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‘Censoring history’? Huw Edwards ‘uneasy’ as National Museum Wales takes down Picton portrait

03 Nov 2021 3 minutes Read
The portrait of Picton. Right, Huw Edwards picture by Brian Minkoff-London Pixels (CC BY-SA 3.0).

BBC broadcaster Huw Edwards has said that he is “uneasy” with the idea of the National Museum taking down a portrait of Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Picton.

The decision to remove the portrait was made as part of Reframing Picton, which is a youth-led initiative involving Amgueddfa Cymru and community partner the Sub Sahara Advisory Panel.

But Huw Edwards questioned whether the decision amounted to “censoring history” and suggested that Picton remain in place in order to remind Wales about its past.

Picton has previously been hailed as a public hero but is equally notorious for his cruel treatment of Black enslaved people and free people, and for sanctioning torture during his governance of Trinidad, from 1797-1803.

But Huw Edwards said: “As a journalist I feel uneasy about this element of ‘censoring’ history. Should not Picton remain on display as a reminder to Wales of an aspect of its past – no matter how disgraceful?”

He also cast doubt on suggestions by the National Museum that the portrait of Picton would soon return having been “reinterpreted” with new information.

“The official statement is absurdly vague,” he said on Twitter, “a process with no definite timescale – and talks of ‘replacing’ Picton with that of ‘hero’ William Lloyd. Is the plan to remove the ‘hero’ within months and replace him with Picton?”

The National Museum’s statement said the portrait would be replaced with another portrait titled ‘Hedger and Ditcher: Portrait of William Lloyd’.

The portrait was painted by Dutch artist Albert Houthuesen who was fascinated with the working life of the colliers in Trelogan, Flintshire whilst on holiday in the area with his wife in the 1930s.

‘Inclusive’

Kath Davies, Director of Collections and Research at Amgueddfa Cymru said that it was “another important step” for the museum in examining their national collections and thinking about who they displayed in their Faces of Wales gallery and why.

“This project replaces one artwork – which assigns great importance to someone whose actions as Governor of Trinidad even at the time were seen as cruel – with a celebratory portrait of a worker – someone we could today consider to be a hero,” she said.

“Looking ahead, Amgueddfa Cymru will be creating educational resources on the history and achievements of communities experiencing racial inequalities within our society. These will support the recently announced changes to the curriculum by the Welsh Government.”

Fadhili Maghiya, Director of the Sub Sahara Advisory Panel said the aim was to build an “inclusive” Wales, “built on the foundations of equality and one which focuses on community cohesion and appreciative of the different cultures that exist in our country”.

She said that there was a need to “celebrate those who are representative of the society we live in. Those individuals should be displayed on the Faces of Wales Gallery”.

In October 2021, Amgueddfa Cymru announced two new artworks had been commissioned following an open call for artists to reinterpret Picton’s legacy.

The new commissions are by Trinidadian and Tobagonian multi-disciplinary artist Gesiye and UK-based Laku Neg, a group of four members of Trinidadian heritage that promotes expressions of African diaspora knowledge through the arts.

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CJPh
CJPh
1 month ago

For a Museum to state that it is their aim to “reinterpret” the “legacy” of an historical figure should given any reasonable person pause, no matter their background or political allegiance. This place, as with any national gallery or museum, is a hall of record, an example of our culture for both our people and whoever visits – outward and inward facing. To “celebrate those who are representative of the society we live in” is not the role of this museum. To have a Wales ““built on the foundations of equality and one which focuses on community cohesion and appreciative… Read more »

Dafydd ap Robart
Dafydd ap Robart
1 month ago
Reply to  CJPh

“historical revisionism”?
I suggest you read John Berger’s ‘Ways of Seeing’.

Or start a fund to buy a step-ladder so you can get over yourself.

CJPh
CJPh
1 month ago

Nice, short, quippy and wholly reliant on someone else’s work to make your point 😉.

