A key argument that has resurfaced in the wake of 2020’s renewed Black Lives Matter Movement has been the call for an honestly critical look at European colonial and imperial history, which in turn has been accompanied by growing public rejection of the anodyne, state-approved history presented in public institutions like museums. This has varied from country to country, with each former coloniser dealing with their own histories to differing degrees.
It takes a special kind of arrogance for a government to respond by announcing its intentions to suppress any public projects designed to facilitate this critique of its imperial past. But that’s precisely what Britain has done with its plans to appoint a state-approved “free speech champion.”
As per the government’s proposed policy, the “Champion’s role will be to uphold free speech by sanctioning universities deemed to fail to do so by deplatforming visiting speakers. One would think that having a government czar to enforce a specific mandate is actually antithetical to the idea of freedom of expression; but in 2021, when people still refuse to wear masks and get vaccinated, it’s just par for the illogical course.
This is the latest development in the faux culture war stoked by the current Tory government to bog down any semblance of honest debate that teeters dangerously towards a better-informed British public. If potential university censorship for a non-issue wasn’t troubling enough (a 2018 Joint Human Rights Council report into free speech in universities found that there was no major crisis), Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden’s recent meeting with 25 leading British public heritage bodies is even worse.
Dowden has told these public institutions, which include the National Trust and the British Museum, to desist from “airbrushing British history” — ideally by not being critical of it at all. He also warned them that groups using public money used for projects deemed to be “political” would be punished — a barely veiled threat to the National Trust, whose Colonial Countryside project invoked the wrath of the Tory “Common Sense Group” last year for mentioning that Winston Churchill presided over the Bengal Famine. The historian leading the project, Dr Corinne Fowler, has also been the subject of attacks by right wing politicians and media columnists for doing her job.
All art is political, both in terms of their composition and the ideology of their creators. Public art plays a more enduring role in the establishment and maintenance of a supposedly “national” culture because of its ubiquitous nature. You may not be particularly interested in seeking out local art exhibitions — but most likely you’ve entered an art gallery or museum. These spaces, created, lest we forget, at the height of European colonialism to present a white supremacist vision of civilisation, have always been political. Many of them across the Western world have been making tentative steps towards presenting a more honest historical narrative — not only about the objects in their collections, but how they got there in the first place.
It is in this context that the Conservative government’s policies must be analysed. Every attempt to change the narrative via public art — from taking down an enslaver’s statue in Bristol, to the British Museum removing a bust of its founder Hans Sloane and putting it in a new exhibit that acknowledges his connections to the slave trade — has been met with an outcry by the Tories and their right-wing media allies.
Dowden’s response to all this has been to threaten museums with funding cuts if they remove statues. The well-worn (and incorrect) argument that statues memorialise history is a vapid excuse by now. Yet the way that the Conservative Party speaks of them, one would assume that public knowledge of British history would be wiped out if every dusty enslaver and coloniser statue was taken down (though given that several British “nationalists” decided to demonstrate their patriotism last year by Nazi-saluting a temporarily boxed up statue of Churchill, perhaps they’re on to something).
These policies are more than sabre-rattling by an ineffectual group of white politicians infuriated at any attempt to disrupt the bulldogs-and-railways vision of the British Empire; it’s the potential mass censorship of public art and student debate, as well as the sidelining of non-white and Black historical experiences and perspectives to avoid taking about difficult but critical issues.
In many ways, it’s a tactic straight out of the British Empire’s playbook.
The Roman-era burial ground is located in Anazarbus (modern Anavarza) in the country’s southern Adana province.
Those with a Didion-shaped hole in their hearts can also bid for portraits of the author, her books, and other personal items.
The Brooklyn organization is now accepting new project inquiries for its fee-based fabrication services in printmaking, ceramics, and large-scale public art.
The union seeks a minimum wage of $20 by the end of 2024; the museum offered only $16.
Blurred Boundaries invites the viewer to recognize the ways in which queer art is not separate or other, but is actually always all around us.
The Newark Museum of Art Presents Jazz Greats: Classic Photographs from the Bank of America Collection
Photographers Antony Armstrong Jones, Milt Hinton, Chuck Stewart, Barbara Morgan, and more capture a breadth of legendary and local musicians and performance artists. On view through August 21.
Francis De Erdely had an intuitive grasp of the inner worlds of people who were coping with a sense of displacement in their daily lives, which he conveyed in his art.
Curator Amber-Dawn Bear Robe brings together historic and contemporary Native clothing designs at Santa Fe Indian Market.
Art and photographs, publications from the 19th and 20th centuries, manuscripts, posters and more are set to cross the auction block on August 18.
As the Uru-eu-wau-wau face continued incursion by Brazilian farmers, they take an active role in this documentary about them.
Arriving amid increased anti-Asian racism and continuing discourse about the inhumanity of its prison system, this documentary is a strong historical gut punch.
A “show within a show” at the Whitney Biennial pays homage to the visual and literary art of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, whose life was cut short through an act of brutal violence.