Tate to commission artist to ‘critically engage’ with racist imagery in Tate Britain restaurant mural


Tate will ask contemporary artists to create a “site-specific installation” in what used to be a Rex Whistler restaurant until recently. The gallery acknowledges that Tate Britain’s murals contain a “racist image.”

Rex Whistler painted the mural in 1927. Completed when he was 21, it is one of his most important works of art.

Given the right Expedition to chase rare meatThe mural is a story of a fictional hunting trip across continents and times in search of exotic food and drink, a theme suitable for restaurants.

Tate’s statement has two vignettes categorized as “a derogatory and miserable image of a black child being kidnapped and enslaved by his mother, and a Chinese caricature.” These images represent only a small part of the mural.

Little attention was paid to these two scenes until the late 2010s, but in 2018 Tate presented a new explanatory text to address their racial content. Two years later, after further protests, the Board of Trustees decided that it was no longer appropriate to use the room as a restaurant. By this time, the gallery was closed for Covid-19.

Later, Tate oversaw what became known as the Rex Whistler Mural Discussion, including discussions with outside artists, art historians, cultural advisers, civilian representatives, and young creative practitioners. Established.

The group is headed by five key members, all co-chaired. This suggests a strong commitment to collaboration and the question of who should lead the discussion.

With the exception of Tate Britain’s director Alex Farquharson, the group’s co-chairs are all of color. He commented: “Murals are part of our institutional and cultural history and we have to take responsibility for it, but this new approach also holds the values ​​and commitments we hold today. It allows us to bring new voices and ideas to the fore. “

Judging from today’s quote from Tate’s statement, the Co-Chair clearly found that the debate was difficult to respond to. David Dibosa of the University of the Arts London admits that discussions with the consulted people were “not easy”. Professor Amia Srinivasan of Oxford University talks about “deep disagreements” in the conversation.

The other two members were Tate employees. Mark Millar, who is responsible for learning, says there was a “difficult conversation.” Rachel Noel, who is in charge of connecting with Tate, aged 15 to 25, said, “Young people want museums to take ownership of difficult history and explore ways to do it. The past is our future. Is related to. “

Tate’s councilors have already acknowledged that the mural is a work of art. It reflects an attitude towards race and empire a century ago, but as artwork, it cannot be removed, damaged, obscured, or permanently closed. The mural is not an officially registered piece, but it forms an integral part of the interior listed in Grade I.

Earlier this month, the Board of Trustees accepted the advice of the Rex Whistler mural discussion. The advice is to invite contemporary artists to “invite a room to create a new site-specific installation and open it up to visitors as an exhibition space.”

The new work will be exhibited together with the mural painting and in dialogue with the mural painting, reconstructing the way of experiencing the space. It also comes with “new interpretations that are critically involved in the history and content of mural paintings, including racist images.”

Tate is currently in the process of selecting contemporary artists for the committee. No details have been announced, but it will probably be a non-white artist based in the UK. Tate doesn’t want to discuss the name, but one possibility is Lubaina Himid, who was born in Zanzibar and brought to England as an infant (she is currently until October 2nd). Tate Modern holds major exhibitions).

The selected artist faces challenges in dealing with the two unpleasant sections of the mural. One option is to temporarily hide them by sieving them in a way that does not damage the murals. The opposite approach is to literally spotlight the three vignettes, draw attention and comment. Another idea is to cover the offensive sections with a transparent overlay. Probably covered with additional images and text. But there is no doubt that there are other approaches as well.

The problem is that the notoriety of recent mural paintings means that they attract far more visitors than when it was a restaurant, increasing the visibility of unpleasant images.

The names of the commissioned artists will be announced in the coming months. Later, Tate hopes that Rex Whistler’s room will be reopened in the winter with new artwork and explanatory panels.

Fark Harson says Art newspaper: “There are many ways artists can approach this committee, but it can be influenced by their own practices and ways of working. What ideas are proposed and the direction in which they guide us. I’m looking forward to seeing it. “


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