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Let Our Statues Speak

Sophie Ernst's Silent Empress 2012. Courtesy the artist and Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

Let Our Statues Speak is a multi-part, collaborative project, ongoing since September 2018.

Instigated to spark a wide-ranging investigation into public space, and to generate collective conversation around the commemorative statues found in our civic spaces. Not in an effort to remove them, but to surface the complex, and often conflicted stories, that lie unexamined within their forms. To let these statues speak.

'A shared national identity ... depends on the cultural meanings which bind each member individually into the larger national story... The National Heritage is a powerful source of such [cultural] meanings. It follows that those who cannot see themselves reflected in its mirror cannot properly 'belong'.'

Stuart Hall

The Stuart Hall Foundation will co-create workshops, residencies, commissions and publications through an ongoing series of partnerships and artistic collaborations. 

Let Our Statues Speak will intervene in the urgent, Brexit-triggered national conversation over who gets to call Britain home, and collectively shape a debate on the cultural construction of ‘Britishness’ that is compelling and expansive enough to embrace multiple allegiances and entangled histories. Over time, all of this will be gathered here as part of our growing digital resource.

Memorials to the future, reflecting the past

In Silent Empress (2012), a public commission for Yorkshire Sculpture Park in Wakefield, the artist Sophie Ernst attached a sound tag to a public statue of Queen Victoria. The sound was a monologue emanating from a megaphone temporarily positioned in front of the statue’s face. Comprising quotes from the journals and letters of Queen Victoria, and extracts from speeches and texts by past Prime Ministers, it gestured towards an apology for Britain’s colonial past. The statue spoke for 30 minutes before Wakefield Council decided it was ‘disrespectful’ and needed to come down. 

The outbreak of public protests over commemorative statues – from Charlottesville to Cape Town to Oxford – evidence a shared truth: the past is contested terrain. National histories are not national facts. The nation is an ‘imagined community’ – a cultural construct. 

There is a need for us to collectively address the paucity of cultural narratives that directly engage our myths of origin. 

Future Events

Artist’s Residency with Serpentine Galleries

In spring 2019 the Stuart Hall Foundation will begin a collaboration with Serpentine Galleries as part of Let Our Statues Speak. The artist’s residency, hosted at the Serpentine, will connect the complex and multiple histories of the public statues surrounding the Serpentine and throughout Hyde Park, with the neighbouring communities.  

Past Events

Workshop: University of Manchester 

25 February 2019 

This second workshop with invited participants across academia, arts, culture and activism focused on the role of our education systems, exploring the possibility to work with cultural institutions and schools to engage in conversations on difficult histories around public statues, buildings and signage.  

Report: Statues & Public Pedagogy
Report: Statues & Public Pedagogy
Let Our Statues Speak launched with a workshop in which participants agreed on the need to collectively shape a ...
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Paul Mellon Centre: British Art in the Age of Empire 2.0

4 February 2019

This roundtable workshop, organised in collaboration with Tim Barringer (Yale University) and Hammad Nasar (Director of the Stuart Hall Foundation and Senior Research Fellow, PMC), gathered a group of people who have actively sought to demonstrate that empire belongs at the centre, rather than at the margins, of British art and culture. Participants asked: within the context of national and international debates about the impact of Brexit, the global role of Britain, and what has been dubbed as an attitude of “Empire 2.0”, what of art and empire now? Does empire still haunt histories and exhibitions of British art rather than inhabit them?


Report: British Art in Age of Empire 2.0
Report: British Art in Age of Empire 2.0
What does it mean to consider empire at the centre, not the peripheries, of British art and culture today? Motiv...
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Workshop: University of Westminster 

22 September 2018

Let Our Statues Speak launched with a first workshop at the University of Westminster with 16 participants including artists including Naeem Mohaiemen, Erika Tan and Sophie Ernst; academics and cultural activists such as Roshini Kempadoo, and curators; including Kate Jesson, Manchester Art Gallery. This workshop sparked new conversations and possible collaborations centred on statues across the UK.