This artwork is on view in the Walker exhibition The Living Years: Art after 1989. The text below is the artwork's label written for that exhibition.
Ellen Gallagher collects popular magazines published for a black audience, such as Ebony, Black Digest, and Our World—most of them dating from the years before the civil rights era. She is drawn to vintage advertisements that promise physical transformation, including those for skin lighteners, hair straighteners, and wigs. The artist meticulously replicates the ads with printmaking techniques, then, as she says, “reactivates” the surfaces by adhering unusual elements, from plasticine and hair pomade to glitter and plastic eyes. In so doing, she modifies the idealized human beings into bizarre apparitions that call into question attitudes about fashion, mass media, and race prevalent in mid-century America.
Art Lab: Skin Deep