British Museum Announces Exhibition Exploring Its Imperial Legacies
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British Museum Announces Exhibition Exploring Its Imperial Legacies

Coming in October 2024

The British Museum is no stranger to criticism, from a recent row with Greece over the Elgin marbles, to repatriation bids from multiple nations requesting their plundered artefacts be returned, to an unofficial unfiltered tour of the collection delving into the museum’s disputed items. Today, the museum has announced a new collaboration with Guyanese artist Hew Locke that promises to address some of this, delving into how the museum’s collection reflects the legacies of British imperial powers.

‘In this landmark exhibition we are collaborating with Hew to ask questions and create constructive debate and conversation about the history of the British Museum’s collection – engaging our visitors on this topic in a way we have never done before,’ says Mark Jones, Interim Director of the British Museum. Here’s everything you need to know.

Facade of The British Museum

The British Museum, Image: The Trustees of The British Museum ©

Hew Locke’s Exhibition At The British Museum Will Explore Imperial Legacies

An upcoming exhibition at the British Museum will delve into the collection’s British imperial legacies, spanning the early modern period to the present day. Curated in collaboration with Guyanese-British artist Hew Locke, the exhibition will juxtapose well-known objects from the Museum’s vast collection with newly commissioned works by Locke.

‘I have been visiting the British Museum’s collections for 40 years, and this project has enabled me to engage with them in a much deeper way than ever before, and in a way few artists have had the privilege of doing,’ Locke says. ‘I have always been interested in the way objects are interpreted through display in museums. What story has been chosen and is being told or implied about the past? How does it relate to the present? How can this telling be questioned, disrupted, or complicated? These are the questions I am tackling through this project.

‘I want to bring people beautiful objects with awkward histories, and smaller objects easy to walk by, that are just as compelling when you stop and look,’ Locke adds. ‘There is a fascinating story hidden in plain sight, here and in many other museums across the country.’

What To Expect

The exhibition will examine the British Museum’s history and intricate links with the British Empire, meanwhile considering today’s often contentious and deeply felt debates around cultural heritage. Focusing on Britain’s historic interactions with Africa, India and the Caribbean – all of which had an impact on Guyana, where Locke grew up – expect a personal exploration of the Museum’s collection using interventionist techniques to reframe the historical objects.

Don’t expect to leave with a concrete answer: in fact, Locke hopes to raise more questions than answers in his visitors’ minds.

Historical objects from the museum’s collection – selected by Locke and his partner and studio curator Indra Khanna over a two year period – will be placed in dialogue with new artistic commissions by Locke. The exhibition’s themes were developed collaboratively, reflecting Locke’s work and the Museum’s collection, and with the help of specialist curators.

‘We’re incredibly excited to be collaborating with Hew Locke on an exhibition of this scale,’ says Isabel Seligman, Curator, Prints and Drawings at the British Museum. ‘With Locke’s compelling artistic vision, insight, and curiosity we hope to offer visitors a fresh perspective on this subject, encouraging conversation about how the collection came into being – and creating a space where dialogue and differing views are welcome.’

Hew Locke photographed by John McKenzie

Hew Locke photographed by John McKenzie © 2023 Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art

Who Is Hew Locke?

Hew Locke is a renowned Guyanese-British artist. He was born in Edinburgh in 1959, but moved to Georgetown, Guyana in 1966, where he lived until 1980. Today, he is based in London, and is a highly decorated artist. In 2000, he won both a Paul Hamlyn Award and an East International Award, in 2022 he was elected a member of The Royal Academy of Arts, and in 2023 he was made an OBE. His work can be seen in The Tate Gallery, The V&A, The Imperial War Museum and The British Museum in London, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, The Henry Moore Institute in Leeds and more.

Where?

The Joseph Hotung Great Court Gallery (Room 35), British Museum

When?

17 October 2024–9 February 2025.

EXPLORE

Discover more about the British Museum at britishmuseum.org