by Hannah Sayles
The art world today is one of the most elitist and white industries in Britain. Gabrielle de la Puente and Zarina Muhammad are two Central St Martins Fine Art graduates who met in 2005 and began to write about the contemporary art world on their own terms. Their collaborative identity, The White Pube, is shaking up the preconceptions and ingrained biases of what it means to engage in art criticism and attend a gallery. The duo release a text each Sunday which acts as an antidote to “boring/overly academic/white nonsense” because “can u be arsed reading one more thing by an old white man because [we] CANNOT” (TWP website), alongside reviews of exhibitions and galleries and curating shows of their own. The White Pube is a cheeky play on ‘the white cube’, defined on the TATE website as ‘a certain gallery aesthetic characterised by its square or oblong shape, white walls and a light source usually from the ceiling’. Certainly, TWP embody the opposite of this traditional aesthetic: their hot takes on art are funny, refreshing, fun to read, accessible and undermine the idea of the white cube as a space of solemn, middle-class reflection, flipping it into a space of interaction and open learning.
The White Pube’s genius lies in their unique style of criticism, one SO based in the personal: what has been called embodied criticism. In the stale, male and pale world of contemporary art criticism, it is super exciting to read reviews grounded in human emotions and honest reactions – their work totally does away with the hypermasculine rationality and detachment so prevalent in Guardian columns and Daily Mail reviews alike. Their thinkpieces and reviews are studded with emojis and typos and their authentic selves shape the texts – they reject the deliberately difficult, need-an-MA-in-art-history-to-even-begin-to-understand, academic slant which most art reviewers take. Excitingly, their Instagram and Twitter are as central to their output as the long-form writing on their website – “I feel like you have to pay attention to all three to fully experience the criticism we do in their different forms” (TWP website). Their use of social media in this way, places their work in a more temporally relevant space, heightening the accessibility and allowing for real-time interaction with their followers.
Most importantly, the two aren’t afraid to call out any and all manifestations of white supremacy. In one co-review, Muhammad writes of the “BASIC, VIOLENT issue of white artists using black bodies as literal props […] to engage what is always a predominant white gallery-going audience” (Review of Zoë Paul exhibition). In this week’s text, de la Puente highlights this very issue, asking “Do galleries ever ask us what we want to see?”. She writes “consider the fact directors of major art institutions, festivals and artist-led spaces across the UK are 9 times outta 10 middle class, white, able-bodied, cis and straight etc. and do not represent the population around them, and things start to get a bit fascinating […] These people hire others that look and live like they do, and they all sit together ( I imagine ) in plant-heavy glass offices with Macs sending emails and eating dairy-free yoghurt”. In the 4000-word piece of writing, de la Puente picks out notable examples of outreach initiatives run by museums and galleries which attempt to reflect the surrounding community, but aboveall she highlights the desperate need for radical change in the curational methods of the art galleries and museums of today which so often centre the white and middle class. De la Puente’s gallery in Liverpool, OUTPUT, runs monthly INPUT sessions which open up a dialogue between the local community and herself. Her gallery works exclusively with creatives from or based in Merseyside, and in doing so goes a long way in decentralising London as the perceived centre of the creative universe. Their message is loud and clear: art criticism doesn’t have to be exclusive, academic and soaked in white, male privilege, what is most important going forward in 2019 is amplifying the marginalised voices of talented artists and loudly criticising and desacralising the corporate elite.
http://www.thewhitepube.co.uk | Instagram/Twitter @thewhitepube
Featured image : Ollie Adegboye : http://ollieadegboye.com/
Zoë Paul @ Spike Island review : https://www.thewhitepube.co.uk/zoe-paul-spike-island
OUTPUT Gallery on Twitter/Instagram : @outputgallery