Xenophobic violence doesn’t mesh well with informed, realistic distinctions about the different groups of people in the world. To a certain extent this is its point, and precisely why it terrorizes. It emphasizes that strangers who know absolutely nothing about you, your person, your identity, your culture, or your faith are violently uninterested in knowing more — they’re interested in harming you and making you go away.


Richard Wilson’s 20:50 installed at the Saatchi in 2003.

Photographs by Linda Nylind.

Read Wilson talk about the piece in The Guardian.

I’ll never forget the very first time 20:50 was made. I had a policy of refusing to tell people what the work was when they came to see it, because if you say, “Be careful - it’s oil,” you’re influencing their response by telling them what to expect. But one day a Japanese woman came to the gallery in a white Burberry coat, carrying a baby wrapped in a white shawl. I looked at her gleaming white clothes, and for a moment I was really tempted to warn her. I hesitated, and she went into the gallery, and clearly didn’t quite know what was going on. She leaned out over the oil, trying to work it out, and her hair plopped down and she immediately threw it back, all over the white Burberry coat. It was the most unbelievable mess.

I went in and took the baby, and gave her tissues and turps and apologised, and she said: “No, that was the most amazing experience I’ve ever had.” I was stunned that she had been so blown away that the coat just wasn’t important. Of course, if the oil had hit the baby instead of the coat it might have been another story.