Reframing History

Reframing History

Malaga Island is an uninhabited place located off the coast of Maine, US. During the mid-19th century it was home to an ethnically mixed, integrated community who lived in relative isolation. It was a way of life that stood in contrast to the system dominating the majority of America at the time. In 1912, the group of around 45 individuals was evicted and forcibly relocated to the mainland. The state governor regarded them as an “undesirable presence”, wishing to use the land as a tourist destination. The people were left without housing, jobs or support, with some involuntarily committed to psychiatric institutions. The plans never materialised: the region remains empty to this day.

American artist Theaster Gates (b. 1973) – who is recognised for socially engaged works that explore ongoing issues of race, territory and inequality in the US – responds to this troubling narrative in a new show at Tate Liverpool. It is the Chicago-based artist’s first solo museum exhibition in the UK, following an opening at Paris’ Palais de Tokyo. The title Amalgam references a combination of elements – reflecting the artist’s ongoing interest in reshaping both history and sculptural forms, whilst looking at the complexities of of interraciality and migration.

Tate’s show presents three large scale works, each examining how the past is created and interpreted. Sculpture, film, dance music and installation come together across the space. For example, Island Modernity Institute and Department of Tourism is an imagined archaeological study of Malaga, incorporating artist-made objects as well as items retrieved from the island. Featured above is a still from Dance of Malaga, a moving-image piece combining slow-paced movements from American dancer Kyle Abraham. It is performed on the island, intercut with archival footage and music from Gates’ collective, The Black Monks. Their blues and gospel-inspired sound filters into So Bitter, This Curse of Darkness, an immersive space populated with ash tree pillars – some of which are topped with bronze casts of African masks. Visitors walk through the forest, which honours the forgotten individuals.

The exhibition runs 13 December – 3 May. Find out more here.

Lead image: Still from the film Dance of Malaga, 2019 © Theaster Gates and courtesy of the artist. Photo: Chris Strong