Cheek on fleek

Distorting the pretentiousness of the art world, The White Pube challenge the deep-rooted perceptions of traditional art.

Starting as an art criticism site, bit by bit it has grown into a powerful platform aiming to give space to marginalised artists and address the issues that often surround showcasing their works. Besides that, the duo standing behind The White Pube consisting of Central Saint Martins graduates Zarina Muhammad and Gabrielle de la Puente also create their own pieces and produce podcasts. With their tongue-in-cheek critiques and rating exhibitions with emojis, they confront the insipid and conceited language of the typical reviews and bring fresh air into the stale art scene.

 

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The White Pube’s work is by itself an act of rebellion against the traditional art world but what exactly stands behind the rebellious name?
Ok so the name works on multiple levels – mostly for its punny effect on ‘the white cube’ which is the defunct *ideal* way to present art things, but has also become a shorthand for established art behaviour and the conservative politics that go along with that. The white cube is also a big institutional gallery. Pube is a funny word. It is rude and naughty. And so, we are undoing the establishment with humour, and sneaking in our own good politics instead. Also, it is kind of nice to think that all the old white men that MAKE IT as artists or art critics or historians/curators/collectors – they probably have a lot of white pubes. And we are young and up-and-coming and we are playing their roles: self-aggrandising to get there. Also, sometimes because we punned The White Cube (gallery), people sometimes assume The White Pube is a physical space. Maybe they google where it is, idk. Aww.

 

Did the names for your exhibitions such as The Leaf of Pablo and Zayn Malik Zindabad come about the same way?
To be honest, yes. We think about what we might name a thing for 1 minute, come up with a pun or something ludicrous, and then convince each other it is a good idea and that we should totally go with this LUDICROUS name. Sometimes the name does hide perhaps a more important or hefty weight, but humour is good and enough, it is valid and we like using it. Very yolo.

 

Could you tell us a bit more about The Leaf of Pablo?
The Leaf of Pablo (where the leaf is actually the sapling emoji), was an exhibition in October 2016 at Hutt Collective in Nottingham (http://www.huttcollective.com). We were invited by the curator Connor Brazier to do something in the space, and we thought – we are really into this essay ‘Network Fatigue’ by Pablo Larios, which is available to read on Frieze (https://frieze.com/article/network-fatigue). We thought – what if we made an exhibition interrogating the philosophy of Larios’ essay which is concerned with artists and makers creating and eventing within their own networks; with their friends and people. While we both enjoy this prioritising of the personal, Zarina took issue with parts of the essay because she recognises that people of colour and minority communities have been acting in this way forever; like, making art about their bubbles and showing it to only their bubble for the conviction in that, the safety, the relevance and understanding (the art would be seen for itself as it would be seen in a banality. If the same art-things were shown in the white cube, they would become abject because of the identity of the maker, the same stream of thought that made us want to do Zayn Malik Zindabad – see below). To represent this catch in our thinking, we played Kanye’s performance at 2015 Brits where he’s performing ALL DAY and has everyone from London Grime scene on stage with him; because that performance embodies everything Larios tries to write about. Like, after that performance, Stormzy shouts it out in SHUT UP and it’s referenced in other songs; like Larios implies, referring to your friends and your filter bubble becomes a natural thing that Grime has been doing for time. And it bears less the weight of institutional gaze. It feels purer. We played Kanye’s ALL DAY performance on loop as a reminder that theory can ~be~, it can transfer into practice; that, actually, Larios’ essay was kinda late; that BBK and countless other Artists of colour have been doing this for time. Larios just gave them theoretical props. Buuuubbles.

 

Our current topic is “Power”—what would you like to see to come to more power in the art world in 2017?
More artists of colour should get solo shows in big, well-funded institutions with resources and bar tabs and free books. We want more shows by artists from minority/marginalised communities: we want them to be well-paid and emotionally and academically supported, given claps for their groundbreaking work. We wanna see artworks that are randomly and whimsically in neon GONE (read: hard capital in their sellability). Power is too often unilateral. What if universities listened to their students more. What if power moved horizontally and energetically. The world would have more flowers.

 

One of the core objectives of The White Pube is to represent and give platform to marginalised artists—what do you feel are the best ways to shift the audience’s focus from the artist’s own identity to their work?
We wrote about our qualms with this in an essay called Identity-Quality (http://www.thewhitepube.co.uk/identity-quality), and how straightwhitecisablemiddleclassmales enjoy the total obvious privilege that people look at their work, rather than them. Zarina also wrote about her specific qualms as a brown critic in SUBJ/OBJ-ectivity (http://www.thewhitepube.co.uk/obj-subj-ectivity). We found one active solution to this in an event we organised called Zayn Malik Zindabad, a film screening of South Asian artists in diaspora. We did it in Lewisham Art House in August 2016 and at the ICA this January 2017 (http://www.thewhitepube.co.uk/zayn-malik-zindabad): basically creating a banality of identity. If you need to get that out the way—because of who you are as a person or how the art world frames art-making—a banality can drain identity away, and you can enjoy work for itself. Interesting. Think of all the work you miss because you are just thinking about relating or not relating to its maker. *hand on chin emoji*

