Chiswick House Launches Black Chiswick through History

Long term project aims to change the interpretation of the house's past

Black figures have not always been central in Chiswick's history - frame four of Hogarth's Marriage a la Mode
Black figures have not always been central in representations of Chiswick's history - frame four of Hogarth's Marriage a la Mode

Chiswick House & Gardens has launched Black Chiswick through History, a community research project aiming to interpret and understand its collections through a wider lens

Although announced on Friday 1 October to mark the start of Black History Month, the initiative is planned as an ongoing project throughout 2022.

The Trust which runs the House and Gardens believes that the history of Chiswick House has, like most heritage organisations in the UK, been told through a traditional Eurocentric narrative. The organisation acknowledges that society has evolved and is now seeking to change its interpretation, with the support of English Heritage funding, to tell the interconnected black and white narratives.

Led by Project Curator Raj Pal and Community Participation Manager at Chiswick House & Gardens, Harvinder Bahra, the project will involve collaborations with a range of partners, community and youth groups and local schools to include in multiple perspectives.

Raj Pal is conducting the initial research into black presence at Chiswick House, within the wider context of British society in the 1700s and is also guiding volunteer researchers throughout the project and checking the accuracy of interpretive outputs.

He said, “Reflecting the cultural diversity of society through our heritage institutions is one of the great challenges of our times. It’s one that requires new ways of seeing and looking at our collections and resources to make them accessible and relatable to many who see us as irrelevant to their heritage. To discover the embarrassment of riches which lie in Chiswick House & Gardens and to assist in interpreting them through stories and different perspectives that attract new audiences has been one of the real privileges of my professional life.”

Harvinder Bahra added: “This is an incredibly important project that has the capacity to redefine how we understand Chiswick House and our local history. I hope the project challenges us and what we think we know, but also gives us the tools to better talk about our shared history. Having Raj Pal on board to help guide the process and working in partnership with Chiswick School and Hogarth Youth & Community Centre, to respond creatively to the research, will help us tell the stories that need be told, through a diversity of voices and perspectives.”

Throughout 2022 the project team will select five ‘objects-in-focus’ from Chiswick House & Gardens to kickstart these rewritten narratives.

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October 3, 2021