Gilda Williams

  • Umar Rashid (Frohawk Two Feathers), An Occidental Incident at the Oriental Gardens at Kew. A failed assassination attempt on Helen, the Crimson Queen, by disgruntled members of the Force Liberté, a guerilla unit operating in the African and Caribbean theatre. Atari., 2020, acrylic and ink on canvas, 44 × 30".

    Umar Rashid (Frohawk Two Feathers)

    The botanical gardens of Kew were founded in 1759—roughly the midpoint of Umar Rashid’s epic, image-and-text fiction about the Frenglish Empire, an imagined colonial superpower that lasted from 1658 through 1880. The canvas whose very long title begins An Occidental Incident at the Oriental Gardens at Kew, 2020, presents rows of warring white and Black soldiers, all dressed in hybrid military costumes combining British redcoat elegance with Napoleonic finery. These stylized armies of nearly identical Black or white men—sometimes repeated like paper-doll cutouts, a few curiously sporting today’s

  • Amalia Ulman, El Planeta, 2021, DCP, black-and-white, sound, 79 minutes. Leonor and María (Amalia Ulman and Ale Ulman).
    film January 31, 2021

    Continental Grift

    EL PLANETAbilled as “a comedy about eviction” and the first feature film by artist Amalia Ulman, is loosely based on the real-life Spanish mother-daughter petty-crime duo Justina and Ana Belén. Arrested in 2012, the penniless yet elegant pair posed as wealthy ladies and scammed countless restauranteurs and shop-owners—who’d trusted the apparently well-heeled women to eventually settle their bill­—out of thousands of euros. In El Planeta, lead actor Ulman (who also wrote the screenplay) plays fashion student Leonor who, in the aftermath of her father’s death, can no longer afford her London

  • Tavares Strachan, No Name in the Street, 2020, two panels, oil, enamel, and pigment on acrylic, overall 96 × 96".

    Tavares Strachan

    Encyclopedia of Invisibility, 2018, is a massive, 2,400-page volume in which Bahamas-born, New York–based artist Tavares Strachan collected extraordinary yet “invisible” histories, often of overlooked people of color. These include North Pole explorer Matthew Henson; NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson; and the first African American astronaut, Robert Henry Lawrence Jr. Henrietta Lacks’s cells have been used in vital laboratory experiments since her untimely death in 1951—her “anonymous” DNA has been on permanent loan to science, without her consent. Alicia Alonso was the Cuban-born star of

  • Khadija Saye, Limoŋ, 2017, silk screen on vinyl, 24 1/8 × 19 3/4". © The Estate of Khadija Saye.

    Khadija Saye

    More than seventy people perished in the Grenfell Tower blaze of June 2017, when a fire began in a fourth-floor apartment and, owing to the building’s treacherously inflammable exterior cladding, rapidly spread to engulf the entire social-housing tower. Among the dead was British Gambian artist Khadija Saye, at home with her mother on the twentieth floor, presumably obeying the firefighters’ advice to stay put until help arrived. Only twenty-four years old when she tragically died, Saye was “on the cusp of something special,” as London Member of Parliament David Lammy said at the momentous

  • No Martins, Campo minado (self-portrait) (Mine Field [Self-Portrait]), 2019, acrylic on canvas, 7'2 5/8" × 14'1 1/4".

    No Martins

    In the mid-twentieth century, Brazil’s multishaded racial democracy may have looked good compared to Jim Crow policies in the United States, but lately, bolstered by the presidency of Jair Bolsonaro, the “tropical Trump,” racism in Brazil has violently worsened. In a country where about half the population is nonwhite, three-quarters of the victims of police killings are black.

    This was the grim context for the exhibition “Social Signs,” displaying four of Brazilian artist No Martins’s large, brightly colored figurative paintings. His black-skinned subjects include a defiant-looking mother standing

  • Joey Holder, Semelparous, 2020, still from the 7-minute, 47-second 4K video component of a mixed-media installation additionally comprising digital prints, wood, MDF, and paint.

    Joey Holder

    By the time female European eels complete their three-thousand-mile, one-to-two-year-long swim from the continent’s rivers back to the Sargasso Sea to spawn, they’ve devoured most of their own skeletons and muscle mass and basically resemble mobile sacks of eggs. Eels are semelparous, meaning they reproduce only once during their lifetime, investing all their energy, body weight, and existential drive (so to speak) in that single journey.

