Clore Learning Centre, Royal Academy of Arts, London
Friday 23rd September 2022, 2-5pm
This seminar brought together museum and heritage professionals to reflect on decolonial research and related projects within collections of 18th and 19th century British art. The event provided an opportunity to share our Collections team’s progress on research into the early Royal Academy and to hear from colleagues across the sector on the challenges and successes of similar initiatives. The seminar was divided into two sessions, each consisting of a series of short presentations followed by group discussion. This format was chosen to cover a wide range of ongoing and recently completed projects around the UK.
The first session was chaired by Rebecca Lyons, the RA’s Director of Collections and Learning, and focused on biographical research within relevant collections. Helen Record presented the findings of the Royal Academy’s recent survey of all Royal Academicians, 1768 – c.1850, which sought to ascertain individual or family links to enslavement or colonial enterprise. Alex Patterson presented her research into colonial legacies and its impact on displays at the Walker, Liverpool. Mathelinda Nabugodi reflected on her research into the Romantic poets, enslavement and empire, foregrounding the almost archaeological process involved in uncovering the ‘traces’ of Black servants, characters and figures. A recorded presentation from Lisa Williams introduced her work at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and elsewhere.
The second session was introduced and chaired by Melanie Keen, Director of the Wellcome Collection. This focused on exhibitions and art commissions informed by colonial histories. Dorothy Price presented plans for, and debates raised by, the RA’s forthcoming exhibition ‘Entangled Pasts’ (working title). Joy Gregory and Sally Ayres reflected on Joy’s commission ‘The Sweetest Thing’ – a textile piece with accompanying film and photography – for the recent ‘In Plain Sight’ exhibition at Exeter. Simon Carter presented the development and implementation of the ’50 Monuments, 50 Voices’ project at St Paul’s Cathedral while Harold Offeh discussed his sound piece for the ‘Statues Redressed’ project: ‘William Huskisson by John Gibson, 1847’, Toxteth, Liverpool 2021.
In addition to speakers, chairs and organisers, curatorial colleagues attended from the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, Glasgow Museums, the Government Art Collection, Tate Britain, the Parliamentary Art Collection, Museum of London Docklands, the V&A, the Fitzwilliam Museum and the Watts Gallery. In addition, academics from Birkbeck College and the Courtauld Institute of Art attended along with three doctoral candidates.