British Museum says 'no intention' of removing controversial objects

27 September 2020, 19:12 | Updated: 27 September 2020, 22:15

The museum has redisplayed the bust of Hans Sloane, its slave-owning founding father
The museum has redisplayed the bust of Hans Sloane, its slave-owning founding father. Picture: Getty

The British Museum has said it has "no intention of removing controversial objects from display" in response to a government warning on the matter.

The museum, which was among several recipients of a letter from Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, said on Sunday it would rather "contextualise or reinterpret" such objects than take them down completely.

It added that this would enable the public "to learn about them in their entirety".

The statement was released on Sunday as a response to an earlier government letter that warned state-funded museums and galleries could risk losing taxpayer support by removing artefacts.

Colston Hall was renamed to Bristol Beacon to remove ties to the slave trader
Colston Hall was renamed to Bristol Beacon to remove ties to the slave trader. Picture: PA

Leaked to The Sunday Telegraph, it 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.

"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."

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

It comes after the British Museum recently redisplayed a bust of Hans Sloane, the slave-owning founding father of the establishment.

The bust is now displayed among a collection that was created in the context of the British Empire and the slave economy, which the museum said acknowledges 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."

Hans Sloane has been redisplayed in the British Museum
Hans Sloane has been redisplayed in the British Museum. Picture: Getty

Also in the government letter was a suggestion that displays should "seek to contextualise or reinterpret" artefacts to educate the public in their entirety - although it admitted this could be a "challenging" task.

It was sent after well-known music venue named after 17th century slave trader Edward Colston was renamed to Bristol Beacon, and the National Trust revealed 93 of its properties had historic links to slavery and colonialism.

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