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The White Pube, by Megan Winstone
The White PubePhotography Megan Winstone

How to know when to boycott an artist, according to The White Pube

In their latest Dazed column, art agony aunts Gabrielle de la Puente and Zarina Mohammed share their thoughts on when and how to turn your back on badly behaving artists

In their new Dazed Voices column, art writers and curators The White Pube answer your burning questions about the industry, in a way only they can

Anonymous: At what point do u have to boycott an artist’s work because of their irl behaviour?? Can u enjoy old films knowing a lot of the actors are racists and creeps? Is it even different in art? Where’s the line?

The White Pube: Lads, not to be dramatic but: is this the moral question of our time? because I think about it so regularly that i kind of wish I was religious for the sake of some moral guidance. Instead i float through life and the internet very worried i’m doing something wrong, or always just about to. I wonder the same things you do and I think about the layers and complications too. It starts with: are we allowed to enjoy art made by bad people - what if we LOVE the thing so much and don’t want to let it go?; should we just never go near it, put our fingers in our ears and pretend it doesn’t exist?; if the bad person was just one part of the whole project, is it unfair on the other people who worked hard to go Full On Boycott?; And what if ‘bad’ to me doesn’t mean the same thing to you? Someone call a priest or a wizard i have a few QUESTIONS. or is it mad if message my uber driver from last week who was giving me his advice according to islam and made me cry a little bit in the back of the taxi like i was literally frank ocean.

Like, I loved the Wonder Woman reboot, right. The story got me in the gut for the very basic representation in that it was A Woman Doing The Fighting, and i felt empowered and healed somehow by that one film alone. But I felt all this knowing lead actress Gal Gadot used to be in the Israel Defence Force and is still pro-IDF. far removed from the situation, my privilege made me think I could enjoy the story without it equating to support of Gadot’s actions cause she was just an actor in it after all. I doubt anyone in Gaza can afford to do the same moral acrobatics to have a nice time in the pictures tho! There was also a book I read, swallowed and reviewed by Tao Lin which gives us a quirky love story that skirts the age of consent (17 and 26). i know we’ll all feel different about this but personally that didn’t alarm me - if anything it was something of a draw because growing up my friends were mostly boys (men!!!!) significantly older than I was, and i have always wondered how tf it happened. i thought reading the book would give me space to explore those thoughts, but i shuddered hours after posting my review when people pointed me towards the statutory rape accusations against the writer himself, cause maybe this book wasn’t so fictional after all. i was glad i’d only borrowed the book from a friend instead of buying it or funding that, u kno?

“Feel free to boycott the fuck out of things as you see fit cause it’s not like you should have a fear of scarcity – there are 400 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute, we’re not gonna run out of things to entertain ourselves with” – The White Pube

You asked at what point do you boycott an artist because of their behaviour, and I think in reality the goalposts move case by case dependent on your own proximity to the issue (or lack thereof). But imo trying to be a good ally means pushing those goal posts wider and wider, which happens naturally as a result of livin your life alongside people who live differently to you; and understanding their experience and how and where the world is against them. If it’s hard to describe what you really care about protecting, it might be better to ask what makes your stomach drop? and I guess the more you care about other people, the more you’ll take issue with. That in itself should never be a worry when it comes to the arts in particular, feel free to boycott the fuck out of things as you see fit cause it’s not like you should have a fear of scarcity - there are 400 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute, we’re not gonna run out of things to entertain ourselves with.

And I realise I’m mostly discussing satellite things like books or films that you can take or leave, because the line is significantly easier to help you pin down when it comes to those. The fuckery in the art world really comes when the bad person is an artist embedded within a project, commissioned by an organisation, that’s connected to a tonne of other institutions and funders, and it’s a russian doll of what looks like complicity. Why are they all supporting her? Why is no one saying anything? This is how it so often is, layered up, full coverage. Last year, i found exactly this in Liverpool-based artist Nina Edge who was using the mask of a community twitter account to go to town on her excited transphobia. That could have been the beginning and end of the problem but she’d also been commissioned by Granby Four Streets CLT, a group renovating the houses and streets of a run down area of Toxteth. She was their artist-in-residence for the winter garden, a space meant for the community whose development has been about a decade in the making. it finally opened in March. And it’s just shit because ye the idea of a whole house transformed into an indoor green space for creative projects and incoming creative residents sounds amazing; sounds like a beautiful way to bring people together not 2 be too cheesy about it. But I know trans and non-binary friends and allies who aren’t planning on going anywhere near it because of Nina Edge’s involvement, because they don’t want her to get away with it and what if they do go along and she’s there? I haven’t seen the commissioners do anything publicly to neutralise the situation or put anything in place to make the winter garden a space where trans and nb people can feel safe and okay, and ofc the funders haven’t said shit (and there are so many of them). Until Granby come out and say something, make their politics known, they’re holding a lot of people at arm’s length and also undermining the work of everyone else involved.

When the problem is sticky and involved like that, I think it is on the institutions to make the first move. they have to do their repairs visibly, they have to make it right. People in power have to take responsibility for leading on this cultural shift, and then I feel like we might be clearer on those initial small fry / every day responsibility questions of ‘should I watch this film oh god’?? Cause tf do we know if our one-man boycott is gonna do anything??? The whole world just need to agree to stop fucking up so we can watch the telly please and also casually live without fear !!