On June 1st, Tate released a statement across its social media platforms reading: “We have a platform, a voice, and a duty to our members, employees, artists, visitors and followers to speak up and stand for human rights and anti-racism. Nobody should have to live in fear because of the colour of their skin”.
The statement garnered heavy backlash, with social media users describing the act as a “performative display of allyship,” and deeming it “nothing more than corporate strategy”. Tate has housed work from world-renowned Black artists, including Chris Ofili’s 1998 “No Woman, No Cry” and Kara Walker’s 2019 “Fons Americanus”. But just how progressive is the organisation when it comes to this issue of racial equality?
There is a clear lack of racial diversity when it comes to employment. As of 2018, the percentage of BAME staff in the art institution was 13%. In the weeks after the initial post, Tate has made efforts to promote diversity on its social media pages, celebrating Black artists, activists and volunteers. Neil Kenlock is one of the artists recently featured on Tate’s page. The Jamaican-born photographer grew up in London and his work centers around documenting the Black experience in the UK. Another artist recognised is Khadija Saye, who was killed in the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017. Much of her art was also destroyed in that same fire. One of the remaining artworks was posted, accompanied by a description of the wet plate collodion tintypes medium in which she worked.
On June 12th, Tate released a mission statement: “Our commitment to race equality”, in which it states “we are committed […] to challenging ourselves to dismantle the structures within our own organisation which perpetuate […] inequality”. Their aims include: “redoubling our commitments to diversifying our workforce, especially at the highest levels, and supporting ethnic minority career progression”, as well as “continuing our work to diversify our collections and exhibitions, [and] finding new opportunities to amplify the voices and creativity of Black artists”.
Historically, art has always been an instrumental medium for progressing towards equality, and now the need is as real as ever. The name “Tate” itself is derived from sugar magnate Henry Tate of “Tate and Lyle”, whose fortune was deeply rooted in the slave trade. The release of this mission statement enables the general public to hold the institution accountable to the standards which they have outlined. It is crucial that organisations like Tate are making these commitments to this essential change, and their recent actions certainly appear to be promising steps in the right direction.