Yup, we are now living in Berger’s Utopia. Simulatnious sneering and jeering with proclaimations of truth that the rest of society recognise as lie. The contradictions are being accelerated. Plus, they don’t make stepladders that tall 😂😂😂

Glen
Glen
1 month ago

Perhaps the museum should have a ‘rouges gallery’ for such people.
There’s quite a few characters from our past deserving a place.

History has to be taught warts and all, otherwise we end up with the Disney version.

Phil
Phil
1 month ago
Reply to  Glen

…there’s quite a few from our present deserving a place, too!

David
David
1 month ago

Will museums remove portraits etc. of the Monarchy. Google “monarchy slave trade” to find out more.

Andrew
Andrew
1 month ago

Welsh history has already been air brushed and deleted. If one could find school history text books that were in use up until the 1920s in Wales , then a very different version of history was widely accepted that is very different to today’s version. Much of this was due to a hugely unpopular Hanoverian dynasty who had no legitimate claim to the throne, wanting to keep their heads when those on the continent were losing their’s. People like Bishop Stubbs then championed a Germanic master race ideology, whilst labelling the Welsh as lesser breeds. An Anglocentric version of history… Read more »

Wolf
Wolf
1 month ago

There are no flawless people in the world and that includes the suggested alternatives. The answer is not to censor history but to teach the good, bad and the ugly or Welsh and British history between the 16th and 19th centuries will be erased from the history books because it doesn’t fit in with some people’s political agenda. What next: Welsh medieval history won’t be taught because it’s not multicultural enough? We need to admit that people of every colour and creed have committed oppression, injustice and cruelty instead of putting some up on the proverbial pedestal.

Richard
Richard
1 month ago

Just where do we stop if this nonsense continues. Huw Edwards has a point.

We could knock ✊🏼 down all Edward Ist Castles or perhaps the homes of the Coal Barons or indeed rip up the ‘ BlueBooks 📖 ‘ that ridiculed our language ?

History is for reinterpretation of course – but not censoring – or excusing.

Judge not – lest we be judged by our children’s children for allowing cruelty to animals , abuse of children and destroying our environment!

HywelE3
HywelE3
1 month ago

The question is, who in the Museum’s management is driving this, and what is their agenda?
It looks suspiciously like the agenda to accentuate bame history in education in Cymru whilst not allowing a greater emphasis on our own Cymraeg history which is what most of us would like to see..

CJPh
CJPh
1 month ago
Reply to  HywelE3

Sori Hywel but BAME history in Wales is Cymraeg history in my book. It’s the reasons for this move and not the move itself we should oppose. I’d love to see more BAME history taught in schools, but mandating anything, especially in the way it is currently being done in the cultural sphere is nuts. Loads of important and relevant aspects of BAME history in Wales that can be covered – the recent BLM marches is not one of them, I’m afraid. Yet, it adorns the newest text book being touted for kids to learn Welsh history. In a sociology… Read more »

CJPh
CJPh
1 month ago
Reply to  CJPh

Autocorrected to ‘dim o gwbl’ – I meant ‘dim eto’

j humphrys
j humphrys
1 month ago

Put all this to a vote by the people of Cymru!

Last edited 1 month ago by j humphrys
Barry Pandy
Barry Pandy
1 month ago

I’m sick to death about people whining about history being ‘re-written’ or ‘airbrushed’. Let me spell it out for you. The former communist countries of central and eastern Europe don’t want to forget, rewrite or airbrush their experience of communism. Does that mean that all of the statues of Karl Marx, Lenin etc. should stay in place? Of course not. And likewise with Germany. Did the removal of the Swastikas and all of the other Nazi paraphernalia in 1945 mean that the Allies were airbrushing history? Of course not. The Germans don’t want to forget the Nazis but that doesn’t… Read more »

Observer
Observer
1 month ago
Reply to  Barry Pandy

It was, like most portraits, commissioned to celebrate him. However, as with all things, after a generation or two the subject’s original achievements are forgotten. That doesn’t mean that they should be removed. That’s history. Get over it.
Perhaps a portrait of the sub-Saharan group who are so keen to have him wiped from history could be commissioned. They’ll be forgotten all too soon as well.

