Henry Tate, the creator of the sugarcube and subsequent Sugar Cubism, hell bent on the alchemical subjugation of the working class continues this capitalist project even today. Just as sugar cubism was essential for that stage of colonialist and capitalist development and the subjugation of the working class, so is a sugar sprinkled and whitewashed modern art.
The current transformation of Tate into many subordinate companies is done to segregate workers so to control them in different ways – Tate Enterprises Ltd which is making these redundancies is tektologically sealed off from Tate Gallery itself. The cafe/shop business (the reproductive labour of art) as separate from the art gallery (psychic labour)- this structural separation of art and life is a characteristic of the common ground that Neoliberalism and Bolshevism share and is what allows the Tate to make these staff redundant while at the same time trumpeting their diversity and inclusion of black workers and artists.
It comes as no surprise that the Tate seeks to cast out its workers at their most vulnerable time. Just as it is no surprise that they sought just last year to cover up the sexual harassment and racism of their sugar daddy donor Anthony d’Offay, even when there was an active police case against him they tried to resume contacts with the serial abuser and to cover up the fact that he was still under investigation. see https://www.theartnewspaper.com/news/tate-resumes-contact-with-anthony-d-offay-after-sexual-harassment-claims-investigated
Or the accusations of persistent racism made by the Karachi-born, British artist Rasheed Araeen against Tate (“British art history is a whitewash”). He said the institution has failed to support his research project, The Whole Story: Art in Postwar Britain, which is an effort to challenge prevailing art histories which celebrate “only—and exclusively—the achievements of white artists” through a comprehensive publication and exhibition. Tate denied the accusations and said it is “committed to diversifying the canonical account of British and global post-war art.”
As mass redundencies sweep across Britain, concerns have been raised that these redundancies affect black and brown workers disproportionately – Tate is no exception. (see https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2020/jul/26/tate-faces-protests-over-job-cuts-impact-on-bame-staff ). While the Tate makes hollow platitudes about BLM and diversity – citing the proportion of BAME workers in its staff – it simultaneously maintains the economic and cultural legacy of slavery and colonialism – as we go higher up the payscale and power ladder we find the air to be more and more white and more and more male. And when there is trouble it is those lowest in the chain who are being forced to bear the burden.
This is the situation that must be overthrown. As a recent open letter, by UK Artists 4 BLM, puts it: Intersectional democratic structures such as citizens’ assemblies – with artists as facilitators that acknowledge the invisible labour of how art is created by workers such as technicians, cleaners, kitchen and other gallery staff – must replace the current system of Boards of Directors, Governors and Trustees. We are proposing civic cooperation. The hierarchical division of labour on racial, gendered and ablenormative lines is encoded in the current structures of ownership and these must change. (see https://www.artsprofessional.co.uk/magazine/article/we-need-collectivity-against-structural-and-institutional-racism-cultural-sector )
To this end we present a banishing spell to rid the Tate Modern of the baleful influence of its bourgeois structures.
As part of this we will also recreate one of the pieces that the Tate wanted to acquire from Rasheed Araeen, namely Paki Bastard (Portrait of the Artist as a Black Person), that he has declared he will not allow them to show until The Whole Story is shown.
We support his art strike and yours. We also want to mention our solidarity for the Belarus union of artists on strike in Belarus at the moment against the control of political and artistic expression by capital and the state.
Most importantly we are here to support you as reproductive workers who maintain the conditions for artistic production and call on your support in fashioning new conditions for new forms of cultural production and other non-productive labour
DAta Miners Travailleurs Psychiq
OPEN LETTER BY RASHEED ARAEEN, Art Newspaper, 2018
I’m no longer in the habit of writing letters to the media. But I must respond to Tate which is attempting to cover its lies and deceptions of the last 60 years or so. The issue is not just about the prevailing nature of mainstream modern art history, from which non-white artists continue to be excluded, but also about art in post-war Britain and its persistent misrepresentation, particularly by Tate.
