Let Our Statues Speak launched with a workshop in which participants agreed on the need to collectively shape a public conversation around who gets to call Britain home. Our second workshop delved further by asking how this could be done. It focused specifically on the potentials of early education: how can history curriculums and museum-based learning be engaged as sites for expanding notions of national identity? What are the potentials and challenges of speaking about the past to future generations, at a time when their imaginations and social expectations are most open?
The workshop was co-hosted by the University of Manchester’s Centre on the Dynamics of Ethnicity (CoDE), and certainly benefited from the reflection that many Mancunians have done on the city’s rich history as an industrial centre and site of diaspora communities. In attendance were representatives from Manchester Museum and the Whitworth Art Gallery, the University’s history and sociology departments, the youth leadership organisation Reclaim, as well as the Manchester Art Gallery and HOME. Other participants brought perspectives from Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery, Brighton’s Spike Island, as well as the Serpentine Galleries and Historic England in London.
Two artist presentations structured the day. Max Martin of Studio MASH kicked off the conversation by discussing their project A Long Shadow Over London, which won Historic England’s design competition ‘Immortalised’ with its proposal for a civic monument that places its difficult history in public view. Artist Mark Titchner discussed his public installations of brightly coloured texts, conceived in collaboration with Manchester-based refugees and attesting to their struggles. Both projects demonstrated unique strategies of making hidden histories and realities visible, while raising difficult questions of agency and power. Our conversation circled around the politics and uses of commemoration: should we change who we represent in public, or must the monument’s traditional form change to challenge its structures of power? If a statue could speak, what voice would it use, what would it say—and who would decide? How can artists and educators generate interest in difficult histories among audiences who cannot see themselves reflected in their dominant narratives?
Turning our focus to education later in the afternoon, we broke into three groups to discuss possible interventions and collaborations. One group focused on Jeremy Deller’s forthcoming memorial to the 1819 Peterloo Massacre, designed in conversation with Manchester publics and emphasising public engagement. Participants suggested mounting a temporary exhibition in Manchester Museum alongside the memorial’s launch, which would tell the Peterloo story from varied perspectives and alongside a school-focused public programme. Another group focused on strategy: all opportunities to unsettle dominant narratives should be taken—from large festivals to commercial opportunities—in the spirit of ‘sly disruption’. Our third group imagined supplementing pre-GSCE history curriculums with a programme that gives students custody over a public monument. Students would be asked to debate and decide its future themselves: should the statue be removed and replaced, made to speak about its past, or transformed in other ways? These proposals, and the many questions emerging throughout the day, left us with plenty of material to continue our conversations.
Each participant circulated a link to a project or article that helped other participants understand their interest in this workshop. These resources are included below.
Claire Alexander, Professor of Sociology, University of Manchester
Making Histories Website
Bridget Byrne, Professor of Sociology, Director of the CoDE, University of Manchester
Making Citizens: Public rituals and personal journals to citizenship, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan Ltd, 2014.
Wendy Gallagher, Arts and Health Partnership Manager, The Whitworth Art Gallery and Manchester Museum
‘Five Questions for Wendy Gallagher’, MEDHUMLAB
Mary Griffiths, Senior Curator (Modern and Contemporary Art), The Whitworth Art Gallery, University of Manchester
Raqs Media Collective for ‘Sculpture of the Month’, 3rd Dimension
Andrew Hardman, Belle Vue Productions
The Manchester Together Archive
Kate Jesson, Curator: Modern and Contemporary Art, Manchester Art Gallery
WoManchester: ‘Deeds Not Words’ — A new statue for Emeline Pankhurst
Amal Khalaf, Projects Curator, Serpentine Galleries
Amal Khalaf is collaborating with the Foundation to co-convene an artist’s residency at the Serpentine Galleries, as part of Let Our Statues Speak
‘The Many Afterlives of Lulu: The story of Bahrain’s Pearl Roundabout’, Ibraaz
Tanya Lee, Volunteer and Mentor Coordinator, Reclaim
Reclaim staff profile
Sundeep Lidher, Runnymede Trust Project Researcher on Our Migration Story, PhD candidate in the Faculty of History, University of Cambridge
Our Migration Story
Rebecca Milner, Curator: Fine Art, Manchester Art Gallery
Rebecca will be curating the exhibition ‘Re-thinking our sculpture collection’ (working title), which delves into the untapped history of the Manchester Art Gallery’s collection
Linda Monckton, Head of Communities Research, Historic England
Historic England’s ‘Immortalised’ programme
Hammad Nasar, Director, Stuart Hall Foundation
‘Opinion: In order to be British we must acknowledge our “Indiannes”’’, Tate Etc.
Bren O’Callaghan, Curator, HOME
Charlotte Higgins, ‘Phil Collins: why I took a Soviet Statue of Engels across Europe to Manchester’, The Guardian
Kerry Pimblott, Lecturer in International History, University of Manchester
Alliance for Historic Wyoming Diversity Initiative
Linzi Stauvers, Head of Learning, Ikon Gallery
‘Hew Locke: Here’s the Thing’, Ikon Gallery, 8 Mar-2 Jun 2019
Studio MASH (Max Martin), Design practice
A Long Shadow Over London, Project for Historic England’s ‘Immortalised: A Design Competition’, 2018
Meghan Tinsley, Presidential Fellow in Sociology, University of Manchester
Mark Titchner, Artist
Public installations for the 2017 Journeys Festival International