• Mon. May 27th, 2024

F*CK Tate Britain

ByKeisha Frimpong

Feb 26, 2022
Rex Whistler mural

CW: representation of slavery

“even when given the opportunity and resources to reflect, institutions will use the hope of reform to twist away from accountability and change.” 

Zarina Muhammad

Surprise, surprise once again a major art institution has come under fire for displaying racist artwork. This time the culprit is Tate Britain. Rex Whistler’s mural entitled, The Expedition in Pursuit of Rare Meats displayed in Tate Britain’s fine restaurant depicts offensive caricatures of Chinese figures and black slaves on leashes. Anyone can see that Whistler created are a highly offensive mural that presents stereotypical and racist depictions of non-Europeans.

The cherry on top it that Tate refuses to take the Whistler mural down. Oh no, how could they ever justify removing such an integral part of the museum? This artwork is a constant reminder that Tate Britain and other British art institutions will continue to remind the British public that the colonial empire’s discriminatory views of non-Europeans still exist today. The art website, The White Pube first initially raised the issue last year and gained so much traction that a petition demanding the removal of the mural was started (link at the end of this article).

This is Tate Britain’s response to the backlash:

“Having been commissioned for the restaurant walls in 1927, the mural was one of the artist’s most significant works and is part of a Grade I-listed historic interior. But it is important to acknowledge the presence of offensive and unacceptable content and its relationship to racist and imperialist attitudes in the 1920s and today…The interpretation text on the wall alongside the mural and on the website addresses this directly as part of our ongoing work to confront such histories, a process that goes hand in hand with championing a more inclusive story of British art and identity today.”

Zarina Muhammad from The White Pube wrote, “even when given the opportunity and resources to reflect, institutions will use the hope of reform to twist away from accountability and change.” The Tate’s decision to keep Whistler’s mural on display only further shows how little the institution cares about public opinion. If they did, they would remove the racist artwork and announce a formal apology for hosting it in the first place. Yet, once again British art institutions like Tate Britain prove that public opinion only matters when it could negatively affect the institution’s financial status. It doesn’t take a highly skilled curator to see that Whistler’s mural is full of racist stereotypes and is unsuitable to be displayed anywhere, let alone a highly regarded gallery. It was only when they received negative attention from the media, that the Tate consider removing the mural. But even then, Tate Britain refuses to wholly take accountability for their discriminatory artwork. Instead, they think they can calm their ‘woke’ public by writing a pathetic sentence stating that Whistler’s work is racist. Then again, what do you expect from an institution built on the money of the colonial empire? Of course, Tate Britain will uphold colonialism’s disgraceful racist activities. Oh! And as a final kick in the teeth, the mural was restored in 2013. Yes, Whistler’s racist artwork was scrubbed up for the diners in a £45 million revamp. As if a depiction of the horrific enslavement of Africans by the British empire needs to be refined. 

These institutions need to stop pretending they care about public opinion when in reality they will always align their interests with the white bourgeois. Tate Britain owes us the paying public, the reason for their popularity who keep their purses full. How are we supposed to live in an egalitarian society when the very institutions get to define what constitutes art are centred by whiteness? The institutions that get to decide what the future of art should look like? Tate Britain is upholding the racist acts of the colonial empire. Proving that even in a post-colonial world, racism is alive and well. And as much as we like to think of the art world as this woke rebellion against the state it is quite the opposite. I think Zarina Muhammed said it best, “they are propped up by white bourgeois hierarchies that centre and preserve white bourgeoise power and supremacy.” 


Images Rex Whistler, The Expedition in Pursuit of Rare Meat, 1927. Courtesy of Tate Britain via Wikipedia