Race, Empire and the Pre-Raphaelites

Decolonising Victorian Art and Design through Museum Collections and Practice?

This research group brings together museums holding Pre-Raphaelite and Arts & Crafts collections with academics working in related fields to consider these objects’ global contexts, particularly in relation to ideologies of Orientalism and Empire. Our funding and events will run from December 2020-December 2023.

By using Birmingham’s rich collections as a starting point, we aim to facilitate wider conversations about how Pre-Raphaelite and Arts & Crafts material might be displayed and interpreted for the 21st-century museum and its diverse audiences. We propose to create a resource pack for museum and higher education practitioners wishing to foreground race and empire in Victorian art and design collections, which will be available online. Our research group’s activity will also inform a future exhibition selected from Birmingham’s collection.

Our key research questions are:

  1. How can we rethink Pre-Raphaelite and Arts and Crafts objects through the lenses of anti-racism and decoloniality?
  2. How can contemporary museum practitioners interpret and engage audiences with these complex and difficult histories of art and design; what challenges and opportunities do they offer?
  3. How are contemporary BIPOC artists and designers engaging with these nineteenth-century objects?

For more information, or to join the group, please email Race.Empire.PRB@gmail.com

A longer reflection on ‘Why “Decolonising”?’ is available here

Follow us on twitter @race_empire_prb


Victoria Osborne (she/her) is Curator (Fine Art) and Curatorial Team Leader at Birmingham Museums Trust. She is co-curator of the touring exhibition Victorian Radicals: From the Pre-Raphaelites to the Arts and Crafts Movement, organised by the American Federation of Arts and Birmingham Museums Trust.

Dr Sabrina Rahman (she/her) is Lecturer in Art History and Visual Culture at the University of Exeter. She is currently writing a book on empire, migration and interior design.

Dr Kate Nichols (she/her) is Birmingham Fellow in British Art at the University of Birmingham. She is currently writing a Global History of Victorian Art.

2 page spread from Donald Rodney’s 1983 sketchbook. On the left, a postcard from Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, depicting Ford Madox Brown’s The Last of England (1855). On the right, Rodney’s sketch ‘First of England’. The sketch is annotated with ‘My Mother and Father standing on the wet and lonely deck of the Sailing Ship the Empire Windrush’.

Image credits: Donald Rodney, Sketch titled ‘First of England’, 1983, Tate Archive (TGA 200321/3/1), artwork © The estate of Donald Rodney, digital image © Tate released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported). For further details, see: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/archive/items/tga-200321-3-1/rodney-sketchbook-number-1/15

Our Supporters

Race, Empire and the Pre-Raphaelites research group is a sub-group of the British Art Network, a Subject Specialist Network led and supported by Tate and the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, with public funding provided by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

The network brings together professionals working on British art including curators, researchers and academics, reflecting the combined strength of the UK’s public collections and curatorial expertise in this field.