Art, otters and media racism

Part of the work of Lubaina Himid, the artist who won the Turner Prize 2017, consists of drawing attention to the ways in which the juxtaposition of texts and images in The Guardian newspaper can reveal implicit racist associations. Her work is infinitely more powerful for dealing with the liberal press rather than the undisguised bigotry of the tabloids. Some of the connections she uncovers are barely visible to the naked eye, and it is only through forensic (self?-) examination that one sees what she sees. Just as institutional racism may be of profound statistical significance but hard to register on an everyday level, it is only through the unforgiving lens of art that more subtle truths emerge. The heightened sensibilities that result from study of her work help us see better. Freud taught us to pay special attention to ‘accidents’ and ‘coincidences’, as they may reveal unconscious thinking. That unconscious can, to borrow from Jung, be a collective one.

What to say, then, of the following juxtaposition from a recent edition of (guess what?) The Guardian?

img-20181221-wa0005The (presumably ‘accidental’) coincidence of the two articles seems to embody two sets of hidden assumptions: one, that certain (or possibly all) species of sea mammals are able to use social media, to understand written human language even of a highly vernacular variety, to experience emotions including shame and outrage, to comprehend that human society regards body weight as a cause for humiliation, to grasp the insult implicit in the misappropriation of a non-standard and low-status language variety to speakers of that variety, and to appreciate the significance of apologies delivered by faceless institutions; and two, that the lives of foreigners don’t matter very much.

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