Museums have a responsibility to work with their communities to overcome the challenges of poverty and exclusion and to achieve equality of outcomes.
A case study in the Reframing Picton project at National Museum Cardiff
National Museum Cardiff has worked in partnership with the Sub-Sahara Advisory Panel on a youth-led project, Reframing Picton, which uses art to create greater awareness of our challenging colonial past and its impact today.
The museum has in its collection a portrait of Sir Thomas Picton, by Martin Archer Shee. Picton was the highest-ranking British officer to be killed at the Battle of Waterloo. Hailed as a national hero by some, he is equally notorious for his cruelty, particularly during his governorship of Trinidad.
Until now, the museum has made little reference to Picton’s cruelty when exhibiting the portrait, contributing to a one-sided view of history which ignores the atrocities of our colonial past. Facing up to this is a necessary step towards addressing structural inequalities and historical injustices that continue to inflict harm.
The young people worked with the museum to commission contemporary artists with links to Trinidad to create new artworks for the national collection. These works will centre Black voices, exploring ideas around ancestry, healing, transformation and change.
There is no one Black experience. By providing Black people with space to share their own outlook on our history we can create an exhibition of beauty without neglecting to recognise the complexity and pain.
In confronting the dominant, white-washed version of history, the project has received some negative backlash. Navigating detractors’ views has been a challenging but essential part of the process.
Mutual learning is at the heart of the project. The young people are gaining insight into museums and how they operate; we, too, are learning just as much from their insights and experiences.
Youth-led projects across the museum are part of Hands on Heritage, made possible by the National Lottery Heritage Fund’s Kick the Dust Grant.