Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

National Secrets

August 25, 2009 · 1 Comment

Yesterday I toured the Docklands Museum and was fascinated with the exhibit on slavery and the response that many museum-goers had to that particular exhibit. I found the museum overall to be both interesting and informative and that it filled a major hole in the historical sense since the Thames is integral to the economy of both city of London and the nation as a whole. The slavery exhibit included several examples of artwork that highlighted the enslaved Africans place in society. The museum housed multiple paintings depicting the slaves as an accessory or a barometer to measure a family’s wealth. After viewing the included artwork I remembered that we had the possibility of touring the National gallery the next day and I decided to look for paintings of a comparable theme to see how the Gallery would handle the similar works.

I was surprised however that in all of the paintings that there were no paintings that included enslaved Africans within the painting. Out of the hundred of paintings that detailed religious aspects of life, the nobility, and the popular myths there was not one acknowledged the existence of slavery in European world. I understand that the gallery is predominately for fine art owned by the British Government, but I do not believe that this was something unintentionally overlooked. Especially during the period that it was fashionable to own a slave and was considered a sign of wealth and class. I just found it interesting that one of the most prestigious art museums in London would gloss over such an important aspect of British history.

Categories: Mara · Museums

1 response so far ↓

  •   buonacos // Aug 26th 2009 at 16:13

    I think you point out an interesting contradiction. From the guests’ comments displayed at the end of the Docklands Museum, it seems to me that Great Britain’s role in the Atlantic Slave Trade is a relatively new topic of discussion. In the United States, slavery is a topic we’re accustomed to learning about, especially our generation. Slavery played such a significant role in building our nation, the topic is almost unavoidable. Great Britain’s involvement in trading slaves can easily be grazed over and hidden amongst the great amount of commerce in which the empire participated in at the time. Up until this point, it appears slavery has been one of Great Britain’s dirty little secret. Maybe with the advent of exhibits like that at the Docklands Museum, the National Gallery will reconsider some of the artwork it displays.

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