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British Museum says it has "no intention of removing controversial objects from display"


The British Museum says that it has 'no intention of removing controversial objects from display' - after it received a warning letter from the Government over the issue.


British Museum says it has "no intention of removing controversial objects from display"
Inside the British Museum [Credit: Gonzalo Azumendi]

In a leaked letter, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said that Government-funded museums and galleries risk losing taxpayer support if they remove artefacts.


The missive, sent to several institutions, said: "As publicly funded bodies, you should not be taking actions motivated by activism or politics. "The significant support that you receive from the taxpayer is an acknowledgement of the important cultural role you play for the entire country."  


He urged institutions to "continue to act impartially", something he described as "especially important" as the Government conducts its Comprehensive Spending Review - an apparent threat that funding could be at risk.  


The British Museum said in a statement: "The British Museum has no intention of removing controversial objects from public display. Instead, it will seek where appropriate to contextualise or reinterpret them in a way that enables the public to learn about them in their entirety." 




Recipients included the British Museum, Tate galleries, Imperial War museums, National Portrait Gallery, National Museums Liverpool, the Royal Armouries, the Science Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the British Library.      


Mr Dowden said in the letter sent last week: "The Government does not support the removal of statues or other similar objects. Historic England, as the Government's adviser on the historic environment, have said that removing difficult and contentious parts of it risks harming our understanding of our collective past."


The letter continued: "As publicly funded bodies, you should not be taking actions motivated by activism or politics. The significant support that you receive from the taxpayer is an acknowledgement of the important cultural role you play for the entire country. It is imperative that you continue to act impartially, in line with your publicly funded status, and not in a way that brings this into question. This is especially important as we enter a challenging Comprehensive Spending Review, in which all government spending will rightly be scrutinised."


The letter stated that "rather than erasing these objects, we should seek to contextualise or reinterpret them in a way that enables the public to learn about them in their entirety, however challenging this may be".  


British Museum says it has "no intention of removing controversial objects from display"
A leaked letter from Oliver Dowden to museums and galleries has warned them against 
removing statues [Credit: Tolga Akmen/AFP; Fox Photos/Getty Images]

It recently redisplayed its bust of Hans Sloane, its slave-owning founding father, juxtaposed with objects to reflect the fact that Sloane's collection was created in the context of the British Empire and the slave economy. The Museum said it "continues to acknowledge Sloane's radical vision of universal free public access to a national museum collection and the public benefit that is generated through the British Museum". 


A row over Britain's colonial past erupted in June as protests saw a statue of the slave trader Edward Colston toppled in Bristol. The bronze statue of the 17th century figure was pulled down with ropes, dragged through the streets and thrown into the harbour during a Black Lives Matter protest. 


The letter comes after well-known music venue, named after 17th century slave trader Edward Colston, was recently renamed Bristol Beacon. A statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square, Westminster, was also daubed with graffiti amid wider calls for controversial figures to have their statues taken down. 


Boris Johnson hit out at the demands to remove statues at the time as he said "we cannot now try to edit or censor our past". 




The Prime Minister said the UK "cannot pretend to have a different history" and that the statues "teach us about our past, with all its faults".


Earlier this month the Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg blasted the National Trust for not realising "how wonderful" Churchill was after it included his home on its 'woke' list of houses with historic links to slavery. 


Last month, the British Museum has removed a bust of its founder from a pedestal and labelled him a ‘slave owner’. The effigy of Sir Hans Sloane will now be housed in a display alongside artefacts that explain his legacy in the "exploitative context of the British Empire", curators said.


Sloane, whose 71,000 artefacts became the starting point of the British Museum after he left them to the state in his will, funded his collecting through his wife’s family’s sugar plantation. Sloane Square in London is also named after him. 


Author: Jack Maidment | Source: Daily Mail [September 28, 2020]



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