The Silver Wave: Michelle Williams Gamaker

Tiny wooden figurines from RAMM’s collections have inspired a film which tells the story of a woman who survived for two years, stranded on an uninhabited island north of Siberia.

The Silver Wave by Michelle Williams Gamaker will be on display in the World Cultures gallery until 21 March 2021. The 12-minute film, commissioned by RAMM, is inspired by objects from the World Cultures collection, and by the incredible story of Ada Blackjack; an Iñupiak woman and the only surviving member of an expedition to Wrangel Island in the Arctic in 1921.

Ada was employed as a seamstress and cook for four explorers, who hoped to claim the island for the British Empire. However, the four men fell ill and eventually died or disappeared in an attempt to seek help, leaving Ada alone on the island. Moved by the account, Michelle Williams Gamaker obtained a copy of Ada’s diary from a library in Alaska; she has used excerpts from the text along with objects from the museum to tell Ada’s story.

Michelle Williams Gamaker

Williams Gamaker is based in London, and her key focus is the development of ‘fictional activism’. She says: ‘This involves restoring marginalised brown characters as central figures, to challenge historical fictional injustices’. She has been shortlisted for the prestigious Film London Jarman Award 2020. The prize recognises the imagination and innovation of artist filmmakers in the UK.

In The Silver Wave, Williams Gamaker projects archival images and lighting effects over the objects to evoke the Arctic. Extracts from the diary provide the dialogue to the film; Iñupiat poet and writer Carrie Ayagaduk Ojanen, from the Ugiuvamiut tribe, narrates. The film also includes artefacts from other cutlures; Thai dancers, Mexican Rain gods and Indian tourist souvenirs. These are all found in RAMM’s collections.

“I saw one of the objects in the storeroom of the World Cultures collection – a native North American knife made from a bear jaw and steel. The steel has a Sheffield hallmark, and I was inspired by this mixing and movement of cultures. I thought it would be amazing if objects from across the museum’s cabinets somehow seeped into Ada’s subconscious and appeared in her dreams. They act as witnesses to Ada in her isolation. I like the idea that figures from other collections can be part of her story, travelling across time and space.”
– Michelle Williams Gamaker 

RAMM is closed from Thursday 5 November 2020 for the country-wide lockdown – reopening date TBA.

The Silver Wave by Michelle Williams Gamaker | World Cultures gallery | To Sunday 21 March 2021.
Please remember all visitors to RAMM need to book a ticket in advance. Book here.