Ellen Gallagher Oh! Susanna 1995

  • Not on view

Miniscule marks of racist caricature—such as blubber lips and popping eyeballs—pervade the sheets of lined penmanship paper that cover Gallagher's canvases. These shorthand signs look abstract from a distance, but on closer scrutiny the stock derogatory emblems of black minstrelsy become apparent. The title Oh!Susanna refers to Stephen Foster's 1848 American folk song of the same name, which originated from a slave lament about families torn apart. The song's racial element was erased when it became popular in the West, associated with the California Gold Rush. The artist explains, "A very specific loss became universal once race was removed." Gallagher's work disrupts the idea that race and identity are predetermined or fully fixed.Through repetitions and inversions she reintroduces taboo aspects of history to question whether core assumptions have changed.

Gallery label from Comic Abstraction: Image-Breaking, Image-Making, 2007.
Oil, pencil, and paper on canvas
10 x 8' (304.8 x 243.8 cm)
Fractional and promised gift of Michael and Judy Ovitz
Object number
© 2021 Ellen Gallagher
Painting and Sculpture

Installation views

How we identified these works

In 2018–19, MoMA collaborated with Google Arts & Culture Lab on a project using machine learning to identify artworks in installation photos. That project has concluded, and works are now being identified by MoMA staff.

If you notice an error, please contact us at [email protected].


If you would like to reproduce an image of a work of art in MoMA’s collection, or an image of a MoMA publication or archival material (including installation views, checklists, and press releases), please contact Art Resource (publication in North America) or Scala Archives (publication in all other geographic locations).

All requests to license audio or video footage produced by MoMA should be addressed to Scala Archives at [email protected]. Motion picture film stills or motion picture footage from films in MoMA’s Film Collection cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. For licensing motion picture film footage it is advised to apply directly to the copyright holders. For access to motion picture film stills please contact the Film Study Center. More information is also available about the film collection and the Circulating Film and Video Library.

If you would like to reproduce text from a MoMA publication, please email [email protected]. If you would like to publish text from MoMA’s archival materials, please fill out this permission form and send to [email protected].


This record is a work in progress. If you have additional information or spotted an error, please send feedback to [email protected].