Friday, August 20, 2021

Commemoration and history

The current New Yorker has an article by Sam Knight about how Britain's National Trust is beginning to deal with the fact that many of the stately homes it maintains and presents to the public were built and preserved by revenues from slavery and other forms of colonial exploitation, which they sometimes display in horrifying forms:

The fireplace holds a collection of seventeenth-century delftware, above which hangs a museum-quality Dutch painting of ornamental birds, by a court artist to William III. Facing into the room, with their backs to the wall, are two statues of kneeling Black men with rings around their necks.

 The story explores how the Trust, "known by all minority communities as a white environment that was hostile - silently hostile," is starting to deal with such situations

The Trust, arriving late to the subject, chose to adopt a sweeping approach. In a hundred-and-fifteen-page “interim report,” the charity listed houses connected to abolitionists as well as to slaveowners, along with generals, civil servants, businesspeople, politicians, and artists whose lives were in some way entwined with Britain’s four-hundred-year saga of colonial rule, which touched every continent, including Antarctica.

Also explored at length is the furious reaction to the Trust's steps by those who prefer not to have such issues aired and prefer the Trust's traditional emphasis on gardens, architecture, and furniture.  (“Beauty is always sufficient, isn’t it?” he said. “Beauty is truth, after all.”)

It's all a reminder that Canada is not the only country where historical and heritage narratives are being reconsidered, and where that whole exercise of reconsideration is being furiously attacked.  

More in another post to come.   


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