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Racist Whistler mural to return at Tate Britain after ‘rigorous’ conversation about its future

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 2/16/2022 Robert Dex
The Tate Britain museum - AFP via Getty Images © AFP via Getty Images

The Tate Britain museum

- AFP via Getty Images

A racist mural will go back on show at Tate Britain after a “rigorous” conversation about its future.

A contemporary artist will be asked to create a work to be displayed alongside the huge work by Rex Whistler which has caused controversy for decades.

The 1927 floor-to-ceiling mural, called The Expedition in Pursuit of Rare Meats, is on the inside walls of a former restaurant named after Whistler. It includes images of a black child being kidnapped from his mother as well as caricatures of Chinese people.

Tate said the new display will include “interpretive material” which will “critically engage” with the work.

It comes after a series of discussions with people inside and outside the galleries.

Amia Srinivasan, a University of Oxford professor who co-chaired the discussions, said: “Conversations about the mural were open, rigorous, and filled with good-natured but deep disagreement: would keeping the mural open to the public accentuate its power? Would shutting it off risk doing the same?

“Could the space be used by artists of colour as a creative site of reappropriation? Or would this unfairly burden them with a problem produced by a historically white institution? One of the few points of consensus was that Tate had to take ownership of its history and that whatever decision was made had to be an invitation to a broader conversation, not the end of one.”

The restaurant has been closed since the pandemic and did not reopen when the gallery’s other restaurants did.

Tate Britain director Alex Farquharson said the mural presented “a unique challenge” to the gallery.

He said: “It has remained static on the walls of a restaurant for almost a century while the museum around it has constantly shifted. Tate Britain is now a place of ever-changing displays and commissions where the past and present are juxtaposed and where art is open to all.

“The mural is part of our institutional and cultural history and we must take responsibility for it, but this new approach will also enable us to reflect the values and commitments we hold today and to bring new voices and ideas to the fore.”

The room with the mural will open to the public next winter.

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