New display labels at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum bring legacies of empire and slavery discussion to civic museums

New display labels at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum bring legacies of empire and slavery discussion to civic museums

Glasgow Life Museums is about to introduce the first phase of a process to address legacies of slavery and empire across Glasgow’s civic museums in the next few weeks.

New interpretation labels are about to be added to displays at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, aiming to reveal to visitors more about the history of some objects on display and highlight untold stories behind the collections, the charity Glasgow Life has confirmed.

It marks the initial phases of the process to transform how Kelvingrove and other Glasgow Life Museums address transatlantic slavery, British colonialism and their legacies.

Visitors will be offered the opportunity to engage with the added interpretation and give their views on how this process should be taken forward and how the collection can be used to explain the history of empire and slavery.

Councillor Graham Campbell, Chair of Glasgow City Council's Slavery Legacy Working Group, said: “Glasgow has been undergoing a reparative justice journey for a number of years leading to the Council setting up its Slavery Legacy Working Group; the University of Glasgow setting up the Beniba Centre for Scottish Caribbean Studies; and now Glasgow Life Museums reassessing the impact of the slavery and colonial legacy in its collections.

“I’m delighted to see the work of reinterpretation getting under way through this important step of re-contextualising museum artefacts as part of a necessary truth-telling about Glasgow’s deep involvement in slavery, colonialism and the British empire for which Kelvingrove was originally built to celebrate. The organised forgetting about slavery is over and the organised remembering of Glasgow’s involvement is in full swing.“

Duncan Dornan, Head of Glasgow Life Museums, said: “Museums are often the places that tell us most about who we are and who we want to be, so we have been determined to recognise Glasgow’s role in transatlantic slavery and colonialism and how the city benefitted. As part of a long-term project that will change how we display and interpret the city’s collection, these labels, at Kelvingrove mark an important first step in a continuing process which is beginning across Scotland. Visitors should learn more about Glasgow and our history as a result and understand more about the real cost of some of the city’s collection.”

Miles Greenwood, Legacies of Slavery and Empire Curator with Glasgow Life Museums, said: “These initial interventions are intended to spark conversations with visitors. Change is needed across Glasgow Life Museums as a whole, and I hope this will be a small part of that process and that we go through it with our visitors. It’s clear more work needs to be done across Glasgow to give atrocities and legacies of racialised chattel slavery and colonialism the civic recognition that they require and deserve. We are also looking at new displays and changes in Kelvingrove, and other civic museums across Glasgow, to reflect this.”

Lucy Casot, Chief Executive of Museums Galleries Scotland, said: “There is a responsibility for museums and galleries across Scotland to address the legacies of empire, colonialism, and historic slavery within their collections and spaces, as the Steering Group for the Empire, Slavery, and Scotland’s Museums national consultation has been exploring. Museums Galleries Scotland is highly supportive of Glasgow Life Museums’ work to address these legacies through further interpretation, civic recognition, and conversations with their visitors. The new interpretation labels at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum are an important step in their plans.”

One of the new labels will highlight that Glasgow’s first museum at Kelvingrove Park, the forerunner of Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, was in the home of former Lord Provost Patrick Colquhoun; a tobacco merchant who’s fortune was amassed trading in goods produced by enslaved African people.

Other parts of the collection were given to the city by people whose wealth came from plantations in the Caribbean and the work of slave labour.

A painting by Sir Henry Raeburn of Mr and Mrs Robert N. Campbell of Kailzie, that hangs in the Scottish Identity in Art gallery, will have a further label added that explains the subjects were owners of a plantation in Grenada with 232 enslaved Africans.

Further information on Kelvingrove’s own links to the International Exhibition of 1888, which funded some of the museum building, will also be installed.