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Michelle Williams Gamaker: Our Mountains Are Painted On Glass at the South London Gallery, 2023. Installation photography by Jo Underhill.

Michelle Williams Gamaker

Our Mountains are Painted on Glass

9 December 2023 - 24 March 2024

This major solo exhibition by Michelle Williams Gamaker, developed in collaboration with South London Gallery, premiered the artist’s newly-commissioned film Thieves, the first work of her Fictional Revenge series. The artist’s work responds to films watched during childhood, unpacked and seen anew over time, which raise important conversations about race, representation, identity and agency. 

A large video screen in a gallery shows a character wearing blue face paint and an elaborate costume.

Taking inspiration from early Hollywood and British cinema, Thieves is a thrilling fantasy adventure based on both the 1924 silent black-and-white and 1940 Technicolor films of the same name: The Thief of Bagdad. Chinese-American actor Anna May Wong and Indian-born American actor Sabu, who starred in the original films as marginalised characters, become leading characters in Williams Gamaker’s compelling retelling. 

The film sees a speculative union unfold between Anna May Wong and Sabu (acted by long-term Williams Gamaker collaborators Dahong Wang and Krishna Istha) where the performers are recast and reimagined as ‘brown protagonists’, claiming their leading roles through direct action.  

Thieves evokes early cinema and Technicolor classics, blending practical and analogue methods of special effects with contemporary technology to combine past and present filmmaking. The film is projected surrounded by props, which draw from the film’s set, alongside cinema ephemera of the actor Sabu collected by Williams Gamaker since 2015. 

For the first time, Thieves is shown alongside two film installations produced by the artist, The Bang Straws (2021) and The Eternal Return (2019), both part of the artist’s Fictional Activism trilogy.  

Collectively, the films come together to ask important questions about historic representations reverberating into our present day, and how this can be purposefully revisited and countered.  

Thieves was commissioned by Film London Artists’ Moving Image Network (FLAMIN) with funding from Arts Council England, and co-commissioned with the South London Gallery (SLG) and Dundee Contemporary Arts (DCA). Additional support from: National Lottery through Arts Council England; The Foundation Foundation; and The British Academy and the Wolfson Foundation. The film was produced by FLAMIN and Keep Rolling Studios. 

Thieves trailer

A gallery full of dark blue light, with a film projected on a wall showing a figure lying on its back with a cloud of insects above it.

About the artist

Michelle Williams Gamaker is a Sri-Lankan British award-winning moving image artist. Since 2014, she has been developing Fictional Activism: the restoration of marginalised film stars of colour as central figures, who return in her works as brown protagonists to challenge the fictional injustices to which they have been historically consigned. By proposing critical alternatives to imperialist storytelling in British and Hollywood studio films, she interrogates cinema by sabotaging the casting process and utilising cinema’s tools against itself. 

Williams Gamaker is joint winner of Film London’s Jarman Award (2020) and has an extensive national and international profile, including prestigious BFI London Film Festivals (2017, 2018 and 2021), Aesthetica Short Film Festival (winner of Best Experimental Film, 2021 and 2023) and Raindance (2022).  

Recent group exhibitions include A Tall Order!, Rochdale Art Gallery (2023) and a major public commission Springfield Eternal in the atrium of Springfield Hospital for charity Hospital Rooms (2023), Like There is Hope and I Can Dream of Another World at Hauser & Wirth, Whitechapel’s The London Open 2022 and I Multiply Each Day, Gus Fisher Gallery, Auckland (2021), 

Williams Gamaker’s major institutional solo exhibition, Our Mountains are Painted on Glass premiered Thieves (2023), her first film in Fictional Revenge. Thieves was co-commissioned by Film London, South London Gallery and Dundee Contemporary Arts. The show will tour to Bluecoat, Liverpool in 2024. Her work is in the Arts Council Collection, distributed by LUX and her entire filmography is part of the BFI National Film Archive. She is currently working toward a new body of work in Fictional Healing, which will complete her Critical Affection Trilogy.  

Williams Gamaker is Reader in BA Fine Art at Goldsmiths College, University of London, and is currently a British Academy Wolfson Fellow. She is a Studio Artist at Gasworks, where she is also a trustee.

Artist Interview | Michelle Williams Gamaker: Our Mountains are Painted on Glass

Michelle Williams Gamaker: Exhibition Notes

Click to download Exhibition Notes for Michelle Williams Gamaker: Our Mountains are Painted on Glass.
165 KB (PDF)

Audio Exhibition Notes

To listen to our Exhibition Notes, please click here

To listen to visual describer Juliana Capes describing Our Mountains are Painted on Glass, please click here.

Exhibition images

A gallery with red light, several backlit circular vitrines and displays of film costumes.
Photograph by Ruth Clark
A circular, backlit vitrine seen from above, containing Hollywood memorabilia.
Photograph by Ruth Clark
A large video screen in a gallery, showing an image of an actor playing Hollywood star Sabu, arms outstretched.
Photograph by Ruth Clark.
A large video screen in a gallery, showing an actor playing Hollywood star Anna May Wong ripping up a photograph of herself.
Photograph by Ruth Clark

Gallery Walkthrough | Michelle Williams Gamaker: Our Mountains are Painted on Glass

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