Portrait of tyrant Thomas Picton moved to side room in Welsh museum | Museums

For more than a century, Thomas Picton’s portrait hung in a prominent place in the National Museum Cardiff. The statue’s description referred to him as a military hero rather than a tyrant and torturer, before being removed from view in Black’s wake. Lives Matter protests.

As of Monday, the two-metre-tall portrait of Lieutenant General Picton can be seen again in the Welsh capital, but in a very different context.

After months of deliberation and agonized debate, the portrait has not been hung in the museum’s large Faces of Wales gallery, but in a modest side room, and in a purpose-built travel trunk made of softwood and pieces of plywood, with a strut covering the bulging groin area of ​​the figure.

It is surrounded by vivid accounts of Picton’s brutal treatment of the people of Trinidad when he was governor in the early 1800s, including the torture of Luisa Calderón, a 14-year-old girl of mixed heritage.

To reach the portrait, the visitor passes through two other rooms filled with some thought-provoking, specially commissioned works by artists who are from Trinidad or have strong ties to the island, as part of an exhibition called Reframing Picton.

A cutout of Picton’s portrait. Photo: Adrian Sherratt/The Guardian

dr. Kath Davies, the director of collections and research at Amguddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales – said she felt the packaging symbolized the idea that the Picton portrait did not necessarily and automatically have a permanent home in the museum. “I think it shows that nothing is fixed, it’s a dynamic process,” she said. “The talks will continue to evolve as we move forward.”

Davies was also happy that the strut hid what she called Picton’s “brushes and testosterone.”

The saga of the portrait of Picton, who originally came from Pembrokeshire in south-west Wales and was the most senior British officer killed in the Battle of Waterloo, bears parallels to that of the overthrown statue of the slave trader Edward Colston. and thrown into Bristol harbour.

Bristol City Council appointed a committee that decided that the statue should be displayed in a city museum – horizontally and still defaced with paint – and the former plinth with temporary artworks, but sometimes left empty.

In Cardiff, the national museum worked with youth members of the Sub-Saharan Advisory Panel (SSAP), which was set up to represent African diaspora groups in Wales, and the Amguddfa Cymru Producers, young people from across Wales.

Artists Mary-Anne Roberts (left) and Adeola Dewis in the compelling episode Spirited
Artists Mary-Anne Roberts (left) and Adeola Dewis in the riveting episode Spirited. Photo: Adrian Sherratt/The Guardian

Fadhili Maghiya, the chief executive of the SSAP, said it was important that Picton was not hidden but present so that the story could be discussed. “That feels crucial,” he said. “There may be misconceptions that we want to rewrite history with this project. However, that is far from the truth. Reframing Picton wants to rewrite our future by challenging the way we deal with history.”

The first room the visitor enters is full of brightness – and horror. It’s a compelling work called Spirited, created by Negative behavior (Black Yard in Haitian Kwéyòl), a group of four British artists, three of whom are of Trinidadian descent. The visitor makes their way through bamboo frames decorated with twisted paper to learn – and feel – the story of Luisa and two other girls, Thisbe and Present, who were victims of Picton’s ruthless regime.

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It doesn’t shrink from the horrific manner in which Luisa, after being accused of theft, was tortured, hung for nearly an hour by her wrist from a scaffold, her whole weight on an upturned wooden peg.

Among the many notable features is a cabinet full of artifacts from the museum’s collection that tell stories of slavery, repression and colonization, from sugar cutters to a box of hummingbirds collected from Trinidad.

In the second room, The Wound is a Portal is the creation of Gesiye, a multidisciplinary artist of Nigerian heritage from Trinidad and Tobago, whose response to the Picton portrait has encompassed tattoos, performance, drawing, film and documentary work.

A portrait of the hedge trimmer and ditch William Lloyd now hangs where Picton's portrait once stood
A portrait of hedge trimmer and ditchman William Lloyd now hangs where Picton’s portrait once stood. Photo: Adrian Sherratt/The Guardian

In addition to launching the Reframing Picton exhibit, the museum is embarking on a 10-year project that will “decolonize” its entire collection by reexamining every item, from the stuffed animals to the many photographs.

When the Picton exhibition ends in a year, the two newly commissioned pieces will be part of the Welsh National Collection, but what happens next to the Picton portrait is still up for debate.

Meanwhile, where the portrait hung is a photograph of a more sober and less controversial Welsh figure, the hedger and ditch William Lloyd, by Albert Houthuesen.

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