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Our Mountains Are Painted On Glass

Michelle Williams Gamaker’s upcoming solo exhibition in March 2023, Our Mountains Are Painted on Glass, premieres a new film work, titled Thieves, at the South London Gallery. Thieves is a sequel to The Bang Straws, which was supported by a Stuart Croft Foundation Moving Image Award in 2020.

Through her practice British-Sri Lankan artist Michelle Williams Gamaker explores race, identity, her love of cinema and the power of storytelling. Known for her inventive filmmaking and screenwriting, Williams Gamaker draws on and celebrates the classic movies she watched growing up. Taking inspiration from early Hollywood and British cinema, Thieves is a fantasy adventure retelling of The Thief of Bagdad. The Thief of Bagdad is a silent, black and white film from 1924, which was remade in colour in 1940.

Williams Gamaker reimagines the marginalised characters as claiming leading roles in her film, played in the originals by Chinese-American actor Anna May Wong and Indian-born American actor Sabu.  Now, both characters reclaim the story as their own, challenging the racial discrimination of the film industry. Told as a movie within a movie, in Thieves Anna May Wong is found on set by Sabu, but there is something wrong: she is in black-and-white while everything else is in Technicolor, and both find themselves trapped in their screen-images. Both must navigate the structural violence on set (in this case, the casting of white actors to replace actors of colour) by joining forces to overthrow the set and those in charge.

Thieves is a vivid retelling, blending classic analogue methods with contemporary practices. The artist celebrates the best of past and present filmmaking and shares her love of cinema through the stories she unpicks.

Drawing out elements of the film’s set, Thieves will be screened in the main gallery alongside sculpture, props, and archival cinema materials.

Thieves was awarded a Film London FLAMIN Production Award 2022 and co-commissioned by FLAMIN, the South London Gallery and Dundee Contemporary Arts (DCA), where it will further develop in late 2023.

“I see this mode of filmmaking as critical affection. I deeply love old cinema classics, but they are riddled with injustices that can no longer be overlooked. I lean heavily on the magic of cinema, and I turn the fiction machine on itself by sabotaging the casting process: the previously marginalised actors have a chance to come back: they have a voice, they are politically astute, and, crucially, their agency is restored.”
– Michelle Williams Gamaker

Michelle Willliams Gamaker: Our Mountains Are Painted On Glass

31 March – 18 June 2023
South London Gallery
65–67 Peckham Road, London SE5 8UH

For more information, visit the South London Gallery website.

Top image: Michelle Williams Gamaker, Thieves, (behind the scenes still with Ananya Jaidev as the Silver Maiden), 2022. Photo: Ellen Jane Rogers
Contact: info@stuartcroftfoundation.org © Stuart Croft Foundation 2017 | Registered charity No. 1163676 | Website: tmck.co.uk