Tate Encounters: Black and Asian Identities, Britishness and Visual Culture

Lead Research Organisation: London South Bank University
Department Name: Fac of Arts and Human Sciences


The proposal is for interdisciplinary research collaboration between Tate Britain (which holds the National Collection of British Art), London South Bank University (the Social Policy and Urban Regeneration Research Institute and within it the Families and Social Capital ESRC Research Group, with a reputation in the area of family studies, diasporas and migration) and Wimbledon School of Art/University of the Arts, (which brings together fine art practice and visual cultural studies).

The project will produce in-depth case studies of how fifty London migrant families, primarily from the African/Caribbean and Asian diasporas, encounter Tate Britain and the National Collection of British Art over a three year period. The project will recruit family participation through first year undergraduate students at LSBU, who are the first generation of their family to attend higher education in the UK. LSBU has one of the highest intakes of ethnically diverse students in the UK.

The research programme will investigate whether generation and gender are significant factors in the Tate encounter. The resulting body of material developed by the families and the researchers will form the basis for three inter-related evaluations and analysis of; visual culture and narratives of British-ness; Cultural diversity policy and museums; and models of participant museum education practice.

Research Context
The research problematic draws on the growing recognition that advocacy for greater cultural diversity within the life of museums has been policy led with the consequence that museums have responded with strategies and programmes which lack the benefit of an evidential knowledge base of how people of migrant and diasporic backgrounds value and interact with national museums and collections. Policy led initiatives based upon how 'social capital' functions to exclude sections of society from participation in culture have led to museum educational practice centred on outreach projects aimed at establishing links with traditionally excluded groups. Critical curatorial practice has simultaneously engaged with theoretical perspectives drawn from post-colonial and visual cultural theory which foreground diasporic cultural histories and experience. Neither approach has led to any significant increase in audience engagement for diverse audiences. In such a situation the absence of evidence based study from which to test policy and practice approaches needs to be addressed.

Aims and Objectives
The project aims to provide an in-depth account of the reciprocal meanings of a sustained encounter between a diasporic group and an important national cultural site. The project will develop new knowledge and understandings of how narratives of British-ness are contained, constructed and reproduced within the curatorial practices and collection of Tate and of how such notions are received and valued by different migrant and diasporic family members within the context of the active material/visual cultural practices of everyday life. From this encounter the project will develop new curatorial and educational perspectives relevant to wider and more culturally diverse audiences and will contribute towards cultural change within the Museum and Galleries sector.

Potential applications and benefits
The project will be of direct benefit to curators, museum educators and staff and students of museum studies in providing an analysis of a diasporic and migrant audience's engagement with permanent collections and temporary displays. In providing an evaluation of a practice-led participatory museum education approach it will be of use to museum educators. The final evaluation report will be of direct use to policy makers, opinion formers and stakeholders in the sector when considering future cultural diversity policy and funding initiatives.


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