Funny to think what our taxes go on. I wouldn’t have had ‘the invention of a deity’ on my 2024 government expenditure bingo card, but here we are. The National Maritime Museum, which last year received £20 million from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, has unveiled a statue of a ‘god-like protector of all migrants’ to sit next to a bust of Horatio Nelson. The pair will engage in a pre-recorded conversation in which the gender-neutral god praises the ‘resilience’ of those ‘escaping war’ while moaning about our national hero’s ‘fancy medals and uniform’.
There’s plenty to laugh at in this commission. Take the fact that every stakeholder imaginable seems to have been consulted, from the trans charity Mermaids to Action for Refugees in Lewisham, or that the bust seems to have a can of pepper spray placed artfully on top of its head. But what strikes me about the creation of a new god is its sheer weirdness.
What kind of publicly-funded museum, charged with preserving the remains of the past for the benefit of today, decides that coming up with a new deity is the best way to carry out that duty? It seems we’ve entered something of an intellectual wormhole over the last few years and have been spat out into a parallel world of ersatz rationality. Try to imagine how such a decision was made. A curator in some god-awful meeting will have said something like:
Just to circle back, I think we need to centre the plight of migrants more impactfully in our Nelson exhibition. He was an imperialist – and therefore a white supremacist. Those same forces are harming migrants today. Never mind that Nelson had little to do with 18th-century British migration policy, he waged war and war creates refugees.