A century-old mural painted by Rex Whistler in a British restaurant has been deemed “offensive” by an ethics committee, causing the restaurant to close down. The mural, titled “The Expedition in Pursuit of Rare Meats,” features caricatures of Chinese individuals and enslaved children, depicting the grand adventures of sourcing exotic goods and foods from different parts of the world. Despite showing children in ropes, the artwork was restored in 2013. However, it came under attack in July after the “White Pube” critics claimed that the mural’s content was outdated. The critique group, which has gained worldwide attention in recent years for challenging the art establishment, argued that the mural was suitable for “rich white people drinking wine with some choice of slavery in the background.”
Tate Britain’s ethics committee, led by Moya Greene at the time, conducted a thorough review of the mural. After careful consideration, the committee was “unequivocal in their view that the imagery of the work is offensive,” according to Greene. Despite being painted over a century ago, the mural was judged by contemporary ethical standards and deemed unacceptable
The Tate Britain ethics committee has denounced the mural in the gallery’s dining room as “offensive” due to its portrayal of enslaved Black children. Despite this, the committee maintains that the painting is a valuable work of art and should not be modified or taken down. Nevertheless, the backlash against the mural may force the restaurant to close, adding another hurdle to its already bleak prospects. The dining room has been closed since March 2020 due to the pandemic and is projected to remain shuttered until August 2021 due to low expected foot traffic. Diane Abbott, a prominent British politician, has proposed that the restaurant be relocated to a different area of the gallery in light of the mural’s contentious content.
An online petition has also been created by activists calling for the mural’s removal. The petition describes the dining experience in the room as “grotesque” and “horror film-like.” It criticizes the depiction of enslaved children as being surrounded by older white individuals enjoying “expensive gluttony.” Prior to the controversy, Tate Britain had referred to the dining room as “the most amusing room in Europe.”
Following the backlash, Tate Britain issued a statement acknowledging the racist imagery in the mural and the need to address the issue. They highlighted the establishment of a race equality task force and the ongoing work of the ethics committee, promising to update the public in the coming months.
In conclusion, the controversy surrounding the mural in the Tate Britain dining room has brought to light the issue of problematic imagery in artwork and the need to address it. While the committee has defended the painting as a work of art, the offensive content has sparked public outcry and calls for its removal. The Tate has acknowledged the need to address the issue and has taken steps to establish a race equality task force and an ethics committee to address the matter.