The events of a year ago prompted some people to question the legitimacy of various colonial-era museum collections. This debate is far from new.
What the “Nefertiti Hack” tells us about digital colonialism – Hyperallergic The story of the Nefertiti bust provides a window into the European domination of excavations in Egypt and other Mediterranean archaeological sites in the late 19th and early 20th century. French, German, and British excavators were often supercilious in their defense of looting cultural heritage from classical sites in the Eastern Mediterranean in order to be “protected” within European museums. They also developed cunning methods for carrying out their work. In the Nefertiti bust’s case, overwhelming evidence suggests its removal to Germany in 1913 was not legal then and remains both illicit and unethical today — a wrong yet to be rectified. […]
Although the artists originally stated that they had gone into the museum and guerrilla scanned the Nefertiti bust using a hidden Microsoft Xbox 360 Kinect Sensor, in reality they were likely involved in a double-blind hack. As Geismar concludes, it appears that an inside (wo)man with access to the museum’s 3D data released the scan to the artists. Subsequently, Al-Badri and Nelles released the files under a Creative Commons open license (CC0) for anyone to use. Geismar remarks that the hack drew “attention to museum hoarding [practices] not just of ancient collections but of their digital doubles.” The hack used the tools of “data collection and presentation to undo the regimes of authority and property over which the museum still asserts sovereignty.” Such museum interventions also underscore that the “digital repatriation” of objects by museums can never replace physical repatriation.
The discovery of the famous bust of Nefertiti in Egypt – The Yucatan Times Egypt has not waived its demand. The archaeologist Zahi Hawass, who requested his loan in vain during his time as Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities, continues to demand the return of the piece. And the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, owner of the bust, continues to insist on the legality of the acquisition.
Deborah Roberts reminding us that even a flat sheet of text isn’t a level playing field.
As well as saying that Black lives, history, respect and status matters, I should have added spelling.
The Spell Checkers Agenda – Kottke The piece above is part of a series called Pluralism by artist Deborah Roberts — it’s a collage of dozens of Black names marked as misspelled by Microsoft Word’s built-in spell checker. I don’t know about you, but this makes me think about the neutrality of technology, how software is built, who builds it, and for whom it is designed.
Glasstire and Contemporary Art Review Los Angeles have more on this piece, and how it fits in with Deborah’s wider body of work.
Naming and shaming: Deborah Roberts at Art Palace – Glasstire Other text pieces involve roughly printed words like bad offset printing. In the best of these, Roberts prints black-sounding women’s names (Tynisha, Shawanna, Roneshia) in a jittery, repeated overlay of red and black. Printed over them in a nearly-illegible, but unmistakable, light yellow, are four white women’s names: lean in close and you can barely discern Bethany, Lindsey, Becky, Haley.
Deborah Roberts at Luis De Jesus – Carla Opposite Human nature and Golden Smile hung the triptych Sovereignty (2016), a hand-drawn set of three serigraphs of black women’s names that Roberts sourced from friends. The far right in the triptych was a dense list of 213 names, from Khepri to Sharnell. All, however, were underlined with that all-too-familiar squiggly red line—these names were ostensibly misspelled, unrecognizable to word processing programs. The drawing on the left side of the triptych contrasted the list by featuring a sole name— Sharkesha—in large serif font. This work followed a similar logic to the collages: the viewer’s gaze moved from the minute to the masses and back again. However, the simplicity of this solution—names, listed— can’t be ignored. Sovereignty suggested a way to begin to humanize the silent figures that Roberts depicts, or at least to begin to find words that do the work.
It’s been months since I’ve been to a gallery or museum. More of them are reopening, though many are still facing a difficult future. But how they are dealing with their past and present is just as challenging.
Black artists and gallerists on what a more inclusive art world would look like – Artsy In an interview with Hyperallergic, Brandon explained her comment. “Ever since I started working at SFMOMA, I have watched leadership tokenize their non-white employees all while trying to silence them by implying that their concerns, frustrations, and experiences are not real,” she said. “The events that transpired regarding the Instagram post highlights leadership’s inability to recognize the racism within museums amongst employees and donors.” In recent weeks, five senior leaders have resigned from SFMOMA amid a growing chorus of accusations of institutional racism.
Penn Museum to remove skull collection of enslaved people – Hyperallergic The objectionable collection belongs to Samuel George Morton, a 19th-century Philadelphia-born, UPenn-educated physician who collected hundreds of skulls, including those of enslaved Africans, Native Americans, and Cubans to try to reinforce his white supremacist, pseudoscientific theory that the brains of some races are larger than others.
