White Psyche at the Whitworth in Manchester

Sara Jaspan, Exhibitions Editor
White Psyche at the Whitworth in Manchester
Cupid and Psyche Scene 11, Reconciliation of Cupid and Psyche 1815 Hand block-printed wallpaper. Made in France. The Whitworth, The University of Manchester

White Psyche at The Whitworth, Manchester 16 September 2020 — 31 January 2021 Entrance is free — Visit now

Since the work of archaeologists and scholars from the 1980s onwards, the myth of monochrome whiteness within ancient classical art has been shown to be false. Marble was indeed considered a precious material, but it was the canvas upon which a vibrant array of colour was often added to bring statues, reliefs and sarcophagi to life. Much has been written and major exhibitions have been held on the subject. Yet the idea that the ancient Western world viewed white marble (and hence white skin) as the epitome of taste and beauty has continued to persist within the public imagination and contributed to notions of white supremacy.

As part of the Whitworth’s efforts to address the unconscious bias towards whiteness within European art and its own collections, the gallery presents White Psyche – a new exhibition that ‘examines the aesthetics of white supremacy’ through a trained focus on one of the most enduring and culturally pervasive stories of love and idealised beauty around. The mythical tale of Cupid and Psyche was penned almost two millennia ago by the Numidian writer Apuleius, who hailed from the ancient Roman-Berber city of Madauros in present-day Algeria. The story was absorbed by the dominant culture of the far-reaching Roman empire and reborn during the Renaissance period with its two central characters portrayed – like the rest of the Greek and Roman gods – in the image of northern Europeans.

White Psyche centres upon the Cupid and Psyche tale as depicted within a luxurious French wallpaper series printed from 1816 onwards as part of another wave of Western cultural revival, the Neoclassicism movement, and just over a decade before the French colonisation of Algeria (repeating the violent pattern of European expansion which has compounded ideas of white superiority across the world). Visitors to the exhibition are encouraged to take a conscious look at the heavily codified representation of beauty before them – to observe its overwhelming whiteness; dominated by white marble architecture, white clouds, and white skin draped in white cloth – and consider the distorted cultural legacy from which it is born. A legacy that continues to shape our world, and the white psyche around which so much is centred, today.

White Psyche at The Whitworth, Manchester 16 September 2020 — 31 January 2021 Entrance is free Visit now

What's on at The Whitworth

Where to go near White Psyche at the Whitworth in Manchester

Bar or Pub
Big Hands

Big Hands is the one-time haunt of legendary Manchester band Elbow; it’s shabby, loud and dark, with a jukebox and excellent roof terrace.

The Giving Tree
The Giving Tree

The Giving Tree is a cafe and community hub based in Rusholme, a short walk from the city centre.

Pankhurst Centre
The Pankhurst Centre

The Pankhurst Centre houses a small museum and heritage centre that remains as a legacy to the Pankhurst family and the Suffragette movement born in this city.

Cafe at the Museum
Café or Coffee Shop
The Cafe
at the Museum

Manchester Museum’s cafe is run by the people behind award-winning cafe Teacup Kitchen. The menu features home-baked cakes, the finest loose leaf teas and breakfast, as well as a wide selection of mains and meals for kids.

Music venue
Manchester Academy 3

Brilliant venue for catching a touring band on the rise. The boringly titled Academy 3 or more interesting Hop and Grape, as it was once known, is a self contained…

Manchester Academy music venue on Oxford Road Manchester.
Music venue
Manchester Academy

The Manchester Academy is a mid size, modern warehouse venue adjacent to the University of Manchester Students’ Union. It lacks any architectural merit and has always been a difficult place…

Christie’s Bistro, Manchester. Courtesy Christie’s Bistro
Café or Coffee Shop
Christie’s Bistro

This wood-panelled former science library – part of a cluster of neo-Gothic buildings designed for the University of Manchester by Alfred Waterhouse (he of Manchester Town Hall and London’s Natural History Museum fame) – has a wonderfully bookish interior that turns lunch into something of an event.

What's on: Exhibitions

Culture Guides

Music in Manchester and the North

Fresh concert seasons, forward-thinking festivals and a revolving door of amazing gigs. Things are looking bright as spring comes into view.

Exhibitions in Manchester and the North

February is a month of love so art lovers in the North - rejoice! There is lots to choose from: two photography festivals, gorgeous crafts and shows celebrating local talent.