The presentation of the works of Parliament is “reassessed” because many have a “racist history”


The curator of the art collection of the Parliament said that the presentation of their works of art was “reassessed”, as many statues and paintings have a “racist history” and were bought with the wealth of the slave trade.

The halls of the Palace of Westminster, open to the public, are lined with works of art featuring politicians from the 18th and 19th centuries, many of whom were linked to the slave trade.

Melissa Hamnett, head of heritage collections and curator of art, said officials were watching the collection’s presentation in light of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Hamnett said The Guardian that parliamentarians were looking for ways to present the UK’s involvement in the exploitation throughout the collection.

The Palace of Westminster (pictured, central hall) is lined with statues and works of art featuring 18th and 19th century politicians, many of whom were linked to the slave trade

The Palace of Westminster (pictured, central hall) is lined with statues and works of art featuring 18th and 19th century politicians, many of whom were linked to the slave trade

Former Prime Minister and founder of the modern police Sir Robert Peel benefited from slavery. Paintings of him are displayed in Westminster Abbey (photo) and in the Palace of Westminster

Former Prime Minister and founder of the modern police Sir Robert Peel benefited from slavery. Paintings of him are displayed in Westminster Abbey (photo) and in the Palace of Westminster

She said: “The British Empire is part of our history and we must recognize that many of our collections have a racist history. Let us be honest about this colonial and imperial past and also examine the wealth of slaves who endowed some of the artifacts.

She added that the decision to withdraw part of the works of art would be reviewed “on a case-by-case basis” by politicians from the President’s advisory committee on works of art.

As part of the collection’s ongoing work to improve its diversity, parliamentary authorities will also order more art featuring black, Asian and ethnic and female women.

It has been a key element of its strategy since 2016, both in terms of the people photographed and the artists themselves.

The works from the “209 women” project and a drawing by Bernie Grant MP are two recent examples from the collection celebrating the diversity of those who contribute to Parliament.

It comes after the statue of the slave trader Edward Colston was knocked down in the Avon River in Bristol during a BLM demonstration.

Bristol mayor Marvin Rees confirmed that the bust would be fished out of the river and displayed in a museum, alongside placards from recent protests to inform about the fight for racial equality.

The Melville monument in Edinburgh, erected in honor of Henry Dundas, will not be removed, but could have a new plaque dedicating the statue to those who were enslaved as a result of his actions. There was “nothing on slavery” on the original plate.

Melissa Hamnett (photo), Heritage Collections Manager and Curator of Art, said the Palace of Westminster is planning to present her art collection in light of the Black Lives Matter movement

Melissa Hamnett (photo), Heritage Collections Manager and Curator of Art, said the Palace of Westminster is planning to present her art collection in light of the Black Lives Matter movement

The decision to withdraw part of the work (illustrated, corridors of power) will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis by politicians from the President's advisory committee on works of art.

The decision to withdraw part of the work (illustrated, corridors of power) will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis by politicians from the President’s advisory committee on works of art.

Other statues depicting former colonial leaders also became a subject of debate, as Oriel College in Oxford voted to bring down a statue of Cecil Rhodes.

Researchers at University College London revealed these links several years ago, proving that 469 MPs had benefited and had been compensated for their links to the slave trade.

Former Prime Minister and founder of the modern police force, Sir Robert Peel, benefited from slavery and is still very present in Westminster.

William Gladstone, who is also depicted in the works of art in the palace, depended on the income of his father John Gladstone, who was one of the largest slave owners in the British West Indies.

A painting by William Beckford, who was one of 50 deputies representing the slave plantations, hangs in a member-only room in Westminster.

A painting by William Beckford (photo), who was one of 50 deputies representing the slave plantations, hangs in a members-only room in Westminster

A painting by William Beckford (photo), who was one of 50 deputies representing the slave plantations, hangs in a members-only room in Westminster

Parliamentary authorities plan to order more artwork featuring black, Asian and ethnic and female women as part of their ongoing work to improve the diversity of the collection (photo, Theresa May crosses the central hall of the Palace of Westminster)

Parliamentary authorities plan to order more art featuring black, Asian and ethnic and female women as part of their ongoing work to improve the diversity of the collection (photo, Theresa May crosses the central hall of the Palace of Westminster)

There has been an increase in the number of works of art featuring BAME politicians, including former fictional secretary Diane Abbot, but many of them are hung at Portcullis House, opposite the Palace of Westminster .

In the parliamentary domain, only two of the 300 statues in the collection are BAME individuals.

A bust of Learie Constantine, the first black peer, is currently on loan from another collection in Westminster.

A recently commissioned bust of the 18th century writer, abolitionist and former slave Olaudah Equiano is also presented.

Hamnett said that Parliament should tell and explain the monoracial truth of this period in the collection because “we cannot change history”.

Hywel Williams, chair of the Plaid Cymru committee, said, “The dilemma we have is a collection that is full of people with skeletons in the closet. But you don’t beat the past by removing its symbols – you use them for future reference.

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