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Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art announces review plans of Parliamentary Art Collection

2 October 2020

As part of the response to the issues raised by the Black Lives Matter movement, the Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art, fully supported by the Speaker, Rt Hon Sir Lindsay Hoyle, is introducing a package of measures for reviewing and updating the Parliamentary Art Collection – supporting its aim for the collection to become more representative of diversity.

The Parliamentary Art Collection illustrates and documents the history and work of Parliament, and, therefore, includes works featuring 17th, 18th and 19th century parliamentarians. Many of these individuals, as wealthy landowners and businessmen, were often directly involved in, and/or profited from, slavery and the slave trade or whose families did so. The Collection also includes a number of works which depict abolitionists and their fight against slavery. 

In common with the approach being taken by a number of museums, art galleries and other large collections in recent months, the intention is to consider the current approach to managing the Collection and how to broaden its diversity and inclusion.

The review

The package of measures will include:

  • an audit of artworks acquired in each Parliament which depict subjects relating to Black, Asian and other ethnic minority history and life; 
  • the development of a policy to increase the representation of Black, Asian and other ethnic minority artists and subjects through the Committee’s commissions; 
  • consideration of commissioning a significant artwork to permanently mark the impact of Parliament on Black, Asian and other ethnic minority peoples and/or the contribution of Black, Asian and other ethnic minority people to Parliament and its activities, for permanent display in Parliament; 
  • evaluation of how we provide interpretation of artworks and how we can increase the range of our written guides to give a transparent and inclusive history of the artworks and their subjects; and 
  • updating cataloguing terms and conventions for Collection items to ensure they are inclusive and do not discriminate against or include inappropriate or out of date language and terms

During the process the Committee will engage with external specialists and experts to ensure the review takes a number of viewpoints into consideration.

Chair's comments

Hywel Williams MP, Chair of the Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art, said:

“The Committee has listened to MPs, House staff and the public and is driven by its own desire for a better understanding of the contents of the Parliamentary Art Collection when it comes to people with links to slavery.  

“We will undertake a full review of the Collection. We will look for ways to explain the lives of the people depicted in our artworks - including controversial aspects - honestly and more fully.  

“The interpretation of our artworks is reviewed constantly, but this is the first time we are systematically reviewing the entire Collection looking at issues around slavery and representation. We will look at ways to better explain and contextualise works in the Collection through our website and in the material we give to visitors to Parliament. And we will look for ways to better shine a light on the people in Parliament who worked hard to abolish slavery. 

“We are committed to improving the diversity of the Parliamentary Art Collection, both as to the people portrayed and the artists commissioned so as to ensure that the Collection reflects and celebrates the diversity of all who contribute to Parliament. This has been a key part of our strategy since 2016 and in the coming years we plan to increase and enhance our work.” 

Initial data published 

After an initial round of data collection which will feed into a wider review, the Committee has published a list of the works of art in the Collection which relate to the transatlantic slave trade. This includes works depicting both people who had financial or family interests in the transatlantic slave trade and slavery, as well as artwork featuring abolitionists. The list has been compiled using rigorous academic research to cross check artworks in the Collection which has identified people known to have been involved in the transatlantic slave trade.

The list generated will be added to continually as the review proceeds. Academic research will continue to be used for further examination of the Collection as new information is published it which may identify more works with links to the transatlantic slave trade. Alongside this work, data and resources on the representation of ethnic diversity in the Parliamentary Art Collection has also been gathered. This has been made publicly available as well.

With over 9,500 works of art in the Parliamentary Art Collection, the full review of the Collection is expected to take some time. Both the Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art and the Lord Speaker’s Advisory Panel on Works of Art will be considering the review process regularly at their meetings.

Further information

Image: Parliamentary Copyright