Norway Researchers Explore Racial Impact of White Paint
The University of Bergen has recently received funding for a multi-year research project to examine the impact of titanium dioxide (TiO2) in white paint on a variety of factors, including national identity and social views of race.
According to reports, TiO2 was an original Norwegian invention and has since become a part of everyday life, including in food, paper, paint, concrete coatings, synthetic textiles, tattoos, make-up and more. Research to look at the specific pigment through a “historical, aesthetic and critical” lens is being funded through a 12 million Norwegian Krone (about $1.2 million) grant from the Research Council of Norway.
While several publications have suggested that the team is looking to determine if the resulting white paint is “racist” and has contributed to white supremacy, researchers have reiterated that the study will be primarily looking at how the paint’s commercial success may have historically contributed to toxic views on race and whiteness.
About the Ongoing Study
From now until 2028, principal investigator and associate professor Ingrid Halland will be conducting research in a project titled “How Norway Made the World Whiter.” Also referred to as “NorWhite,” the research will observe the country’s pigment innovation and how it transformed surfaces in art, architecture and design.
Additional project partners include Titania AS, Kronos Titan, Jøssingfjord Science Museum, Dalane Folk Museum, Østfoldsmuseene, The Norwegian Mining Museum, Velferden, ROM for kunst og arkitektur, KODE and The University Museum of Bergen.
Norwegian government funds research to find out if white paint is racist https://t.co/7fpVj42JZR pic.twitter.com/i2zhd1uzhy— New York Post (@nypost) January 20, 2023
The primary question posed in the research efforts is: What are the cultural and aesthetic changes instigated by titanium white and TiO2 surfaces – and how can both the material in itself and these changes be conceptualized and made visible?
“Although Norway is not a conventional colonial power, this project will show how the country has played a globally leading role in establishing white as a superior color,” reads the study’s description. “Until now, however, this story has been lesser known to scholars and the public. NorWhite will connect the challenging topics: whiteness, technological innovation, and mass-exploitation of natural resources in a single case study.”
According to Halland, while the study has since been criticized for a construed purpose, it does not seek to find answers for racist attitudes today, but instead will observe historical contexts.
For the study, Halland has split NorWhite into five work packages. These packages include:
“By weaving together historical, critical, aesthetic, and artistic methods with public engagement and outreach, NorWhite reveals a complex and challenging story of how a local Norwegian innovation came to have planetary consequences,” writes Halland.
“The overall objective of NorWhite is to critically and visually investigate the cultural and aesthetic preconditions of a complex and unexplored part of Norwegian technology and innovation history that has—as this project claims—made the world whiter.”