    Although European eels are critically endangered (their population is down by roughly 90 percent since the 1970s in great part due to illegal overfishing), Joey

  • Myra Greene, Piecework #38, 2019, dye and silk-screened ink on cotton, 74 × 68". From the series “Piecework,” 2017–.

    Myra Greene

    Piecework refers to labor paid according to the number of items produced rather than the amount of time spent on the job. Often associated with the ruthless economic exploitation of the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, this system saw entire families gathered at home sewing garments or packing fruit, united in the desperate attempt to make ends meet. Piecework is sadly making a comeback—thanks to its versatility in allowing employers to get around minimum-wage and other labor laws—as dramatized recently on-screen by a family of Seoul basement dwellers frantically folding pizza boxes to

  • Jade Montserrat, Her inscription read brown sugar, 2017, mixed media on paper, 9 1⁄2 × 6 3⁄4".

    Jade Montserrat

    A gallery today is mostly imagined as a three-dimensional space; instead, the artist, activist, and writer Jade Montserrat frequently activates her exhibition sites primarily as a valuable collection of walls, which she loads with messages and reflections about black British bodies—their overlooked history and experiences—alongside an urgent call for a renewed society built on affection, care, and ethics. Her performance/installation No Need for Clothing, 2017, featured the artist naked and hard at work, drawing with charcoal directly on the wall to compose an allover spread of brief enigmatic

  • Mark Leckey, Dream English Kid, 1964–1999 AD, 2015, video, color, sound, 23 minutes 2 seconds.

    Mark Leckey

    Amazingly, a life-size section of the M53 motorway bridge—complete with massive pillars, a ramp, and an overhead road—has been reconstructed in a darkened, hangar-size gallery at Tate Britain. Beneath such a bridge, located in the hinterlands of Liverpool, Mark Leckey played with his boyhood friends back in the 1970s. And there, he says, one very strange day, he encountered an inexplicable, spritelike magical creature.

    This supernatural encounter lodged indelibly in Leckey’s psyche and has loosely become the subject of Under Under In, 2019, one of three video works that comprise “Mark Leckey: O’

  • Nevine Mahmoud, breast (Rosa Alptraum), 2019, handblown glass, resin, aluminum hardware, 10 × 7 1⁄8 × 7 1⁄2".

    Nevine Mahmoud

    There are breasts, and then there are tits. With their supple glass curves and pointy resin nipples, the pair hanging temptingly on the wall here were definitely tits. The pinky-beige breast (Rosa Alptraum) and her deep-red sister breast (tamarind) (all works 2019) were convincingly smooth and perky, just begging for an illicit feel. Confronted by Nevine Mahmoud’s sculptures of fragmented erogenous zones, I sensed the conflation of two prohibitions: the taboo against touching an artwork in a gallery, and that of touching a stranger’s body. Both can be tempting; both must be resisted. I must not

  • Tracey Emin, You were still There, 2018, acrylic on canvas, 72 1⁄4 × 48".

    Tracey Emin

    Tracey Emin’s first-ever solo exhibition, in White Cube’s tiny original gallery, was titled “My Major Retrospective 1963–1993.” Two years later, still a relative unknown, she opened the Tracey Emin Museum (1995–98) in a south London storefront. Emin has always thought big and scaled up, a tactic abundantly observed in this giant solo exhibition, “A Fortnight of Tears.” Sketchy, nude self-portrait drawings enlarged into some thirty big canvases; intimate handwritten notes magnified into the wall-size neon I Longed for You, 2019; tabletop clay figurines swelled into three room-size bronzes; and

  • Annie Ratti, White Bird’s Hat, 2018, fabric, styrene rubber, metal mesh, wooden block, metal stand, 81 1⁄8 × 29 1⁄8 × 9 7⁄8".

    Annie Ratti

    Wilhelm Reich spent a lifetime dodging persecutors—first the Nazis, then the FBI, then the American Immigration and Naturalization Service—but it was finally the US Food and Drug Administration that managed to capture and imprison him. The discredited German psycho-analyst believed he could heal the world by harnessing “orgone,” the life energy he believed was released in orgasm, whose suppression Reich claimed caused all mental and physical illness. Officially accused mostly of medical fraud—little more than quackery—Reich disproportionately infuriated both the international scientific