With Brexit and a General Election looming in Britain (not to mention the ongoing Trump fiasco at home) politics are difficult to avoid. Around almost every corner in Bloomsbury are posters and stickers declaring “Vote Labour” or “Tories Out!”, sadly I doubt that the politics of our University of London-centered neighborhood reflect the voting patterns of the rest of the country. It seems unlikely that Labour will win this General Election, that Brexit will be stopped, or that Trump will be impeached quite yet. Despite this, it’s been great to see these signs of political engagement and resistance.
Debates around race, class, religion, feminism, and anxieties about the rise of right-wing nationalism have also occupied a central position in many of the plays, museum exhibitions, and street art we’ve seen throughout our time here in London. After visiting the Tate Modern this weekend, it was interesting to see how the museum was responding to the current political situation, through its featured exhibitions, newly acquired works, events, and even in the museum gift shop.
For example, over the weekend the Tate Modern hosted a zine fair- zines are DIY or otherwise small-scale publications often produced by and for groups not traditionally represented in mainstream media. Most of the publications being sold focused especially on anti-racist and feminist issues, alongside the obvious slew of anti-Tory posters, artfully decorated and proclaiming “May Out in June!”. I bought Discharge, a new collection of Petra Collins’ photography, which focuses on presenting an unflinching portrait of teenage girls and young women’s bodies, sexuality, and relationship to the Internet. I also bought the latest issue of Typical Girls Magazine which is a UK publication that primarily focuses on British women of color.
Meanwhile, many of the Tate’s newest exhibitions also revolve to some degree around an activist bent. For example, the museum has recently required a large collection of Guerilla Girls materials, including many of their posters and “Museum Report Cards,” calling out major art magazines and exhibitions for neglecting the work of female artists and artists of color. One exhibition, focusing on working women and campaigns for equal pay in the 1970s displayed photographs and testimonies of hundreds of women working in a large factory and detailed the discrimination and poor working conditions they faced. We checked out a few other exhibits that, while less explicitly political, still had very resonant themes, and fit in well with what seemed to be a museum-wide discussion about justice and representation.
One of these exhibits detailed various experimental projects in performance art, including the work of famed performance artist Marina Abramović whose most famous performance piece involved her sitting beside a table full of objects, among them a loaded gun and various other weapons, giving the audience total freedom to use any object to do whatever they wanted to her. The performance is not only a powerful social experiment but raises specific questions about how women’s bodies are treated and understood.
Any trip to the museum would not be complete without the compulsory gift shop visit. Amid the regular over-priced museum fare, books including The Fire Next Time, 1984, and the artfully named Brexshit were on display, offering yet another wide range of politically charged content, even in what was seemingly the most apolitical section of the museum.
– Maggie Goldberger, ’19