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Tate Britain Is Ambiguous Over Future of Rex Whistler Restaurant’s Racist Images in Mural

The depictions in ‘The Expedition in Pursuit of Rare Meats’ were heavily criticised in the summer of 2020

The Rex Whistler Restaurant at Tate Britain features a mural called ‘The Expedition in Pursuit of Rare Meats’, an artwork that depicts the enslavement of a Black child and other racist images
Racist images feature in a mural at the Rex Whistler restaurant at Tate Britain
Tate Britain [Official Photo]

Update: Friday 7 May, 6:39 p.m.: This story has been updated to reflect the fact that the Rex Whistler’s reopening is not definite, regardless of whether or not the mural depicting racist imagery is removed; rather, the Tate Britain remains undecided on the future of mural depicting racist images, and the restaurant itself.

A spokesperson from the Tate Britain art gallery in Pimlico has said that plans are in place to “bring back a fine-dining offer at Tate Britain“ after a “consultation” process judges on the removal of a mural replete with racist images at the Rex Whistler restaurant.

The restaurant, which is named after the artist responsible for the mural — The Expedition in Pursuit of Rare Meats, commissioned in 1926 — has been closed since March 2020 when restrictions on non-essential businesses were first introduced to halt the spread of COVID-19. About the work, which covers the walls of the restaurant, Tate’s own gallerists refer to Whistler’s depiction of “the enslavement of a Black child and the distress of his mother using highly stereotyped figures that were common at the time.”

“In the Great Wall of China scene, the Chinese figures are presented in costume that now suggests caricature. Whistler’s treatment of non-white figures reduces them to stereotypes,” Tate says of the work.

Last summer, in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd by the white police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis, widespread social justice and anti-racism protests took place across London and the U.K. It was in an Instagram post in late July by art critics The White Pube pointed to a reference on the Tate website calling the restaurant the “most amusing room in Europe, owing to its specially commissioned mural.” White Pube asked: “i’m sorry what. How does this restaurant still exist?”

For 14 months, the restaurant has remained closed. “Both the Level 9 and Rex Whistler restaurants have remained closed since the onset of the pandemic, and a consultation process will help determine the future of the Rex Whistler room and mural,” a Tate spokesperson told Eater London.

“Whatever the outcome, we look forward to bringing back a fine-dining offer at both Tate Britain and Tate Modern as soon as it’s viable to do so.”

The Tate did not respond to Eater’s questions regarding the nature of the consultation, nor what the result of it may be.

In August 2020 Tate Britain reacted to public criticism from of the existence of its mural. Following the White Pube’s post, Tate removed the word “amusing” from the website’s restaurant description, replacing it with “interpretation text,” which a Tate spokesperson told Eater had existed on the wall of the restaurant before it closed, but had not been published on the gallery’s website.

In a subsequent statement sent to Eater, Tate said that it had been “open and transparent about the deeply problematic racist imagery in the Rex Whistler mural,” and that it continues to “actively discuss how best to address the mural and we will keep the public updated over the coming months.”

Earlier in the summer, following citywide Black Lives Matter protests, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan announced a public realm review which was intended to “ensure the capital’s landmarks suitably reflect London’s achievements and diversity,” adding that “London is one of the most diverse cities in the world, with more than 300 languages spoken every day, yet statues, plaques and street names largely reflect Victorian Britain — as highlighted by recent Black Lives Matter protests.”

Eater awaits further details from Tate ahead of the reopening, or not, of the gallery’s flagship restaurant.

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