The Case: The Calling Card (If The Glove Fits)

The Case: The Calling Card (If The Glove Fits)

Materials/Image: White Gloves and a memoir called “How I did it”

Curated by Eno Inwang, Archives and Digital Media Trainee

A memento intentionally left at the scene of a crime is known as a ‘calling card’. For a criminal to leave a clear, and intentional trace at a crime scene takes equal amounts of confidence and folly; exuding a sense of superiority over the investigating party.

A pair of white gloves has many connotations that link theft with art, collecting, and colonialism.

A pair of white gloves as a calling card is an explicit reference to the 1975 film ‘The Return of the Pink Panther’. ‘Sir Charles Litton’, the notorious thief, also known as ‘The Phantom’, breaks into the ‘National Museum’ of the fictional country – ‘Lugash’. After defeating the security system, he steals the Pink Panther diamond, leaving behind a white glove, monogrammed with a golden ‘P’.

The pair of white gloves placed in the vitrine begs the questions of ‘what was in here?’, ‘Who took the object?’ And ‘how did they do it?’ These questions and many more are answered in the accompanying item ‘How I did it’ a vanity laced memoir by the narcissistic thief explaining how he devised the plan, and carried it out.

The bandit that has made off with the unidentified object is based on the Jungian archetype of the ‘Trickster’ in the guise of a mid-20th century colonial-era individual with a magpie-like kleptomania for cultural treasures. Incidentally, ‘Lugash’ is fashioned from orientalist tropes and stereotypes common of Hollywood depictions of the Greater Middle East. White gloves allude to class, and sovereignty.

White gloves, paired with blackface makeup were customary costume items of minstrel show performers. Additionally, it is common in many traditional African-American Baptist churches for ushers to wear black and white uniforms, complete with white gloves. Both examples illustrate the link between senses of power and status linked to white gloves, and this is further shown through the connotations with collecting.

White Gloves are usually also globally associated with art handling, and are thought not to leave any fingerprints. However, it can be argued that wearing gloves to handle works can make one clumsier, and likely to tear or damage materials. It is no secret that imperial powers sought to loot from colonies and in the same way, there is a sense of superiority from the thief. Many institutions within former imperial nations maintain that they alone have the necessary means to take care of historical, cultural objects, and that to return them would result in swift deterioration; often blasé towards how items were obtained.