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Norwegian University Studies Role of White Paint in Promoting Racism

Norway’s University of Bergen has launched a study of the role played by white paint in extending white supremacy around the globe.

The university has received a $1.2 million government grant for its research project “How Norway Made the World Whiter” (NorWhite) to investigate “how white paint has contributed to white supremacy around the world.”

The project studies the Norwegian innovation of the white pigment titanium dioxide to show “how Norway has played a globally leading role in establishing white as a superior color.”

Looking through a “historical, aesthetic, and critical lens,” NorWhite attempts to connect the topics of whiteness, technological innovation, and mass-exploitation of natural resources in a single case study.

Led by architecture historian Ingrid Halland, the project also proposes to explore how the white pigment titanium dioxide “not only led to an aesthetic desire for white surfaces, but was also connected to racist attitudes.”

Whiteness typically “is understood as cultural and visual structures of privilege,” but NorWhite offers “a distinctively different battleground for politics of whiteness in art and architecture,” the university project asserts.

NorWhite has received financing from the Research Council of Norway, as well as from the companies Titania A/S and Kronos Titan, which mine titanium and produce the titanium white pigment respectively.

In a recent paper titled “‘With-On’ White: Inconspicuous Modernity with and on Aesthetic Surfaces, 1910–1950,” Halland declared that the titanium white pigment “created conditions for the emergence of attitudes toward color that could be said to be socially toxic.”

In the paper, co-authored with Marte Johnslien, Halland goes on to explore how titanium white furthered an attitude of colonialism and eventually contributed to “systemic toxicity.”

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