Turner Prize sponsor slammed by queer nominees for exploiting and ‘silencing’ artists

Queer Turner Prize-nominated group criticise Tate for pandemic layoffs

A queer art collective nominated for the Turner Prize are criticising the Tate, the prize’s main sponsor, for laying off workers during the pandemic and for its handling of sexual abuse allegations against a prominent donor.

Black Obsidian Sound System (BOSS) is one of five nominees for the Turner Prize, which this year, for the first time, has solely nominated groups.

In a statement published on 10 May, BOSS said they are “grateful for the recognition for our work” but wanted to “name some of the inconsistencies as we observe them”.

“It is evident that arts institutions, whilst enamoured by collective and social practices, are not properly equipped or resourced to deal with the realities that shape our lives and work,” BOSS 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 endeavour.”

The London-based QTIBPOC-led sound system went on to point out that there have been strike actions at several art institutions this year, including at the Tate where staff were made redundant during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It is not lost on us that the collective action of workers coming together to save their jobs and livelihoods was not adequately recognised by Tate,” BOSS said.

The group also highlighted the treatment of Jade Montserrat, an artist who said she was “banned” by the Tate after accusing art dealer Anthony d’Offay of sexual harassment and abuse (D’Offay denies the allegations and the Tate said it suspended links with him in 2018).

“How can a BPOC queer collective of artists and cultural workers be nominated for the Turner Prize whilst Black women artists continue to be silenced? Cases like Jade Montserrat’s are not isolated in the art world,” BOSS said.

The collective also criticised “the extractive and exploitative practices in prize culture” and the art industry more widely for being one where one where “Black, brown, working class, disabled, queer bodies are desirable, quickly dispensable, but never sustainably cared for”.

“Whilst we orient ourselves towards a practice of abundance, it is crucial that we acknowledge the context from which our participation emerges,” BOSS said. “We demand the right to thrive in conditions that are nurturing and supportive.”

The other Turner Prize nominees are Array Collective, Cooking Sections, Gentle/Radical, and Project Art Works. Each group must prepare work for a September exhibition – a tight deadline that BOSS also criticised in their statement.

The Tate told the Guardian it was delighted that BOSS accepted the Turner Prize nomination and said it “always welcome critical dialogue and engagement”.