An Art Collective Nominated for the Turner Prize Responds With Biting Criticism of Tate’s ‘Exploitative Practices in Prize Culture’

“We demand the right to thrive in conditions that are nurturing and supportive,” the Black Obsidian Sound System collective said in a statement.

B.O.S.S. artists. Photo: Theodorah Ndovlu.

Just days after being nominated for the Turner Prize by Tate in London, a UK-based art collective has called out the institution for its alleged exploitation of Black and POC artists.

Black Obsidian Sound System (B.O.S.S.), a queer, trans, intersex, Black people and people of color collective, took to Instagram yesterday to address some of the discrepancies they see between their mission and the way Tate, which oversees the prize, conducts its business.  

“Whilst we are grateful for the recognition for our work as a collective, it is important for us to name some of the inconsistencies as we observe them,” the group in its statement. “We demand the right to thrive in conditions that are nurturing and supportive.”

The group, one of five social practice collectives nominated for the prize last week, called out Tate for a number of recent incidents, including the institution’s cutting of jobs during the pandemic and its handling of a young Black artist’s allegations of sexual harassment against a prominent donor. 

“It is not lost on us that the collective action of workers coming together to save their jobs and livelihoods was not adequately recognized by Tate,” the group said, referring to a 2020 strike by Tate’s retail, catering, and other commercial-services staffers.

The collective also said Tate and institutes like it do not provide artists’ groups with the same resources they offer to solo artists. 

“Although we believe collective organizing is at the heart of transformation, it is evident that arts institutions, whilst enamored by collective and social practices, are not properly equipped or resourced to deal with the realities that shape our lives and work,” the group said.

“We see this in the lack of adequate financial remuneration for collectives in commissioning budgets and artist fees, and in the industry’s in-built reverence for individual inspiration over the diffusion, complexity, and opacity of collaborative endeavor.”

Exemplifying this is the short time frame B.O.S.S. and the other collectives were given to prepare for this year’s Turner exhibition, the group said.

Notified last week, the shortlisted artists’ groups have less than four months to prepare new work for the show, which is set to open at the Herbert Art Museum in Coventry, England, on September 29.

“The urgency with which we have been asked to participate, perform, and deliver demonstrates the extractive and exploitative practices in prize culture, and more widely across the industry—one where Black, brown, working-class, disabled, queer bodies are desirable, quickly dispensable, but never sustainably cared for,” B.O.S.S. wrote. 

“Artists must be free to express themselves and share their views however they wish,” Tate said in a statement shared with Artnet News. “Both the team at the Herbert in Coventry and Tate want the collectives to feel supported and look forward to working with them on the Turner Prize exhibition over coming months.”

Tate said that, given the number of artists involved with the prize this year, it will give shortlisted collectives £10,000 ($14,000) each, as opposed to the normal £5,000 ($7,000) fee that goes to individual nominees. The winners, meanwhile, will take home an additional £25,000 ($35,000). 

Tate did not say whether it has been in touch with B.O.S.S. since the publication of the group’s statement.

Founded in 2018, the 18-member collective stages live events and music workshops in a hybridized, participatory brand of art, activism, and community organizing.

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