The Lucas brothers in the midst of their hallucinatory vision at the Metropolitan Museum (all images screenshoted by the author for Hyperallergic)

In a segment titled “White at the Museum” aired yesterday (April 3) on Samantha Bee’s satirical program on TBS, Full Frontal, the Lucas Brothers respond in a light-hearted way to white nationalists’s use of Greek and Roman statues in their propaganda as a proof of the superiority of white culture. But if they end up watching this episode, alt-righters would be disappointed to learn that the whiteness of their beloved statues is but a myth.


In the episode, the twin duo (Kenny and Keith Lucas) roam the Greek and Roman art galleries at Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and talk to experts on what they call “the origin of whiteness.”

Dr. Marco Leona, an art scientist and a conservation expert at the Met Museum, leaves the Lucas Brothers mind-blown after he reveals to them that Greek and Roman statues were originally painted in colors that reflected a variety of skin tones. As the paint wore off through the centuries, the statues returned to their marble-white base color. “We could’ve avoided racism if the Greeks just used some primer,” the twins joke.

Sarah E.Bond, a professor of Classics at the University of Iowa and a Hyperallergic contributor, tells the comedians that the Greek had no conception of biological race. “They saw skin tone, but not in order to enforce an idea of whiteness or blackness,” she says.

“How did they [the Greeks] know which culture to appropriate?” asks one of the brothers. “How did the cops know which chariot to pull over?” jests the other.

A hallucinatory Met comes alive with color

The idea of using statues to categorize race came centuries after the Greeks and Romans, the twins explain. “Whiteness is not skin color, whiteness is a system of oppression,” adds Dr. Chenjerai Kumanyika from Rutgers University. “Whiteness is an invention that white people came up with to categorize people,” he added, recalling how at different times Irish and Italian immigrants to the US were not considered “white” when they arrived to the country.

The segment takes a psychedelic turn when the twins drop the museum’s admission tags into their mouths like they would a tab of LSD. A colorful and merry acid trip begins, and the marble statues come back to life. A bearded dark statue asks the twins what the word “racist” means. They try to explain to him the basic concept of hating people because of their skin color, but the sculpture insists: “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

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Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is also a co-director at Soloway Gallery, an artist-run space in Brooklyn. Bishara is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital...

4 replies on “A Satirical Take on the Whiteness of Classical Sculpture”

  1. At the Houston Museum of Fine Arts there is a wonderful display of art from Ghana. It is not white. It is not black. It is itself. It does not riff off / react to other cultures, though of course through the dialectic it surely is influenced by other cultures even as it influences other culture.

    The, um, event depicted here could, as a bit of fun, be valid for that reason (although humor is suspect now, and must be investigated) and as social criticism, but it is also a riff and a reaction still predicated in what the…depicters… perceive to be or stereotype as white art. It is truly reactionary. The viewer will be aware of that.

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