Ellen Gallagher, Wiglette from DeLuxe, 2004, photogravure and plasticine, 33 x 26.6 cm each, 13 x 10 1/2 in. each, Courtesy Gagosian Gallery
The notion of identity is one that is constantly questioned and apprehended by artists, as they seek to depict a history of divisions in order to make it theirs, especially in the United States, where women artists use their art to raise awareness and denounce the oppression of non-white people. The sculptor Augusta Savage paved the way in the early 20th century by becoming the first African-American to question racial prejudice in the art world after having been excluded from a study programme in France because of her skin colour. The racism endured day after day, with more or less intensity depending on the context and period, became a subject frequently addressed by 20th-century artists, using a variety of mediums. It became a central element in the works of many artists such as Ellen Gallagher, who challenged racial archetypes with her piece Pomp-Bang (2003), which juxtaposed “pictures drawn from magazine advertisements for skin-lightening creams and hair relaxing products”. Kara Walker creates vast murals depicting silhouettes that describe the everyday lives of an exploited, enslaved black population and of a hypersexualised black woman in Slavery! Slavery! Presenting a GRAND and LIFELIKE Panoramic Journey into Picturesque Southern Slavery or “Life at ‘Ol’ Virginny’s Hole” (sketches from Plantation Life) (2008). Some African-American or native Americans women artists distance themselves from any forms of taboo and backbiting, instead using their art to express and question their identity and history.