Michelle Williams Gamaker: Our Mountains Are Painted on Glass

9 Dec 2023-24 Mar 2024

DCA, Dundee Contemporary Arts
Dundee DD1 4DY


Through her practice British-Sri Lankan artist Michelle Williams Gamaker explores race, identity, her love of cinema and the power of storytelling. Her solo exhibition, Our Mountains Are Painted on Glass, includes her new film work, titled Thieves, following on from its premiere at South London Gallery. 

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, 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.

In DCA galleries, Thieves, will be shown amongst elements of the film’s set, sculpture, and props. A selection of Williams Gamaker’s other films and related works will also be exhibited alongside the main commission, and her Artist’s Choice films - shown in DCA cinema - will further explore her ideas and references. 

Thieves was commissioned by Film London Artists’ Moving Image Network (FLAMIN) with funding from Arts Council England, and co-commissioned with the South London Gallery (SLG) and Dundee Contemporary Arts (DCA). Additional support from: National Lottery through Arts Council England; The Foundation Foundation; and The British Academy and the Wolfson Foundation. The film was produced by FLAMIN and Keep Rolling Studios. 

About Michelle Williams Gamaker

Award-winning moving image artist Michelle Williams Gamaker (b.1979, London) developed Fictional Activism to interrogate 20th Century cinema by retelling the histories of marginalised actors and by proposing critical alternatives to colonial storytelling in British and Hollywood studio films. She is joint winner of Film London’s Jarman Award (2020) and has an extensive national and international profile, including prestigious BFI London Film Festivals (2017, 2018, 2021), Aesthetica Short Film Festival (winner of Best Experimental Film, 2021) and Raindance (2022). Recent exhibitions include I Multiply Each Day, Gus Fisher Gallery, Auckland (2021), Whitechapel’s The London Open 2022, Like There is Hope and I Can Dream of Another World at Hauser & Wirth, and a major public commission Springfield Eternal in the atrium of Springfield Hospital for charity Hospital Rooms, opening in 2023. Our Mountains are Painted on Glass has been co-commissioned with South London Gallery (SLG), where it was shown in early 2023. Williams Gamaker’s work is in the Arts Council Collection and her entire filmography has been recognised and preserved by the BFI National Film Archive. She is a Studio Artist at Gasworks, where she is also trustee. Williams Gamaker is Reader in BA Fine Art at Goldsmiths College, University of London, and is currently a British Academy Wolfson Fellow. She champions emerging artists, most recently as Selector for the prestigious John Moore’s Painting Prize (2020) and Bloomberg New Contemporaries (2021).