Art of Empire

Anti-racist protests across the globe have precipitated the long overdue removal of many public monuments in recent weeks. For over a decade, the British artist Hew Locke has interrogated Victorian statuary and its imperialistic iconography, offering counter-proposals. When protesters in Bristol, England toppled a statue of Edward Colston, a seventeenth-century merchant who built his fortune from the transatlantic slave trade, Locke suggested that the sculpture be displayed on its side in a local museum and contextualized with footage of its removal.

In concert with Colby’s presentation of the exhibition, Hew Locke: Here’s the Thing, students enrolled in History 398C: United States as an Empire were invited to apply their analytic skills to material history. Each student in Danae Jacobson’s seminar considered one work of art in the Museum’s collections within the frame of continental and global expansion. They distilled their research into museum label texts, which they recorded after remote instruction was underway. Like Locke, the students encourage viewers to ponder these objects of art in light of race, colonialism, and gender. Students provide contextualization and invite us to confront the deeper roots and histories of these works.