Social Issues

Casting a light on the dark history of UK politics

By Judith Mora

London, Dec 3 (efe-epa).- The United Kingdom’s Parliament is updating its historical art collection to tell the whole story of its most celebrated members with dark pasts in light of the Black Lives Matter movement.

At the initiative of the Speaker of the House of Commons, Rt Hon Lindsay Hoyle, the Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art has undertaken a comprehensive review of the parliamentary art collection to identify portraits or statues of historical figures linked to slavery and put them into context.

With over 9,500 pieces accumulated since 1840, the walls, corridors and archives of Parliament, which encompasses the House of Commons and the House of Lords, are full of tributes to politicians whose achievements, until now, have only been celebrated, with the omission of questionable legacies.

The UK became involved in the slave trade of Africans in 1562 and by 1730 was a world leader, until it was abolished in 1833 following slave revolts in the colonies and pressure from the abolitionist movement at home.

“It’s about telling the whole story,” Hoyle told Efe.

“So if there are artefacts relating to slavery, we tell the people what happened, the consequences from it, how that came about, and how we ended slavery.”

An initial audit by the Committee led by Welsh MP Hywel Williams has found 232 monuments, oil paintings, engravings and objects related to the transatlantic slave trade, and of those pieces, 189 depict 24 people who had ties to the slave trade and just 40 pieces represent 14 people who were abolitionists.

Some of these celebrated dignitaries with contentious biographies include the former Mayor of London William Beckford (1709-1770), who became rich as a slave-driver in Jamaica, and Conservative MP William Mackinnon, who, like many colleagues, received compensation for lost profits when slavery was abolished.

In addition to completing this inventory, the commission, in consultation with experts, will design a plan to improve the explanation of the works to the public, remove offensive language and increase the representation of ethnic minorities in the collection.

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