Artist & Empire
Institutions can never satisfactorily deal with confronting colonialism’s past and present.
That is a fact.
They never go far enough.
There is never any real denouncement, never any sincere apology, or rather, confrontation of the subject.
I went to this show with some brown friends and we were loud and obnoxious.
We sniggered at maps and blurbs.
We took pictures in front of the guards, then eyeballed them when they said “no photos”.
We swore loudly on the phone with no respect.
We bitched about goreh in front of them.
It was fun.
Because ultimately, this just was a really nice collection of artefacts.
I can’t slag it off for this, it was looking back. I knew that walking in.
It was a museum-type-ting, but Hito Steyerl taught me that the Museum truly is a Battlefield.
Museums are treasure troves of stolen property from colonial conquest. It’s the nature of the form.
If colonialism never happened, the British Museum would be empty except for those dry Celtic pots and one Viking helmet some poor Olaf forgot.
Institutions are ill-equipped to deal with criticism of colonialism’s history because they are still right up against it, nose pressed to the glass, grubby hands leaving sweaty smears on the trophy case.
In this case, the Tate Britain’s special focus on the British Raj and the glaring absence of their own role in the sugar trade and slavery did nothing but make me feel hollow and drained. When I went home, my skin was dry and chapped from the physical toll institutions have on me and my skin. I had to moisturise twice, drink sum ginger chai. Plop on a Haldi and yoghurt face mask. Strip it from my mind.
I thought this show would be like this, and i’m not even mad, because I saw it coming and when it came I wasn’t disappointed.
It makes me so sad to think that brown or black ppl might go to this show thinking ‘how progressive and good of them!’, spend £13 or whatever and walk round only for it to slowly creep up on you all at once, again and again as it always does: institutions are not here for us. They hold our hands sometimes and whisper sweetly in our ear “i luv u babes, ur so beautiful. I want ur mind, body and soul xoxo” but that’s just a momentary flare of desire. They don’t want u for u, they just want u for ur body (of work). They want to put u on display along with all the other things. They want to gloss over this cluster-fuck of issues with soothing wall blurbs that nod insincerely at the issues but don’t change anything.
I’m sick SICK, SICK of half-measures. I’m sick of my mother telling me “one day, bitoo, one day it’ll be different. Things always have to change, and one day they will.” I’m sick of consistently being put in this position where i know there’s a problem but can’t quite put my finger on it, can’t quite catch it but feel it’s tail fur brush up against my finger tips but at the last minute it slips from my grasp. It dries out my skin when structures nod at problems but then move on, when the problems are insidious and slippery so you feel like you’re just angry or overly-sensitive. You convince yourself that it’s just that time of the month. You say “well I had a nice day anyway so it doesn’t matter tbh”.
I want change now.
I want radical change.
Complete fucking overhaul.
I don’t want to look at these paintings from-back-when then have to move into a section at the end that tries to convince me it’s all over now, that things are fixed, black, brown artists are dealing with it. They haven’t got it. They’ve missed the point. They never could get it, the point was so far beyond them. There’s nothing they could have done that would change my mind about this, it’s beyond fixing.
I was always going to write this review in exactly this way with exactly these words.
There’s no changing it.
It will always be this way.