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.

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.

An Uncomfortable Truth: Delhi Durbar

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

Short extract: Uncomfortable Truths, Delhi Durbar

An Uncomfortable Truth: Benin Bronze

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

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

This conversation was researched and produced by Will and Sam.

Short extracts: Uncomfortable Truths, Benin Bronze

An Uncomfortable Truth: Nesi-Khonsu, Egyptian Mummy

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

an egyptian mummy on display in a museum

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’.

Short extracts: Uncomfortable Truths, Nesi-Khonsu, Egyptian Mummy

An Uncomfortable Truth: Jackson the rhino

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

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.

My name is Jackson, and this is my story…

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

Short extract: Uncomfortable Truths, Jackson the rhino podcast

An Uncomfortable Truth: Battle Of The Saints

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.

Short extract: Uncomfortable Truths, Battle Of The Saints

An Uncomfortable Truth: The museum building

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

exterior view of bristol museum

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?

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

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

Short extract: Uncomfortable Truths, the museum building

Project contributors

Bristol Museums would like to thank our Equality and Diversity sponsor, UWE Bristol.