In 2002, I approached Tate with a proposal for The Whole Story, so as to help the institution recognise the achievements of black artists. But I faced persistent Tate evasiveness and delaying tactics as well as its paternalistic attitude towards non-white artists. Instead of recognising the imperial legacy of the prevailing Euro-centric art history, based on colonial ideas of white supremacy, it turned the whole thing into the problems of non-white artists and how Tate has been trying to help them. The recent acquisitions by Tate of the works of non-white artists, including mine, and their annual displays alongside work by white artists, are now being used as a smokescreen to hide the perniciousness of its institutional racism.
Having communicated with Tate for almost 15 years and dealt with its persistent refusal to do anything about what I had proposed regarding its Euro-centric art history, I then heard about the all-white exhibition Conceptual Art in Britain, 1964-1979, held at Tate Britain in 2016. I had no choice but to write a long letter to Sir Nicholas Serota (then director of Tate) on 16 January 2016 in which I denounced Tate’s imperialism which enshrined its institutional racism. He acknowledged my letter, and thanked me for it, without responding to any of the points I made. Instead he suggested we should meet and discuss the matter. We finally met on 1 September 2016 and then on 1 January 2017 in my studio which he was visiting for the first time. In both meetings, he thanked me again for my letter and promised to deal with my main concern about Euro-centric art history, from which I assumed he would accept my proposal for The Whole Story. However, he did not specify what he would actually do but instead spent most of his visits looking at my own work and praising it with a suggestion that Tate might acquire more.
He then sent curators Andrew Wilson and Ann Gallagher to my studio. They also spent all their time looking at my new paintings and praising them, instead of discussing the matter I had been discussing with Serota. They asked me to show them the video of my Paki Bastard performance which I did and they then left with a request for a copy of the video to be shown at Tate (which I’ve not given them nor will I).
As I had not recorded my discussions with Serota, I wrote to him again on 23 April 2017, reminding him about what we discussed in our meeting and asking him to confirm it in writing. I received a reply on 29 May 2017 which was not only contrary to what he had promised but disturbingly evasive, again, and negative. First, he used the very same arguments which he has been repeating for years about what Tate has been doing regarding black artists (acquiring their work and displaying it) and that this was sufficient and thus there was no need for Tate to pursue what I had proposed. Here is what he said:
“…we could not publish The Whole Story in the form you originally envisaged…I don’t think there is an appetite to publish another, but more complete, narrative of the post-war period. We are planning displays that will look across decades and in conjunction with these I could imagine that we might commission a series of publications that would examine periods such as the 70s or 80s in some depth.”
This was the end of The Whole Story project as far as Tate was concerned. What I find most disturbing was not merely that Tate wanted to do things in its own way and in its own time but that it considered it okay to totally disregard, in such a blatant, disrespectful way, what had already been done in this respect. When I sent The Whole Story project to Tate about 15 years ago, it contained details of the 20 prominent art historians and writers I had persuaded to contribute to the project by each writing a chapter of the publication. Ten of these have now been completed. But for Tate this had no value.
Why was it necessary for Tate to accept this project? Tate is Britain’s flagship art institution and whatever it does or does not do is followed by the whole country. Art histories are written on the basis of what Tate recognises and promotes. It is therefore its job and responsibility as a public institution to tell the truth to the art community, if not society about what society has achieved historically in art. But it has not only not fulfilled this responsibility but has been acting against its own institutional charter and mission. The question now is why does it remain complacent? Why does it continue with its lies and deceptions? The simple answer to this seems to be that there has been no public debate about what Tate does and does not do, no one has publicly challenged Tate about its policies and programmes of the last 60 years or so. Why have its historical shows always been exclusively about the achievements of white artists? Without this debate, Tate will continue to misrepresent what Britain has achieved. We need to expose and discuss art institutional racism and its consequences. I have decided to have nothing to do with Tate, to receive none of its curators in my studio or have discussions with them or allow them to show my work until this discussion begins in earnest.
Rasheed Araeen, London