Information and digital resources about people who are ethnically and culturally diverse and their histories and representation as reflected in our collections, the work of our museums and our community partners.

Histories in Brighton & Hove

For stories about people with African heritage, Caribbean heritage and Asian heritage with a connection to the city, we recommend the Brighton & Hove Black History website. A recent highlight of their work is the Thomas Highflyer project, focused on the life of an African slave boy who came to live in Brighton. The story of Brighton’s WW1 Indian military hospitals, including the Royal Pavilion, has become a gateway to a wider understanding of the role of Indian servicemen in what is often seen as a ‘white man’s war’. In addition to the dedicated gallery, audio tour and online resources, we have worked with a number of partners to bring wider attention to this story, including the Chattri Memorial Group and the UK Punjabi Heritage Association.

Photo of Royal Pavilion Indian Hospital entrance, 1915 (HA903302)
Royal Pavilion Indian Hospital entrance, 1915
Sake Dean Mahomed. Oil painting by Thomas Mann Baynes, c1810

Historic stories of local people who are ethnically and culturally diverse can be found throughout our online offer. Recent examples include a fresh look at the life of Regency entrepreneur Sake Dean Mahomed and profiles of notable local women of colour as part of our Pioneering Women of Sussex blog.

Museum practice

RPMT has been host to meetings of a heritage network since 2014 which provides a forum for sharing resources and skills around ethnically and culturally diverse heritage, arts and culture.

Various funded initiatives have arisen from this collaboration, including two successful applications for funding from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to celebrate Windrush Day in Brighton Museum.

Members of BME Heritage Network with Councillor Amanda Grimshaw BEM at Windrush Day Tea Party. Stephen D Lawrence Photography

From conversations with network members and others we are very aware of the need to decolonise RPMT and its collections. To this end we have:

• Formed a Decolonising the Museum working group, first meeting in March 2020

• We are researching the history and contemporary meanings of a collection of objects from Botswana as a major partner in the University of Sussex’s Making African Connections project

• Published a statement on Contestable items in Royal Pavilion & Museums Trust collection committing to learning more about the origins of these collections and expressing our openness to discussing claims for return

• Led a major HLF funded initiative Fashioning Africa, which sought to develop a collecting strand documenting post-1960s African fashion and to pioneer a collaborative approach to collections development. This also supported the Fashion Cities Africa exhibition in Brighton Museum which has toured internationally. An overview of this project can be found on the Fashioning Africa website.

• Ensured RPMT’s contribution to professional discussion of these issues through representation on the Museum Ethnographers Group, an Arts Council England steering group developing new guidance on responding to repatriation requests and a Museums Association working group on decolonising museums

Two recent episodes of our recent Voices of the Royal Pavilion & Museums podcast contain an extensive discussion of practical approaches to decolonisation:

We have recently made a statement in response to the killing of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement. We invite those interested in collaborating with us on our ‘Decolonising Museums’ working group to get in touch using either the email address on the statement or our general contact form.

Representations in our collections

Our Designated World Art collections contain more than 15,000 objects from Africa, Asia, the Pacific and the Americas. Key items from these collections can be found on display in the World Stories Young Voices gallery in Brighton Museum & Art Gallery.

The work of the World Art curatorial team is profiled in several posts on our blog, including using photographs by James Henry Green to help promote the Kachin culture of Myanmar (formerly Burma).

The Willett Collection of Popular Pottery contains numerous depictions of BAME people, and was the subject of Black Britannia, a past exhibition in Brighton Museum.