Anish Kapoor says art gallery ‘tokenism’ with diversity must end – The Guardian As he prepared to open the UK’s first large-scale art exhibition since the lockdown began in March, Kapoor delivered blistering criticism of the museum world. “Contemporary museums, they need to stop tokenism. Collect an Iranian artist here, a South African artist there or whatever. They need to really begin to try to properly take on … what is contemporary culture today? How do we represent it in objects in our museums. It is not straightforward. But tokenism can’t happen any longer.”
The museum where racist and oppressive statues go to die – Atlas Obscura The museum’s message is clear: A monument is not a descriptive account of history, but instead a historical artifact that tells a story about power. In a setting that invites scrutiny, visitors can study Berlin’s monuments to grasp more clearly who had power and how that power was used. […]
“It is a great mistake to describe the monuments as history or heritage,” Neiman goes on. “We don’t memorialize every piece of our histories. We pick and choose those men and women whose lives embodied values we want our communities to share.”
Images from a worldwide protest movement – The Atlantic Over the weekend, demonstrations took place around the world, with thousands of people outside the United States marching to show solidarity with American protests over the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. In many places, marchers also voiced their anger about systemic racism and police brutality within their own countries.
Little Britain pulled from iPlayer and Netflix because ‘times have changed’ – BBC News In 2017, Lucas said: “If I could go back and do Little Britain again, I wouldn’t make those jokes about transvestites. I wouldn’t play black characters. Basically, I wouldn’t make that show now. It would upset people. We made a more cruel kind of comedy than I’d do now.” Walliams has also said he would “definitely do it differently” in today’s cultural landscape.
Times may have changed for some, but change is moving too slowly for others.
In a clear reference to Jewish MPs such as Dame Louise Ellman, Luciana Berger and also to the whistleblowers who spoke out about Labour’s failure to tackle the problem in a BBC Panorama documentary, he writes: “We sit powerless, watching with incredulity as supporters of the Labour leadership have hounded parliamentarians, party members and even staff out of the party for facing down anti-Jewish racism.”
Harry Dunn’s family urge voters to unseat Dominic Raab – The Guardian They said: “We are not political people. Whatever political thoughts we hold we generally keep to ourselves. But the enormity and shocking nature of what has happened to us have left us feeling compelled to come to Esher and Walton this evening in the midst of the current election campaign. We feel that his handling of our situation has been so outrageously dishonourable and disrespectful that we have a duty to respectfully bring these matters to the direct attention of that local community that have until now voted him into this position.”
The public have also picked up on it, too, becoming more tribal, overlooking obvious facts when they do not chime with their viewpoint. It’s also an immensely important election, so we’ve taken the time to look at several key areas and bust some “facts” you may hear from the mouths of politicians, pundits and the general public that prove to be… less than factual.
I need to revisit my earlier post, I think, It’s not all bad news, and its links to Hans Rosling’s work. I’m currently reading and thoroughly enjoying his “Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think”, a book needed now more than ever.
Factfulness – Gapminder Factfulness is a relaxing habit for critical thinking. It helps you maintain a fact-based worldview. It teaches you how to recognise and avoid the most common ways information gets misinterpreted.
I’ve got the art degree, I know all about the male gaze, but here’s something I’m embarrassed to say I’ve not really considered before.
How black women were whitewashed by art
All it takes is a few minutes of searching ‘Queen of Sheba painting’ on Google Images to see a litany of reclining, exoticised white women glancing languorously either at the viewer or King Solomon. There were once some depictions of the Queen of Sheba as dark-skinned, but the Renaissance saw her whitewashing and sexualisation on a grand scale. For Ohajuru it jars with earlier depictions of her, such as that seen at the altarpiece of Klosterneuburg in Austria, which portrays her visiting the king next to an image of the Adoration of the Magi. “She was used as a prefiguration, a foreteller, a prophesiser, that a king would visit the baby Jesus, just as a queen visited Solomon.” By the 18th Century she is no longer a queen meeting a king to have a healthy debate – she is an idolatrous seductress.
Of blackness and ‘beauty’
Unlike his predecessor, Bazille does not capture a black woman as a servant to a naked, white prostitute as Manet does in his famous Olympia painting, but rather as a human being who exists outside of deference to a white woman. Peonies, symbols of riches, honor, and prosperity, surround her. She extends one flower out toward the frame as if a potential patron has approached her station. Like Manet’s black model Laure, she wears a headscarf and white outfit, but this peony-possessing woman’s features are much more defined. One cannot lose the connection of her curved lips from top to bottom, or the shape of her eyebrows. In contrast, Olympia, which many art historians call a modernist update to Titian’s Venus of Urbino (1534), has inspired much study of Victorine Meurent, the naked white model who is staring directly at the spectator, instead of her servant Laure, whose history is sparsely documented. Her last name is not on record. It is another example of how a black model’s humanity is not given the same recognition as that of her white female counterpart.