Tate’s ‘unequivocally offensive’ mural to be accompanied by new artwork | Great Britain
Tate Britain has commissioned a new piece of artwork to be displayed alongside a mural featuring racist imagery, after discussions with historians, artists, cultural advisers and civic representatives.
The new installation will be “in dialogue” with Rex Whistler’s floor-to-ceiling mural in what was once a gallery restaurant in London.
A report by the Tate Ethics Committee concluded in 2020 that the mural was “unequivocally…offensive”. The committee called for a bold approach in contextualizing the mural, but said it should not be changed or removed.
The new artwork will be joined by interpretive material that “will critically engage with the history and content of the mural, including its racist imagery,” Tate said in an announcement Wednesday.
The artist who will create the new work has yet to be chosen, but Tate said the room containing the mural and the new installation will open to the public next winter.
Alex Farquharson, the director of Tate Britain, said the Whistler mural was “part of our institutional and cultural history and we must take responsibility for it, but this new approach will also allow us to reflect the values and commitments that we stand today and bring new voices and ideas to the fore”.
Tate’s decision comes amid a widespread debate over art, statues and monuments that have racist or colonial imagery or associations. Some activists have called for these works to be removed from the public sphere, while others have argued that they should be explained and contextualized.
The mural, The Expedition in Pursuit of Rare Meats, was commissioned in 1926 when Whistler was 21, and completed in 1927. It is one of the artist’s most important works, according to the Tate. It tells the story of an imaginary hunting expedition and includes images of a kidnapped and enslaved black child and caricatures of Chinese characters.
In 2018 Tate presented explanatory text on the racial content of the mural, and in 2020 the venue was closed as a restaurant. A focus group with five co-chairs was established to explore options regarding the future of the mural. The group’s recommendations were approved by Tate’s board this month.
Amia Srinivasan, of All Souls Oxford and co-chair, said discussions about the mural were “open, rigorous and filled with good-natured but deep disagreement… One of the few points of consensus was that Tate needed to own its story , and that any decision made should be an invitation to a larger conversation, not the end of a conversation.
David Dibosa, from the University of the Arts London and another co-chair, said the talks had “not been easy”. He added, “I stand with those who seek to honestly and fearlessly resolve the difficulties of the past. It takes tremendous courage to face our faults.
Whistler, one of the “Bright Young Things”, a group of 1920s London socialites, was killed in action during World War II.