On Tuesday at Tate Britain, members of a collective known as BBZ London protested the inclusion of London-based artist Luke Willis Thompson in the annual Turner Prize show, saying that his work focused on police brutality against black people is inappropriate.
Thompson was nominated for this year’s Turner prize for his piece Autoportrait (2017), a silent film that features a close-up portrait of Diamond Reynolds, the girlfriend of Philando Castile, who was killed by a police officer in Minnesota in 2016. The film, which Thompson made in collaboration with Reynolds, is included in the Tate Britain exhibition alongside two other works by Thomas.
In protest, members of BBZ London—whose Instagram account describes the group as a “club night/curatorial collective from SE London, prioritizing the experiences of Queer womxn, trans and nb poc”—took to the museum in T-shirts reading “BLACK PAIN IS NOT FOR PROFIT.” On Instagram, a message from the group read: “BBZ London decided to take a symbolic stand at the Turner prize opening, alongside members of a community of artists of colour, against the utilisation of Black Death and Black pain by non-black artists and arts institutions for cultural and financial gain.”
An essay by BBZ member Rene Matić on Thompson—which was first published online on the website Gal-Dem in May, after the artist was nominated for the Turner prize—also appeared on Instagram. In the text, Matić addresses a number of the artist’s works and states that he “has not just made one or two pieces about racial violence—almost all of his art centers on it. In short, Thompson is a white-passing male, making work and profiting off the violence and suffering of black and marginalized people.”
Thompson has been identified in the past as being from a mixed-race family—his mother is reportedly a New Zealander of European descent and his father traces his ancestry to Fiji. Some of the artist’s other works in the Tate Britain show include Cemetery of Uniforms and Liveries, a 2016 film that uses the style of Andy Warhol’s screen tests to present two young black men who are descendants of people shot by the police, and Sucu Mate/Born Dead (2016), a sculpture alluding to nine anonymous gravestones that are believed to mark the burial sites of indentured laborers from China or India in cemetery in Lautoka, Fiji.
The Turner protest is reminiscent of the debates and actions that took place around the showing of Dana Schutz’s 2016 painting Open Casket at the Whitney Biennial last year. Schutz, who is white, based that work on the famous photograph of the 14-year-old African-American boy Emmett Till, who was tortured and murdered in Mississippi in 1955, in his coffin. When the painting was displayed at the Whitney, protests erupted—notably by the artist Parker Bright, who stood in front of the work in a T-shirt scrawled with the words “Black Death Spectacle,” and the artist and writer Hannah Black, who wrote in an open letter that “it is not acceptable for a white person to transmute Black suffering into profit and fun, though the practice has been normalized for a long time.”
Neither Thompson nor Tate has responded to a request for comment on today’s protest thus far. ARTnews has also reached out to BBZ, Matić, and Reynolds, and will update this story as responses are received.