Why Are We Here? New Stories from the Middlesbrough Collection with Black Artists & Modernism

Elinor Morgan (Curator)

Abstract

Morgan’s research into the Middlesbrough Collection of art has contributed to discourse on dismantling colonial frameworks in UK public collections. Including the development of a research partnership with experts in decolonising collections, the research has developed new insights into individual artworks and wider collecting practices. Manifesting in an exhibition of 117 works from 1870 to 2019, by 72 artists, the research was also disseminated through public programmes, engagement work, publishing and conference papers. Morgan’s research into obscured art histories through tracing collecting histories and institutional practices in the Middlesbrough Collection has contributed to current discourse around decolonising museums. The research made visible ethical, conceptual and practical structures behind collections in order to analyse why some art histories have been neglected and obscured. This curatorial research is transformative through its aim to publicly deconstruct patriarchal and colonial frameworks that underpin UK public collections.  Through five research questions, Morgan built on work by Gary Younge, Fred Wilson, David Dibosa, Eithne Nightingale and Chandal Mahal (see Museums, Equality and Social Justice, 2017 and Museum Activism, 2019) to analyse art historical context, creative representations of place and identity and how institutional practices shape value systems. Through adopting an object-centred approach (Anjalie Dalal-Clayton), she re-inscribed artworks made between 1870 and 2019 with new readings, using curation and interpretation methodologies to share this research in the museum and on digital platforms.   Morgan’s approach is original in its combination of knowledge systems (art historical, creative practice, curatorial, amateur and memory-based) applied to re-appraise art histories for public benefit now and for posterity. Morgan developed a research partnership with Black Artists & Modernism, part of Decolonising Arts Institute at University of the Arts, London, through which researchers audited the collection and published the results on a national database. Together, they collaboratively developed new research methodologies.   Its inclusion in the Museums Association journal and British Art Network seminar series highlights its recognised as exemplary. Through it, works unseen since their acquisition were exhibited, the museum’s database was improved and MIMA has adopted new collection policies. It was distributed via the Museums Association Journal ‘Decolonising the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art’ (co-authored with Dalal-Clayton), and a British Art Network seminar, titled Objects of Attention presented within the prestigious Decolonising British Art series (attended by 173 curators and researchers). Morgan was also selected to speak on this research at the 2020 Museums Next conference (cancelled due to Covid-19).   Morgan’s approach has influenced the research and practices of Decolonising Arts Institute, informing how they will conduct future collaborative research with public museums. MIMA is a partner in Decolonising Arts Institute’s 2020 bid to ‘Towards A National Collection’ programme. The research has impacted MIMA’s collection policy as an accredited museum, shaped subsequent acquisition and presentation practices, led to the development of new Key Performance Indicators reported to key stakeholder Arts Council England, and influenced acquisitions and grants awarded to MIMA. It shaped a new approach to work with primary schools, through Arts Council England’s Arts Award scheme.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2019

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