Barry Pandy
Barry Pandy
1 month ago
Reply to  Observer

Firstly, there is a lot more to history than a ‘biography of great people who did great things’. It’s a lot more complicated than that. So if you want to study the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (of which Picton was a part) you would need to do a lot more than just read the biographies of the famous (and not so famous) generals who fought in it. I suspect that the real reason why Picton is remembered in Wales is because he is one of the very few Welsh military leaders (after the English conquest) of any note (largely because… Read more »

Cai Wogan Jones
Cai Wogan Jones
1 month ago

Very disappointed by Huw Edwards’ comments. This should be the reverse of censorship. It is about placing these icons of empire, slavery and white supremacy in their proper context. These images and the controversies they generate are shining a light on aspects of our past that have long been concealed. And the National Museum is leading the way in that enterprise.

CJPh
CJPh
1 month ago

You make some pretty valid points here but I have to disagree with the prognosis. I agree this isn’t ‘censorship’, but only on a semantic basis. This is whitewashing – not the worst kind, just the kind that doesn’t allow for nuance. It’s one thing to advocate for an open discourse surrounding these issues but to claim that an alternative to “Rule Britannia” style history hasn’t been dominant since the 1980s is nuts! “Empire”? Yes – not good. “Slavery”? Certainly – Evil. “White supremacy”? Arguably not – British imperialism was rather colour blind; plenty of anti-Irish sentiment knocking around at… Read more »

Cai Wogan Jones
Cai Wogan Jones
1 month ago
Reply to  CJPh

That the British empire was founded on the principle of racial hierarchies – indeed Anglo-Saxon superiority – is beyond dispute. How else could justification for the Atlantic slave trade and slave colonies of the Caribbean be concocted? Or the differing status of the white dominions compared to the colonies of other subject peoples? We absolutely need to face up to this, because it leaves a legacy of racism that remains to this day.

CJPh
CJPh
1 month ago

I think we agree in principle but not on detail – this can effect outcome so forgive me for being persistent on this. The Anglo Saxons were not a race, that’s my point, thus putting your position on this directly in dispute. British imperialism was not a racial system of oppression, it was a cultural one (yes, mostly an evil one, an awful one, thank god there is no British Empire anymore and I hope we gain our freedom soon). The USSR was a political one (the nostalgia many Russians feel for that era isn’t shared by gulag survivors and… Read more »

Barry Pandy
Barry Pandy
1 month ago
Reply to  CJPh

Whilst it is true that the Anglo-Saxons were/are not a race the fact is that the belief that they belonged to a separate (and superior) race was used to justify the racist British Empire.

The important point here is not biological fact (that there is no such thing as a superior Anglo-Saxon race) but the belief that there was. The Nazis believed that they belonged to a superior Aryan race – the fact that this is biologically complete and utter bo!!ocks didn’t stop them from murdering Jews.

Cai Wogan Jones
Cai Wogan Jones
1 month ago
Reply to  CJPh

Racism is based on perceived ethnicity, not from some pedantic study of a group’s DNA.

There is no doubt that, throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, there was a widespread acceptance of the concept that “Anglo-Saxons” (within the meaning embodied within the phrase White Anglo-Saxon Protestants, or WASPs) constituted a distinct and superior race.

CJPh
CJPh
1 month ago

I think there’s plenty of dna obsession amongst racists but mostly agree. it’s all ignorant, dangerous, deluded nonsense that continues to rear its ugly head. But WASP culture is an observation rather than something claimed by a community (a more recent American concept) and in reality, is far more to do with where you grew up, who your parents are and what colour tie you wear. Does this class/culture (perceived) superiority go hand-in-hand with racism? Often, not always, and these days, very rarely (with regards to racial supremacism). Xenophobia does not equal racism does not equal colonial idealism. All these… Read more »

Barry Pandy
Barry Pandy
1 month ago
Reply to  CJPh

I have to take issue with your statement that “British imperialism was rather colour blind”. It was no such thing, it was ultimately racist to the core.

