Purple Angel Wing Heart

in which i slate the tate

in which i slate the tate

cw: ableism, racism, sexual abuse, transphobia, white feminism

Over the past two months, I religiously trained for the biggest interview of my life – only for it to come crashing down when it actually happened. Out of a good 350-or-so-applicants, I made it to the final four for an extremely prestigious editorial assistant apprenticeship at Tate Publishing, before having to withdraw when all hell broke loose. (Hint: when I point out what’s wrong with your company, you’re supposed to care!)

The week I left my old job, my boss sent me a link for the apprenticeship. It seemed perfect, if a little more bookish than my magazine-and-digital-publishing-oriented brain could handle. Plus it’s Tate – they’ve introduced me to so many artists and so many art styles, and they’ve taken me through so many experiences since I was in a pushchair.

So, every day for a week straight, I edited my application to the best of not-really-my ability (Red flag #1 – could I really bring myself to the role?). It worked, and with the first interview in the cards, I rented a whole load of books that I thought would be required reading for someone passionate about literature, but for the interviews’ sake turned out to be redundant. I got through One Hundred Years of Solitude alright, but why would I ever need to read Monkey when the iconique 70s TV adaptation of it exists? (That being said, I do need to read more, so that I can write better.)

Not to mention, sheer synchronicity proved that all the signs were there…

The first interview went really well. I did a presentation on what I could bring to the role. Tom Avery, the publishing director (and co-founder of #Merky Books with Stormzy!!!) was extremely nice, and loved my presentation. Emilia Will, the project editor who also wrote a few gift books about cats and dogs in art, was also lovely. She reminded me of my cousin.

Then came the second interview, with Tom, Laura Sibbald (publishing coordinator; the most Russell Group woman in the world) and Maxx Lundie (Head of Sales; yup, you are not seeing things – he really does spell his name with two Xs!). My Mum likened the interview to a boyfriend/girlfriend/partner that I needed to dump even though we were only one our second date – so many red flags.

So what exactly were those red flags?

1. Gaslighting

During this second interview, I had to present two books, one real and one fake, that’d fit well into Tate’s bibliography. The first was a kids’ book about sustainability, and the second was an initiative to get Britain drawing while also learning about the country’s history. I conjured up these ideas as being evocative of Tate’s niche audience, as if I was to pick the book I’d like to see Tate Publishing make, it’d be a new version of Angry Women by Andrea Juno. However, it’d only cater to four people, three of them being me.

Aside from focusing on the books themselves, they decided to ask me how exactly I’d strategically focus on enhancing brand recognition within international markets, as well as how I would cope with the day-to-day (like there’s a typical day-to-day! There barely ever is). Both the ideas I presented, as well as my Angry Women pitch in the first interview, were to blank faces and barely any sense of caring. Those are the moments that drove me deeper into my inner hell.

The thing was, these questions made the staff at Tate Publishing seem like they’re shit at their jobs. You have to bear in mind that I was interviewing for a Level 3 Apprenticeship, equivalent to one A Level, where subjects offered include “Law and the Publishing Industry”, “Marketing and Digital Marketing for Publishers” and “Sales in the Publishing Industry”. So, if I could finesse an international marketing plan for a book on the spot, would that make this apprenticeship moot? It’s a bloody apprenticeship, You’re not supposed to know everything, y’know.

Both of these questions were backtracked, with them acknowledging they were bad questions. With that being said, I was not the first person they interviewed that day, so surely the second question (at least) was answered before?

2. Giftbookgate

When I posed a question about the books of theirs that sell the most (hint: it’s the exhibition books), I referred to some of their oeuvre as “gift books”, as per the job description. However, Maxx-with-two-Xs seemed peeved about that and called them something along the lines of “art history books”, singling out A Queer Little History of Art, A Brief History of Black British Art and A Little Feminist History of Art. Tom and Laura seemed to agree. Make no mistake: I was being told off!

However, I wonder what the blurb is on the website for the latter book?

Yup. “A great gift book”. What an oversight. If one’s a gift book, then surely they all are? More importantly, why did they make me have to doubt my own reality?

3. The Horrors They Stock

Having gathered evidence from searching the lay of the Tate gift shop land a lot over the years, I made a point to go to the bookshop and document exactly what mistakes they’ve made – all of which Headd of Saless, Maxx-with-two-Xs, didn’t seem to give two shits about.