 

Do you think labels such as outsider art are still relevant today or should we call it simply art?
‘Outsider art’ is interesting as an identifier for how other epistemologies and cultures can come to art – but that is just a specific interest I have in the cross-curricular. Though i concede it is exclusionary and literally what does it mean? Maybe identifying people as outside and inside is counter-productive. Because then we, TWP, would be inside the tent, pissing IN. We are self-aware and concerned at the moment with our position and wary of being sucked into the structures we are criticising. But we know that it is also good to be on the inside like a little spy. Life is weird and we are learning a lot. Maybe 2017 is about realising things, too. I feel good.

 

What is the main change you would like to see in the current state of the art world?
There is no main change, just lots of little easy things that could happen like: Zarina should be the head of Tate Modern (She applied last year but her application was unsuccessful). I would like to run all biennials everywhere and maybe also Arts Council England. No, seriously though. We think art bros should give it up and stop. We think the disabled art scene is unfairly neglected, badly attended, and quality. I don’t want to have to rally for exhibitions from marginalised identities—I want us to be there already—and then I want to talk about quality instead of identity. So, I guess at the heart of that I want political stickups to be solved because I just want better exhibitions. I rarely encounter an exhibition that stops me, hardly ever have an aesthetic experience. Gab loved Marguerite Humeau at Palais de Tokyo and Nottingham Contemporary last year, and Ragnar Kjartansson at the Barbican; Zarina loved Apichatpong Weerasethakul at the Tate Tanks. I want exhibitions of that form. Because with most I think – well, the church is more moving and I’m not even religious; films are more entertaining; Instagram is easier; Netflix, more direct. When I travel I feel myself expand, and I think more deeply when I speak to my people and friends. I wish exhibitions would expand me like these things do. I want art to be more sincere.

 

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How would you characterise your own art?
Zarina: A conversation between friends. Both friends are as confused as each other and they’re tryna make sense of disparate objects. Narrative ~ relativity ~ grammar~, idk man. I just talk about what I’m thinking about and at the moment I’m thinking about opacity & Spivak.
Gabrielle: Good life debris like notes I make on my phone and forget about, fairytales, things I find in my pocket, secret twitter accounts, whatsapp group momentum, good conversations with my sisterIi never get to record. All words. All my art is in words.
The White Pube: Lol it is a good job we share this writing-based website together isn’t it. Ya!

 

What three things do you want to leave in 2016?
Z: Mullets, bleached eyebrows & Nike New Balance (in any way/style/form they can possibly come in. I want a blanket ban).
G: I literally don’t want to know anybody who is floating up the art world chain of command off of their own social capital – the receipts for which are on their instagram. The trainers, the city breaks, the pieces of branded clothing that truly form their ego and self. Bored of art bros, mannnn. I can name lots more than 3 lol.

 

What do you look forward the most in 2017?
Z: Every New Year I promise to start running, this year I have been for 3 runs and I look forward to making it a regular habit. Also, birds are a real thing on Twitter, and iIkinda love it?
G: I am excited to turn 23 because my birthday is on June 23rd and i was born in the 23rd hour of the day and I feel like I might just explode into stars and be at one with the world. I’ll let you know if that happens.

 

What should we look forward to from The White Pube in the upcoming year?
Ooooooo maybe this is a good place to announce something new and special. So we did an open call asking for moving image work by people who don’t have a degree in fine art – that is all. And we got lots and lots of submissions out of which we have curated a film screening called “NANNY CAM” and there are 20 artists based across the world: across lives, jobs, unemployment, age, everything. Some are alumni, but they have studied something else like Geography or Economics – and they have come to art through this other thing. This is a super strong lineup and the videos are so complementary and light and funny and lucid. It’s going to be great. We are doing it in Liverpool, Edinburgh and London in the middle of the year, and it’s far away because we are trying to do funding applications to get it funded in the meantime!! Cross ur tits. If you follow our twitter you can keep up to date on locations and dates and we will reveal the artists soooooon yay! :) @thewhitepube wew xxxxxxx etc

 

And last but not least; we’re always looking for new artists to feature in our magazine – is there anyone interesting (from your local scene) you think we should write about on Kink?
Our scene is pretty scattered, we are networked children.
Tbh feature twitter accounts, my faves are: @cnqmdi and @yzplz and I’d really like to hear their voices and thoughts in interview format.
My fav local artist in Liverpool is Rene Matic. She is super good and her art is even better than her Instagram, lol.

The White Pube: Website, Twitter
Text + interview: Gabriela Holesova

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