May 11, 2021 at 6:37pm

B.O.S.S. artists portrait. Photo: Theodorah Ndovlu.

Black Obsidian Sound Collective (B.O.S.S.), one of the five artist collectives shortlisted for the Turner Prize earlier this month, has declared the prestigious award “exploitative.” The eighteen-member London-based collective, founded in 2018 to convene a QTIBPOC (queer, trans and intersex black and people of color) community centered around art, sound, and activism, said in a statement, originally posted to their Instagram, that they were grateful to have been nominated for the prize and pleased that their work had been recognized, but condemned organizer Tate regarding a number of issues related to the award.

Among B.O.S.S.’s criticisms are that though Tate is pleased to provide lip service regarding support for socially minded collectives, it is actually using these groups to its own ends. “We understand that we are being instrumentalised,” the group said. Proof of the museum’s failure to support art collectives in general, B.O.S.S. pointed out, could be seen 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.”

Other charges leveled include those that the institution poorly handled sexual harassment accusations against dealer Anthony D’Offay, with whom the museum has close ties, and that it offered an inadequate response to strikes staged last year by staff whose positions had been eliminated owing to the continuing Covid-19 crisis.

The group additionally cited as problematic the amount of time they were given to prepare for the annual Turner Prize exhibition. As in previous years, the exhibition is to take place in late September, with those shortlisted given the typical barely four-month span to prepare. “The urgency with which we have been asked to participate, perform and deliver demonstrates the extractive and exploitative practices in prize culture, and more widely across the industry,” the collective noted, “one where Black, brown, working class, disabled, queer bodies are desirable, quickly dispensable, but never sustainably cared for.”

In response to B.O.S.S.’s allegations, the museum issued a statement reading in part: “Tate is committed to championing the work of artists and we always welcome critical dialogue and engagement. Artists must be free to express themselves and share their views however they wish. The Turner Prize jury were passionate about the work of all the collectives they shortlisted, recognising that these collaborative practices reflected the solidarity and community demonstrated across the UK in response to the pandemic. The jury, Tate and the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum are delighted Black Obsidian Sound System accepted the nomination.”

B.O.S.S. have said they will stay in the running for the prize, but cautioned that “it is crucial that we acknowledge the context from which our participation emerges. We demand the right to thrive in conditions that are nurturing and supportive.”


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