Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales has announced two new artist commissions that will reframe the legacy of a Welsh officer in the British Army who fought in the Napoleonic Wars, Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Picton.
The orders follow a call from Amgueddfa Cymru earlier this year, for artists to explore alternatives to the colonial narrative depicted by Sir Martin Archer Shee’s portrait of Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Picton, which is part of the collections of Amgueddfa Cymru since its founding in 1907.
Picton was a Member of Parliament at the time of his death in 1815, when he was killed at the Battle of Waterloo. His legacy around the world extends to the namesake cities of Picton, Canada, New Zealand and New South Wales. Four roads in Wales, alongside schools and a Royal Navy boat also bear his name.
Yet Picton was tried and convicted in England for sanctioning torture during his rule of Trinidad, a conviction which was later overturned. He obtained the names of “Tyrant of Trinidad” and “Bloodstained Governor” and played a role in the colonial slave trade.
It was these controversies that led Cardiff Council to remove the Picton statue from the “Heroes of Wales” gallery at Cardiff Town Hall last year.
Amgueddfa Cymru’s appeal received more than 50 responses, the majority of artists having a direct link with Trinidad.
The museum said it hoped the new commissions “will amplify the voices of those who were originally overlooked in the telling of Picton’s history, or those whose lives are most affected today by his legacy “.
The two winning commissions were awarded to artist Gesiye and Laku Neg as part of a larger project, Reframing Picton, which is a youth-led initiative involving Amgueddfa Cymru and community partner Sub Sahara Advisory Panel (SSAP) .
The museum said the new artwork offered by Gesiye and Laku Neg will explore stories of ancestry, healing, transformation and empowerment.
“They will challenge the colonial narratives that have traditionally existed in the galleries of the National Museum in Cardiff by centering the consciousness, experiences and voices of blacks,” he said.
Gesiye is a multidisciplinary artist from Trinidad and Tobago, and her commissioned work invites black Trinidadians to participate in a ‘healing offering’ that includes a series of tattoos and conversations around their connection to the land. .
Gesiye said the work “is not an attempt to rewrite history, it is a disruption of the narrative that is so often presented as singular truth.”
Laku Neg is an organization represented by four members of Trinidadian descent, living and working in the UK, which promotes the expression of knowledge of the African diaspora through the arts.
His commission will explore a re-presentation of Louisa and Present, two young girls victims of the brutal Picton regime in Trinidad.
Laku Neg said: “We appreciate the enormous responsibility of this project as we are working with the National Museum Wales to provide the public with a 360 degree view of Welsh history.
“Here we aim to create an immersive installation, illuminating a story that has not crossed the Atlantic untouched.”
The project group includes producers Amgueddfa Cymru – a network of young people across Wales who collaborate to develop activities, events and more at the museum – and members of the SSAP Youth Leadership Network.
Fadhili Maghiya, Director of the Sub Sahara Advisory Panel, said: “It’s no secret that history has rarely been written by people of color. We are now in a time where we take ownership of our narrative and put footnotes of the story in the center. “
Dr Kath Davies, Director of Collections and Research at Amgueddfa Cymru said: “We are very grateful to the young people in the SSAP Youth Network for giving of their time working with us at the museum.
“I really can’t wait to see the commissioned works of art on display at the National Museum Cardiff, and we hope they will spark a conversation about how we share the different perspectives and stories of Wales in a modern museum.”