of Malaga, a small island off the north east state of Maine (USA). Though now uninhabited, during the mid-19th century Malaga was home to a relatively isolated group of ethnically mixed people who lived together as an integrated community – an arrangement that existed in stark contrast to the system of racial segregation that dominated the rest of America at the time. Over time, growing awareness of the islanders’ way of life became a source of public outcry among white Americans and concern among government officials. The community’s presence was also seen as undesirable on land that could be used as a tourist destination. In 1912, they were evicted and forcibly relocated to the mainland, where they were offered no housing, jobs or other support. Some were even involuntarily committed to psychiatric institutions.
Amalgam responds to this painful, only recently recovered history through a series of three large-scale works: a multi-part installation depicting an imagined archaeological study of Malaga, featuring artist-made objects and items retrieved from the island itself; a short film combining slow-moving dance choreography performed and filmed on Malaga, intersected with archival feature film footage; and an immersive space populated by ash tree pillars and bronze casts of African masks of uncertain heritage.
Gates is deeply interested in space theory and land development, and together these pieces form part of his ongoing investigation into the complex and interweaving issues of race, territory, and inequality in the US. With this in mind, Amalgam at Tate Liverpool looks set to present a deeply moving reflection upon one of the many troubling, and still somewhat unclosed chapters in America’s past. We urge you to go see.