In an astonishingly short space of time, Chicago-based artist Theaster Gates has incubated compelling new models for legacy building, social transformation, and making art. Encompassing sculpture, painting, ceramics, video, performance, and music, his art both derives from and sustains ambitious urban renewal projects, creating hubs and archives for black culture, which serve as catalysts for discussions on race, equality, space, and history.
For his first solo museum exhibition in France, Theaster Gates has initiated an entirely new project that explores social histories of migration and interracial relations using a specific episode in American history as his point of departure to address larger questions of black subjugation and the imperial sexual domination and racial mixing that resulted from it. These historical themes and their material realities have given rise to new cinematographic, sculptural and musical perspectives in Theaster Gates's oeuvre, while enabling Theaster Gates to examine the history of land ownership and race relations in the Northeastern United States.
The starting point of the exhibition, entitled “Amalgam,” is the story of Malaga Island in the state of Maine, USA: In 1912, the state governor expelled from Malaga the poorest population, an interracial, mixed community of about 45 people, considered “indolent” by many of the local white inhabitants. These unfortunate people were forced to relocate throughout the mainland; some were even involuntarily committed to psychiatric institutions.
The technical term “amalgam” has also been used in the past to denote racial, ethnic and religious mingling. For Theaster Gates, it has acquired an even more charged significance, impelling his practice towards new formal and conceptual explorations in film, sculpture, architecture, and music.