Race, Empire and the Pre-Raphaelites

Decolonising Victorian Art and Design through Museum Collections and Practice

New for 2020–21

This research group will bring together museums holding Pre-Raphaelite and Arts & Crafts collections with academics working in related fields to consider these objects’ global contexts, particularly in relation to ideologies of Orientalism and Empire.

By using Birmingham’s rich collections as a starting point, we aim to facilitate wider conversations about how Pre-Raphaelite and Arts & Crafts material might be displayed and interpreted for the 21st-century museum and its diverse audiences. We propose to create a set of resources for museum and higher education practitioners wishing to foreground race and empire in 19th-century collections, which will be available online. Our group’s activity will also inform a major exhibition proposed for Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery following its full reopening.

Our key research questions are:

  • How can we rethink Pre-Raphaelite and Arts & Crafts objects through the lenses of anti-racism and decoloniality?
  • How can contemporary museum practitioners interpret and engage audiences with these complex and difficult histories of art and design; what challenges and opportunities do they offer?
  • How are contemporary BIPOC artists and designers engaging with these 19th-century objects?