By Deb A.
She calls herself "the spinach in the teeth of the art world." Alice Procter, a.k.a. The Exhibitionist, draws attention to the colonial, whitewashed stories behind some of London's best-known artworks and the galleries in which they're found.
On Uncomfortable Art Tours through the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Tate Britain, and the Queen’s House (National Maritime Museum), Ms. Procter offers her guests a viewpoint that is not likely to be part of a museum audio guide anytime soon. Her art history lessons, which began as part of Antiuniversity Now, pull no punches, covering everything from how colonialism helped build the collection to how the way in which the artworks are displayed lends credence to a very specific imperialist understanding of the world. Her own website features reproductions of classic portraits with labels like "thief" (Queen Victoria), "white supremacist" (Horatio Nelson) and "invader" (James Cook) scrawled across them in red graffiti, and she passes out buttons that read "display it like you stole it" at her tours.
The museums and galleries she examines have been quick to distance themselves from Ms. Procter's activity, but she notes that her ultimate goal is to encourage institutions to openly engage with the colonialist narratives behind their art collections and their own histories.
"Museums are institutions of memory," she wrote in The Guardian. "They must stop pretending there’s only one version of events, and be willing to own up to their role in shaping the way we see the past."
Uncomfortable? Maybe. Necessary? Absolutely.
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