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White Cube, White Culture, White Riot

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Marcus Harvey's portrait Maggie (2009), which was the centrepiece of his exhibition ‘White Riot’ at White Cube, London, 2009, and Steve McQueen's film Hunger (2008), are cultural reminders that mainstream debates about contemporary British identity are rooted historically in representations of Margaret Thatcher, Leader of the Opposition from 1975 to 1979 and Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990.

There are obvious differences between Harvey's and McQueen's works. One is a high art object designed to emanate an ‘aura’ in the gallery and for specialist dissemination, the other a commercial film aimed largely at cinema and DVD mass audiences. The looming presence of Maggie, placed as though a monumental altarpiece with Thatcher's face were staring at those entering the space, is in contrast to her literal absence from Hunger save for her disembodied voice played twice over McQueen's narrative in the Maze prison, Northern Ireland. Beyond these differences, this article argues that Maggie and Hunger represent divergent engagements with Thatcher's legacy and identity politics fashioned by the legacies of Empire.
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Keywords: Bobby Sands; British identity; Irish Republicanism; Marcus Harvey; Margaret Thatcher; Steve McQueen; colonialism and empire; hunger strikes; non-belonging; young British artists (yBa)

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2011-09-01

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