Uncomfortable Truths

Many object labels in museums do not tell the full story.

This project seeks to uncover uncomfortable truths behind museum objects – how they were collected, what they represent and the difficult pasts that are hidden behind them.

Photo of Claire Simmons, Engagement Officer - Young People & Stacey Olika Project Assistant - Uncomfortable Truths

Claire Simmons, Engagement Officer - Young People & Stacey Olika Project Assistant - Uncomfortable Truths

Podcast Producers – Samuel Zubair, William Taylor, Ade Sowemimo, Elle Puteri, Pierre Niyongira, Yasmin Warsame, Sipho Ledwaba-Chapman, Caine Tayo Lewin-Turner, Donnell Asare & Vanessa Wilson. With contributions from Lisa Graves, Curator - World Cultures.

We’re looking to face up to the legacy of dominant cultural and colonial practices and perspectives inherited from the past. We need to address the histories of objects that were collected in a different context and position them in the present for contemporary audiences.

A painting that uncritically celebrates the British Imperial rule in India.

“I feel it doesn’t show the rebellions and discomforts experienced by local people on the Indian subcontinent – but on the other hand people could say that Britain built infrastructures, railways, canals. Without showing both sides it’s creating a narrative that is very false”

“I think when we have paintings like this in the museum it is important that we have other sources that give light to that history.

“We would rename this painting ‘The Elephant in the Room”

Ade and Donnell research and unpick the history of British rule in India.

An object that focuses attention on the violent and painful stories of colonial rule in Africa.

“The reason this head is no longer in Africa is because it was taken – forcibly – in Benin”

Would returning the head be a positive move to undo the injustices of the past?
As British students of Black African heritage, what are Sam and Will’s views? How does Dr Foluke’s personal experience as a Black African and specialist in law and colonial studies shape her views? How can Lisa, a White European curator, be an ally to this cause?

The conversation was researched and produced by Will and Sam.

A body that questions why African human remains are in European museums.

“There is controversy around whether Ancient Egyptians were truly Black.
There is controversy in the ethics of keeping Nesi-Khonsu, a human remain, on display at a British museum.
And there is controversy in the relations between Africa and Europe.”

Yasmin and Sipho exploring these issues in relation to the British colonial relationship with Egypt and links with contemporary issues such as ‘Black Lives Matter’.

A specimen that highlights the often traumatic relationship between humans and the natural world.

“My name is Jackson, and this is my story…”

The reason Jackson is here is because in 1884 he was captured as a baby in the jungle in Myanmar, South East Asia. He was taken to a zoo in Kolkata, India, before being transferred to London Zoo. After his death he was offered to Bristol Museum as a taxidermy specimen.

Jackson’s story was researched and produced by Elle and Pierre.

A painting that reveals the importance of slavery and its colonies to Britain.

“This painting celebrates the British military victory over the French invasion of their Caribbean islands. Pocock takes pride in his nation’s ability to protect their slave islands and continue to exploit persons racialised as Black. In my opinion this is just as important, if not more, than the details and the strategies of the battle in the painting that have received so much more attention”

Vanessa and Tayo unpick the history of this painting and make links with other objects inside the museum around the legacies of British colonial rule.

A building that represents how the wealth created by enslaved labour in the Caribbean benefitted Bristol.

“You say tobacco, you say Wills, automatically you end up talking about slavery and enslavement.”

How does the story of the money that paid for this building link to Bristol’s involvement with the transatlantic slave trade? How do the stories we are told about history affect how we feel about people today?

Will and Ade and speak to historian Richard Stone, where they discuss the role of the Wills family as tobacco manufacturers and the importance of education and empathy.