Firstly, they’ve made the massive mistake of putting vocal transphobe Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche’s books alongside books by queer and trans authors like Travis Alabanza and Shon Faye. However, I couldn’t see one single book by Akwaeke Emezi – the not-even-a-human-much-less-a-woman (they’re both non-binary and an Ogbanje, which means “deity’s child” in Igbo) author who called out Chimamanda (their mentor) for her transphobic remarks.

Audre would SCOFF.

But that’s not all. Dotted throughout Tate’s bookshops are many twee, outdated novelty books, mostly for kids, that focus on famous women/queer people/place marginalised group here who have shaped history. However, those books are almost always viewed through a White feminist, capitalist, “MORE WOMEN DRONE BOMBERS!” lens. They’re a major contribution to my status as an agender femme. While none of these books are published by Tate themselves, they are complicit in stocking them.

So here, I present to you, the official 💅✨ Yassqueenslayy! Library ✨💅

I never even picked up that Michelle Obama book. It just seems so heinous. (And the series is literally called WORK IT, GIRL. Couldn’t be more yassqueenslay.)
Ugh, Chimamanda and JK depicted as the saviours of female literature… However, seeing Gurinder Chadha there reminds me that I need to watch Bend It Like Beckham.

 

 

Seems decent enough, even if Malala became toff-adjacent after going to Oxford.
Note the use of “She was politically active” to water down her communism. Her disability seems to be properly represented though.

 

 

Frida’s accurately represented in this one, if a little glamourised.
Coco Nazi Spy Chanel and Frida next to each other. *rolls eyes* Nice to see Zaha Hadid represented though, she’s cool.
This book was particularly offensive…
You have Frida, Laverne Cox (the only trans person there, note), Björk, Zaha, Miriam Makeba etc… then Hillary Clinton, Angela bloody Merkel and Coco Chanel (who apparently took a random hiatus during the war…) all held up to the same standard. Ew.
Why on earth would Basquiat’s estate agree to be associated with the fracker? Did they even agree at all?
… and Coco for that matter?
This is Tate’s own book of women in art which is, again, decent enough. (Claude’s inclusion is a bit questionable due to their “neuter” status, even if they magically transformed from non-binary to Old Woman Babushka during the war?)
This book is probably the most alarming of all.
It rightfully calls out Lena Dunham’s White feminism, but then goes on to praise Chimamanda, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Naomi antivax Wolf and other dodgy figures?
Not them trying to make out that Susan B Anthony was pro-Black…
Um yas queen Frida Kahlo Versace boots the house down…

This is not what Frida wanted. At all.

4. £21,500 and a Whole Load Of Lip Service

And here’s the thing about all those red flags. At the end of the day, all those things add up to make Tate seem like an unsafe space for marginalised workers. Per the job description, you have to be “discreet”, “robust yet sensitive”, i.e. a dead-eyed Yes Man. In the role, I don’t think I would have been able to question authority, standing up for myself and/or other marginalised people. And, especially as an autistic person, it’s be myself or burn out.

When it comes to the people they hire, this discriminatory, highbrow work culture is reflected. According to the company’s 2020 workforce diversity profile, 17.2% of Tate staff described themselves as being an ethnic minority, about 13% say they’re under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella and, disappointingly, only 5% of the Tate workforce are disabled! Plus, almost all of the trustees (including the chairman of the BBC, of course!) are white, upper class and had their positions on the board OK’d by Boris himself! (Poor Kwame Kwei-Armah – he went from starring on Casualty to being a casualty.)

As well, everyone gorgeous in the art world has slated Tate, and I’m a clown for not heeding these warnings earlier:

Obviously I can’t speak for them, but it almost feels as if people like Zanele Muholi and SERAFINE1369 have had their work shown as if they were an exhibit at a freak show. “Look, this person isn’t just Black, but they’re also neither a man nor a woman! Spooky!!!” Outside of Tate, would Tom Avery behave this way and enable this behaviour in front of and around Stormzy, Lemara Lindsay-Prince (commissioning editor of #Merky Books) and other people of colour?

The Withdrawal

 

I ended up sending this email. It’s horribly haphazard – note two colours of text, typos and some of it being below a cut. (Next time – decuple check!) However, when they replied they didn’t seem to care. (Kinda like everything else.)

The next day, Tom replied, offering to chat with me further about the points raised. However, not only did I suspect the meeting would force me to stay private about these matters, but I didn’t want to do more free labour for them than I already had, as well as likely having my views misrepresented in the process.

Fuck you, pay me?

So, the moral of the story is: see if your idols/comrades/People Within Your Social Circles vibe with the company you want to work for, then apply. Doing this took away my innocence: if it walks like a farce and talks like a farce, then it’s a farce.

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