“Museums are coming to terms with the legacy of the past. Central to this is whose lives our collections reflect. Our Hidden Histories display reveals our 20th-century collection from more inclusive viewpoints that better reflect the diversity of the world we live in.
We want to raise the visibility of historically marginalised groups, as artists and as sitters.
Our intention with this display was not to label or ‘other’ individuals, but to demonstrate how challenging it has been for diverse voices to break through. These individuals and their stories are often hiding in plain sight within our collections.
During lockdown, we collaborated with Tayside Healthcare Arts Trust, which works with individuals with acquired impairment.
People with long-term conditions often face lowered expectations and the trust aims to counter the limitations of being defined by a medical condition.
A markedly bold work on display is by Dawson Murray (1944-2022) and titled Dapple Paddle. Known for his supreme mastery of the watercolour technique of painting wet-into-wet, Murray’s huge work is a celebration of his garden through the seasons.
It was created more than a decade after his diagnosis with multiple sclerosis, and five years after he started using a wheelchair.
Murray maintained his creative practice until the end of his life. As his multiple sclerosis progressed, he worked with the aid of an assistant, and in his final years he innovatively trialled drawing using a digital eye-tracking tool.
Our collection features another artist with multiple sclerosis. Elizabeth Hill (1936-2006) studied at Dundee College of Art and then at the Royal Academy Schools in London.
She spent 10 years in London but found it hard to work and maintain her studio, so decided to return to Scotland, where she painted until her old age.
The work we hold is one of only a few known paintings by her and depicts a London street scene in the 1970s, capturing the frantic energy of life in the big city.
We used information from Scotland’s 2011 census to underpin our interpretative panels and provide information on marginalised groups.
We also decided to display much longer labels – to positive feedback from visitors, who have loved reading the hidden histories.
For some, viewing works through a different lens has opened them up to new ways of seeing the collection and learning more about the world around them. Others have been overcome to see evidence of their own lives represented on our walls.”
Hidden Histories: Exploring Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in Dundee’s Art Collections is at The McManus: Dundee’s Art Gallery & Museum until 17 December