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Black Obsidian Sound System (photo by and courtesy of Theodorah Ndlovu)

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“How can a BPOC queer collective of artists and cultural workers be nominated for the Turner Prize whilst Black women artists continue to be silenced?” That’s the question posed in a public statement on May 11 by Black Obsidian Sound System (BOSS), an 18-member group led by QTIBPOC (queer, trans, Black, Indigenous, and people of color) artists and activists. The London-based group is one of five collectives shortlisted for this year’s Turner Prize, a prestigious accolade usually bestowed on individual British artists. 

Rather than silently accept the nomination, BOSS has used the opportunity to call out the award’s organizer, the Tate in London, for what it describes as “exploitative practices.”

“Whilst we are grateful for the recognition for our work as a collective, it is important for us to name some of the inconsistencies as we observe them,” reads a statement published on the group’s Instagram page.

The text goes on to cite a letter written by the artist-run network Industria condemning Tate’s alleged censorship of Black artist Jade Montserrat in 2017, as well as the ongoing struggles of Tate workers in the midst of the pandemic.

Last September, hundreds of artists signed a petition in support of workers striking for Tate to reconsider cutting 313 jobs within its commercial arm Tate Enterprises (TEL), which includes the museum’s shops, cafes, and restaurants. Two months later, Tate announced cuts to 12% of its workforce across departments, encouraging employees to accept “voluntary redundancies” and early retirement offers.

BOSS’s letter also accuses Tate of mishandling accusations of sexual harassment leveled against British art dealer Anthony D’Offay, a major patron of the museum, from 1997 to 2004. (Tate announced it had cut all ties with D’Offay in September 2020.)

“Although we believe collective organising is at the heart of transformation, it is evident that arts institutions, whilst enamoured by collective and social practices, are not properly equipped or resourced to deal with the realities that shape our lives and work,” BOSS writes.

Finally, the collective criticizes Tate for granting nominees insufficient time to prepare for the award, asking them to submit work by the exhibition’s scheduled opening in September. This timeline “demonstrates the extractive and exploitative practices in prize culture, and more widely across the industry,” BOSS says, “one where Black, brown, working class, disabled, queer bodies are desirable, quickly dispensable, but never sustainably cared for.”

In a statement shared with Hyperallergic, Tate said that it welcomes “critical dialogue and engagement.”

“The Turner Prize jury were passionate about the work of all the collectives they shortlisted, recognising that these collaborative practices reflected the solidarity and community demonstrated across the UK in response to the pandemic,” the statement continues. “The jury, Tate and the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum are delighted Black Obsidian Sound System accepted the nomination.”

Tate added that the five shortlisted collectives, which also include Array Collective, Cooking Sections, Gentle/Radical, and Project Art Works, will each receive £10,000 for their participation instead of the £5,000 given in previous years.

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Valentina Di Liscia

Valentina Di Liscia is a staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Argentina, she studied at the University of Chicago and is currently working on her MA at Hunter College, where she received the...