Abu Simbel
© President and Fellows of Harvard College
Identification and Creation
Object Number
2006.82
People
Ellen Gallagher, American (Providence, Rhode Island 1965 -)
Published by Two Palms Press, Inc.
Title
Abu Simbel
Classification
Prints
Work Type
print
Date
2005-2006
Culture
American
Physical Descriptions
Medium
Photogravure, watercolor, colored pencil, varnish, pomade, plasticine, blue fur, gold leaf and crystals
Technique
Photogravure
Dimensions
Sheet: 62.2 x 90.2 cm (24 1/2 x 35 1/2 in.)
Frame: 90 x 119.5 x 4.5 cm (35 7/16 x 47 1/16 x 1 3/4 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • Signed: verso in graphite pencil: Ellen Gallagher 2005-06
  • inscription: verso in graphite pencil: 19/25 Ellen Gallagher 2005-06
Provenance
[Two Palms Press, Inc., New York, New York], sold; to Harvard University Art Museums, August 2006.
State, Edition, Standard Reference Number
Edition
19/25
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Margaret Fisher Fund
Accession Year
2006
Object Number
2006.82
Division
Modern and Contemporary Art
Contact
am_moderncontemporary@harvard.edu
Descriptions
Commentary
Ellen Galagher's Abu Simbel print pushes the definition of printmaking to its outer limits. In 2000, she was asked to do an intervention at the Freud Museum in London and got interested in the photogravure of Abu Simbel, an ancient Egyptian site, hanging in his library. She determined to make a copy of the original photogravure and manipulate it with her race, history, and identity driven iconography. The "reprinted" photogravure has gold leaf, crystals, plasticine, and blue fur collaged to its surface, as well as some washes of watercolor. She describes it as "a tricked-out, multi-directional flow from Freud to ancient Egypt to Sun Ra to George Clinton."
Featured prominently in the upper left is a space ship shooting fireballs at the Egyptian monument that makes reference to the blaxploitation film, Space is the Place, in which Sun Ra has been sent to earth to rescue downtrodden African Americans and take them back to his astral utopia. He finds opposition from the Overseer, a black man who rides around in a huge Cadillac, oppressing other blacks. In Gallagher's print, the black pharaohnic figures sit atop Cadillac grills, surrounded by the decapitated heads of other black men, the victims of their oppression. In Sun Ra's movie, the Overseer is always has a woman on each arm and here the pharaohs are accompanied by two nurses, one of Gallagher's favorite characters. The nurse is an allusion to Eunice Rivers, the nurse who although caring and sympathetic, followed the orders of the doctors who conducted the Tuskegee syphilis experiments. She has become an exemplar of black complicity in the black subjugation. The same self-subjugation is exemplified by the three small figures on the right-a white man, an African American, and a black African-who Gallagher described to David Lasry, the publisher of the print, as "Harlem real estate developers."
Publication History

Stephan Wolohojian, ed., Harvard Art Museum Handbook, Harvard Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 2008), p. 256, ill.

Harvard University Art Museums, Harvard University Art Museums Annual Report 2006-7 (Cambridge, MA, 2008), p. 27, ill.

Exhibition History

Contemporary Art from the Harvard University Art Museums Collections, Harvard University Art Museums, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 06/23/2007 - 01/31/2008

Around Antique: Prints, Drawings, and Photographs (Teaching Gallery) S421, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 05/14/2010 - 09/04/2010

Subjects and Contexts

Collection Highlights

Verification Level

3 - Good. Object is well described and information is vetted