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Identification and Creation

Object Number
Ellen Gallagher, American (Providence, Rhode Island 1965 -)
Published by Two Palms Press, Inc.
Abu Simbel
Work Type
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Photogravure, watercolor, colored pencil, varnish, pomade, plasticine, blue fur, gold leaf and crystals
Sheet: 62.2 x 90.2 cm (24 1/2 x 35 1/2 in.)
Frame: 90 x 119.5 x 4.5 cm (35 7/16 x 47 1/16 x 1 3/4 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • Signed: verso in graphite pencil: Ellen Gallagher 2005-06
  • inscription: verso in graphite pencil: 19/25 Ellen Gallagher 2005-06


Recorded Ownership History
[Two Palms Press, Inc., New York, New York], sold; to Harvard University Art Museums, August 2006.

State, Edition, Standard Reference Number


Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Margaret Fisher Fund
© Ellen Gallagher
Accession Year
Object Number
Modern and Contemporary Art

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Ellen Gallagher's Abu Simbel print pushes the definition of printmaking to its outer limits. In 2000, she was asked to do an intervention at the Freud Museum in London and got interested in the photogravure of Abu Simbel, an ancient Egyptian site, hanging in his library. She determined to make a copy of the original photogravure and manipulate it with her race, history, and identity driven iconography. The "reprinted" photogravure has gold leaf, crystals, plasticine, and blue fur collaged to its surface, as well as some washes of watercolor. She describes it as "a tricked-out, multi-directional flow from Freud to ancient Egypt to Sun Ra to George Clinton."
Featured prominently in the upper left is a space ship shooting fireballs at the Egyptian monument that makes reference to the blaxploitation film, Space is the Place, in which Sun Ra has been sent to earth to rescue downtrodden African Americans and take them back to his astral utopia. He finds opposition from the Overseer, a black man who rides around in a huge Cadillac, oppressing other blacks. In Gallagher's print, the black pharaohnic figures sit atop Cadillac grills, surrounded by the decapitated heads of other black men, the victims of their oppression. In Sun Ra's movie, the Overseer is always has a woman on each arm and here the pharaohs are accompanied by two nurses, one of Gallagher's favorite characters. The nurse is an allusion to Eunice Rivers, the nurse who although caring and sympathetic, followed the orders of the doctors who conducted the Tuskegee syphilis experiments. She has become an exemplar of black complicity in the black subjugation. The same self-subjugation is exemplified by the three small figures on the right-a white man, an African American, and a black African-who Gallagher described to David Lasry, the publisher of the print, as "Harlem real estate developers."

Publication History

  • Stephan Wolohojian and Alvin L. Clark, Jr., Harvard Art Museum/ Handbook, ed. Stephan Wolohojian, Harvard Art Museum (Cambridge, 2008), p. 256, ill.
  • Thomas W. Lentz, ed., Harvard University Art Museums Annual Report 2006-7, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, 2008), p. 27, ill.

Exhibition History

  • Contemporary Art from the Harvard University Art Museums Collections, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 06/23/2007 - 01/31/2008
  • Around Antique: Prints, Drawings, and Photographs (Teaching Gallery) S421, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 05/14/2010 - 09/04/2010
  • 32Q: 3740 Egyptian, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 05/12/2015 - 11/17/2015

Subjects and Contexts

  • Collection Highlights

Verification Level

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