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Ellen Gallagher

Watery Ecstatic



Ellen Gallagher (1965-)


Watery Ecstatic




Watercolor, ink, oil, plasticine, graphite, and cut paper on paper


Sheet (Irregular): 27 3/4 × 39 7/16 in. (70.5 × 100.2 cm)

Credit line

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Purchase

Accession number


Object Label

Since 2001, Ellen Gallagher has worked on an ongoing series of mixed media drawings entitled Watery Ecstatic. These works are related to Drexciya, a myth created in 1997 by a Detroit house band of the same name. The musicians imagined an underwater world inhabited by the descendants of pregnant West African women forced from slave ships and lost at sea during the Middle Passage crossing to America. From a distance, the drawing appears abstract, but upon closer inspection, we see that the darker marks are collaged pictures of small black faces that have been affixed to the paper. Their exaggerated lips and distorted, bulging eyeballs evoke minstrel images, the stereotyped physiognomies that Gallagher frequently references in her work. Known for her experimental use of materials, Gallagher carved and cut into the surface of the thick watercolor paper, comparing her process to scrimshaw, the practice of scratching scenes and designs onto the bones, teeth, and tusks of marine mammals.