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Entangled Pasts 1798–now REVIEW

The sub-titlle to the Spring exhibition at the Royal Academy is 'Art, Colonialism and Change'. Conceived during COVID, out of the Black Lives Matter movement and the toppling of the Colston statue in Bristol, it is an ambitious attempt to use art, both historic and contemporary, to examine issues of colonialism, slavery, race and migration.



From the stories of the, very few, people of colour who feature in eighteenth century paintings, to the world events that inform the pictures on display, there is a fascinating history lesson to be had. However, the show is most effective - particularly for children - when it juxtaposes the old with responses of contemporary artists.



Hew Locke's Armada of boats fill a room and speak with extraordinary immediacy about Empire, trade, migration and displacement. Betye Saar's ironing board, I'll Bend But I Will Not Break depicts the cramped layout of a slave ship, the sheet behind the board embroidered with the letters KKK, a striking comment on inhumanity across the centuries. El Anatsui's driftwood huddle of Akua's Surviving Children, is haunting and moving.



Lubaina Himid's Show Me the Money is a cast of life-size, primary-coloured figures made of chipboard. On the back of each one, as if they were a lot in an auction, is the character's name, their previous occupation and what they are doing now, sold into European servitude. A string quartet plays and Himid's voice speaks each person's history.


For older children, do pick up a copy of the exhibition guide which includes some well-curated responses to works in the show from writers and poets. It is a thought-provoking, serious show that will spark discussion and reward concentration.


Entangled Pasts:1768–now Royal Academy of Arts, 3 Feb–28 April. Tickets: £22 adults, U16s free.


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