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  • Writer's pictureMadeleina Kay

"A confrontation with neutrality as a persistent ideology" – Laura Raicovich

Updated: Jun 11

Culture Strike Art and Museums in an Age of Protest.

I read this book about a year ago and was really taken with Raichovich’s principled stance on the role cultural institutions should play in tackling social injustice. I was captivated by her detailed explanation of the “myth of neutrality” and the way in which she advocated for Museums to address historic wrongs and to break their heteronormative culture to embrace diversity and inclusion. I re-read it to pull out some key quotes which are relevant to my research topic.


Key quotes:

 

‘museums… are repositories of cultural hegemony, mirrors of society’s ills, from enormous wealth gaps and other legacies of colonialism to the exclusion of historically marginalised groups. Museums and cultural spaces are part of the systems that protests hope to undo. I believe this undoing and redoing can not only make museums better for more people, but also map ways to make change in society at large.’ (page 1)

 

‘Amid calls for diversity, equity, and inclusion in our spaces of culture, there is no way around a confrontation with neutrality as a persistent ideology within the museum’ (page 10)

 

‘I believe that to address the inequities that continue to haunt our institutions, and indeed society, we could not find a better place to begin than by dismantling the myth of neutrality in our cultural spaces.’ (page 11)

 

‘I look at how neutrality, in all of its selection and collecting, the public relations undertaken to shape messaging, where the funds come from to pay for culture, how these systems are governed, and who and how the operations of museums support systems of power.’ (Page 14)

 

‘The Sackler name has been inextricably tied to art and philanthropy for decades; indeed, their largesse has been likened to that of the Medicis for their provision of major funding to museums, from the Met and the Guggenheim in New York to the UK’s Tate Modern and National Portrait Gallery, and the Louvre’s Sackler Wing in Paris. And yet the money that enables this generosity, or at least a big chunk of it, comes from what we now know is a very dark place.’ (page 16)

 

‘This is where histories of colonisation and exploitation become part of the present lived experience of a visitor in the gallery. Realisations about which side of the exploitation equation your personal history lands on will often surface big realities; suddenly the museum doesn’t seem quite so universal anymore. Or, perhaps more poignantly: this definition of the universal does not include you… Esche observes: ‘The museum is built on a lie. It’s built on a universality that comes from a highly specific identity that is white, male, heterosexual, ableist, highly educated, wealthy, and son on.’ (page 25)

 

‘this version of “generic” is in fact raced and classed and gendered, excluding many facets of identity that might influence how or what work is presented and received. And herein lies the kernel of alienation for anyone who identifies outside the imagined “generic human”. (page 26)

 

‘The most egregious error, within a web of missteps, was that while the exhibition brought images of black people and Harlem inside the Met in unprecedented ways, none of these images were produced by Black people. At a historic juncture, “no black art was… included.’ In spite of the advisory efforts of black members of committees and consultants, this was an exhibition that largely came from the imagination of a single white man: it’s curator, Allon Schoener.’ (page 39)

 

‘The accumulations, even in just this one example, of inequity are staggering. No museum is neutral, nor has it ever been. Indeed, from their very outset, museum structures have reflected a vast inequity of both power and wealth.’ (page 42)

 

‘And this, in the end, is why diversity matters, and why it goes far beyond ticking boxes on grant applications, and employee head-counts. Having a diverse group of staff and board members thinking about the day-to-day operations and governance of our institutions better. There is no substitute.' (page 72)

 

‘Disability activists do not argue that disabled individuals are valuable despite our disabilities; rather, value lies in the very variation of embodiment, cognition, and experience that disability encompasses. Disability may include elements of lack and inability, but it also fosters other ways of knowing and being.’ (page 73)

 

‘We know that it’s hard: hard to survive, hard to act. It’s hard to remain sensitive to horror in an art world bored by its own obscenity. The rapacious rich are amused by our piety, and demand that we be pious about their about their amusements. Against a backdrop of prestigious inertia and exhausted critique, it can be hard to marshal our most vital feelings: our anger, our love, and our grief. We know that society is riven by inequities and brutal paradoxes. Faced with this specific profiteer of state violence, we also find ourselves in a place to act.’ (page 93) Hannah Black, Ciarán Finlayson and Tobi Haslett - Artforum

 

‘Cultural spaces are supported by funders congratulated for their generosity, notwithstanding the role their wealth acquisition has played in violence and destruction and the perpetuation of an inequitable status quo.’ (page 97)

 

‘On the inside, art workers fear external protest will shine a light on their labours in ways that might lead to its undoing, internal retribution, or even loss of their jobs. And yet, they are both necessary, and they demonstrate the ways in which museums and cultural institutions are not monolithic buildings or just another abstraction, but rather collections of people who do things together.’ (page 125)

 

‘In a society of white-supremacist, capitalist hetero-patriarchy, in institutions of white, Western primacy, any actively decolonial, pro-Black, pro-Latinx, pro-immigrant, pro-working class, pro trans, pro-queer, pro-disabled, pro-family (by all definitions), and self-reflective feminist positions, are regarded as political by default. They are perceived as aggressive, defiant, a challenge to the status quo, rather than as facets of reality that are coequal to the dominant story. Even recognition of the presence of an alternative to the dominant becomes an adversarial act, a challenge for that very dominance.’ (page 134)

 

‘In his 2019 book Propaganda Art in the Twenty-First Century, he lays out how propaganda has been used over time to consolidate power and wealth for the gain of a few. Staal’s provocative proposition is that we consider how, via a multitude of creative processes, we might imagine (and perhaps invent) a propaganda that is fundamentally committed to equity and mutual liberation… Staal argues that a reengagement in studies of propaganda and propaganda art would help us reveal the covert propagandas that remain invisible to us, such as manifestations of the myth of neutrality within cultural spaces described in this book. He makes a compelling case that propaganda today serves as a crucial tool to engage in a “hybrid conflictual, and transformative” practices that open “categories of belonging and identity that bypass the capitalist and patriarchal state as the hegemony of identity formulation.’ (page 151)

 

‘This is what cultural space can do and be; it can become a location, a scaffold to explore the potential of such ideas and how diverse publics might participate in the reimagination of who, what, and how contemporary society functions, how it treats its members, and how and what it creates and destroys.’ (page 153)

 

‘We all hold power, no matter our position in society or within the organisations in which we work. It is how we use these spaces that matters. Do we consider our interdependence as a primary motivation of how we operate, or does it come from a space of individual ideology? … So in this moment of pandemic and uprisings, amid the upheaval and disruption in nearly all aspects of daily life, even as the cruelty of the systems of power in place are made more evident, the rules have the potential to be undone and redone.’ (page 157)

 

 

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