CJPh
CJPh
1 month ago
Reply to  Barry Pandy

Colour blind was perhaps a poor choice of words given the common definition, I’ll try to clarify; yes, many (probably most) participants in the British imperialist system were racist. The system itself varied throughout its history but tended towards the insistence of British colonial culture being superior, those who complied were often rewarded. None of this precludes the fact that race played a role under such a system but it was not the defining characteristic, thus the claim that it was a white supremacist system isn’t the case. Just because evil thing ‘x’ is not the same as evil thing… Read more »

Hannergylch
Hannergylch
1 month ago
Reply to  Barry Pandy

Imperialism was motivated by profit, but it used the imagined cultural juvenility of subject peoples as a public relations front, with race as a convenient proxy for culture. As Kipling put it:

Take up the White Man’s burden —

Send forth the best ye breed —

Go bind your sons to exile

To serve your captives’ need;

To wait in heavy harness

On fluttered folk and wild —

Your new-caught sullen peoples,

Half devil and half child.

Observer
Observer
1 month ago

I disagree. His particular bad deeds were never concealed. Any research on him highlights his terrible behaviour as Governor of Trinidad and his subsequent trial and conviction.

Phil
Phil
1 month ago

Right! I’m going to buy The Stranglers recording of No More Heroes and send it in to the National Museum’s Committee so they can play it as background music while they make their next set of stupid decisions!

CapM
CapM
1 month ago

Picton has had more, far more time in the sun than was deserved.

There needs to be an re-interpretation of him as we no longer live in the “glory days ” of 19th century empire and the vast majority of us don’t imagine we are.

The re-interpretation of Picton by Amgueddfa Cymru should also include the reasons why Amgueddfa Cymru has taken the time it has to remove Picton’s portrait from it’s prominent position.

GW Atkinson
GW Atkinson
1 month ago

Stick the picture in the Pedo gallery with saville and his royal mates.

GW Atkinson
GW Atkinson
1 month ago

Why are people on here defending English history when they wiped out ours? A bit of like for like wouldn’t go amiss.

STEPHEN DANIEL
STEPHEN DANIEL
1 month ago

I think Huw Edwards’s reservations about the removal of Thomas Picton’s portrait from the wall of the National Museum are misplaced. Allowing the portrait to remain in place amidst portraits of other Welsh notables might be taken to indicate a degree of approbation, even if unintended, particularly to the descendants of those who suffered grievously at his hands and at the hands of other men of similar ilk. This action does not mean that his name will be ‘censored’ from Welsh history, as he suggests. Far from it, as the new school curriculum in Wales makes the teaching of BAME… Read more »

Robert Allen
Robert Allen
1 month ago

You cannot change history to suit your interpretation. What Picton did or didn’t do will never be changed. These so called educated people have no idea what they are doing.

CapM
CapM
1 month ago
Reply to  Robert Allen

History is about interpretation. Interpreting the past from the perspective of the present
and selecting facts and “facts” on which to base that interpretation.

Picton’s portrait was commissioned based on the fact that he was a remarkable soldier.
Picton’s portrait is being decommissioned based on the fact that he was a cruel and sadistic Governor of Trinidad.

History isn’t being changed.

RickHT
RickHT
1 month ago

Huw Edwards proves himself yet again to be a reactionary right-wing establishment mouthpiece. In other news, bear defecates in woods.

Jeff
Jeff
1 month ago

Years ago the people who run the museum decided to drop the ‘of’ from the name ‘National Museum of Wales’ because they were ashamed to be thought of as a Welsh national institution. Contracting the sub-saharan African advisory group to rewrite an episode of Welsh history seems pretty consistent with that.

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