Hidden Histories: Exploring Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in Dundee’s art collection

Hidden Histories: Exploring Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in Dundee’s art collection

The McManus: Dundee’s Art Gallery & Museum
Exhibition runs throughout 2023

Many museums are coming to terms with the legacy of the past. Central to this is the question – whose lives do our collections reflect? This display reveals the work we have been doing to consider the 20th century art collection from different standpoints to provide a more inclusive view that better reflects the diversity of the world we live in. We hope that this will prove to be a fascinating insight into the ‘hidden histories’ that have long existed in museum collections across the country.

The ability to see your own life reflected in museum collections is important. While museums are seen by many as neutral spaces, historically they have reinforced the views of a narrow number of voices. In this, The Year of Scotland’s stories, we have selected artworks that raise the visibility of historically marginalised groups both as artists and as sitters.

Curator Anna Robertson comments “We are delighted with the hugely positive feedback from our visitors. While some are simply happy to see little known or favourite artworks in a new light, for others the experience of seeing their own lives reflected has been profoundly moving.”

Hidden Histories includes a large number of women artists including Laura Knight, June Redfern and Wilhelmina Barns-Graham. Historically the contribution of women artists did not receive the same attention as their male counterparts and it was only in the 20th century that they had access to life drawing classes, still considered the foundation of an art education. The two Robert’s - Colquhoun and MacBryde – were openly gay during a time when homosexuality was criminalised. After their training in Glasgow, they moved to London where their careers took off. Artists with experience of disability include ‘outsider’ artist Scottie Wilson, who achieved huge commercial success, while those with acquired disability include Elizabeth Hill who lived with MS. In the huge portrait of Syd Scroggie (1919-2006) we have a positive and highly visible role model of a life lived with acquired impairment. He became famous as a mountaineer after losing his sight.

Many artists moved to Scotland to study art – including Pio Abad from the Phillipines, Hock-Aun Teh from Malaysia and Nael Hanna from Iraq. Today all are considered part of the Scottish art establishment. The display also includes a number of striking portraits of black sitters. In considering these works, we have had to face some difficult decisions about addressing anachronistic language. As a result, the decision has been taken to retitle two works to address inappropriate language.

Chair of Leisure & Culture Dundee Moira Methven comments “The board of Leisure & Culture Dundee commend the staff of The McManus for their work to embed a more inclusive approach. Hidden Histories coincides with the unveiling of Ellie Diamond’s Denise (sic) the Menace costume in our Making of Modern Dundee gallery. Both displays are part of The McManus’s commitment to honour its nickname – The People’s Museum – by facing up to the UK’s difficult histories and representing the diversity of the citizens of Dundee.”

Entry to the exhibition is FREE.

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