Tate Britain commission will be ‘in dialogue’ with Rex Whistler’s 1927 mural and its racist imagery
Tate Britain has commissioned a new artwork to be exhibited alongside a mural containing racist imagery, after discussions with historians, artists, cultural advisers and civic representatives.
The new installation will be “in dialogue” with the floor-to-ceiling mural by Rex Whistler in what was formerly a restaurant at the London gallery.
A report by the Tate ethics committee concluded in 2020 that the mural was “unequivocally … offensive”. The committee called for a bold approach in contextualising the mural but said it should not be altered or removed.
The new artwork will be joined by interpretative material that will “critically engage with the mural’s history and content, including its racist imagery”, Tate said in an announcement on Wednesday.
The artist who will create the new work has not yet been chosen, but Tate said the room containing the mural and the new installation will open to the public next winter.
Alex Farquharson, the director of Tate Britain, said Whistler’s mural was “part of our institutional and cultural history and we must take responsibility for it, but this new approach will also enable us to reflect the values and commitments we hold today and to bring new voices and ideas to the fore”.
Tate’s move comes amid widespread debate about art, statues and monuments that have racist or colonial imagery or associations. Some campaigners have called for the removal of such works from the public sphere, while others have argued that they should be explained and contextualised.
The mural, The Expedition in Pursuit of Rare Meats, was commissioned in 1926 when Whistler was 21, and completed in 1927. It is one of the artist’s most significant works, according to Tate. It tells the story of an imagined hunting expedition and includes images of a black child being kidnapped and enslaved and caricatures of Chinese figures.
In 2018 Tate presented an explanatory text on the mural’s racial content, and in 2020 the room was closed as a restaurant. A discussion group with five co-chairs was set up to explore options regarding the future of the mural. The group’s recommendations were approved by Tate’s board of trustees this month.
Amia Srinivasan, of All Souls Oxford and a co-chair, said discussions about the mural were “open, rigorous and filled with good-natured but deep disagreement … One of the few points of consensus was that Tate had to take ownership of its history, and that whatever decision was made had to be an invitation to a broader conversation, not the end of one.”
David Dibosa, of the University of the Arts London and another co-chair, said the discussions had “not been easy”. He added: “I stand side by side with those who seek to address the difficulties of the past honestly and fearlessly. It takes enormous courage to face our faults.”
Whistler, one of the “Bright Young Things”, a group of London socialites in the 1920s, was killed in action in the second world war.

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