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UK's leading Tate galleries face heat over racist slavery mural in restaurant

Wed, 5th Aug 2020 13:59

By Sonia Elks

LONDON, Aug 5 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A top British
art institution faced calls on Wednesday to move a restaurant
featuring a "repellent" mural depicting child slavery by the
celebrated 1930s artist Rex Whistler.

Black lawmaker Diane Abbott added her voice to growing
demands for Tate Britain to relocate its restaurant out of the
hand-painted room, with images of an enslaved Black boy chained
by his neck to a horse and cart and of his distressed mother.

"Had no idea famous mural had repellent images of black
slaves," Abbott, a lawmaker in the opposition Labour Party,
posted on Twitter.

"Museum management need to move the restaurant. Nobody
should be eating surrounded by imagery of black slaves."

The Tate, a network of four government-sponsored art
museums, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A statement on the Rex Whistler Restaurant's website
acknowledged the "deeply problematic racist imagery" in the 1927
mural, which it said reflected common attitudes in Britain at
the time as its hold on empire was weakening.

"We hope to tell a more inclusive story of British art and
identity and confront these difficult and offensive histories,"
it added. The restaurant is currently closed due to the new
coronavirus pandemic.

The row comes as Black Lives Matter protests around the
world draw fresh scrutiny over statues, art works and other
cultural artifacts which anti-racism campaigners say continue to
uphold the legacy of slavery and colonialism.

Campaigners have felled some monuments to disgraced white
leaders and are pressing for others to be removed, while critics
of the movement argue such works should be recognised as part of
a nation's heritage and allowed to remain.

Hundreds of people have signed a petition launched this week
calling on the Tate to either remove "The Expedition in Pursuit
of Rare Meats" mural or change the location of the restaurant.

"The reality of the room is truly grotesque," the petition
said. "Tate Britain allowing this overtly racist painting to
remain for diners (sic) enjoyment is not acceptable."

(Reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks; Editing by Katy Migiro.
Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm
of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the
world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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