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Tate Encounters – new perspectives on art and identity

  • Professor Andrew Dewdney

This three-year research project at Tate Britain has been investigating questions of migration, culture and identity as they relate to the heritage sector.

Tate Britain, which houses the national collection of British art dating from 1500 to the present day, is one of Britain’s oldest and most prestigious art galleries. Such institutions convey a message about Britain’s culture and values, not only through the works on display, but through every facet of their existence and, especially in modern Britain’s highly multicultural society, the meaning of this message changes according to the viewer’s own perspective and experience. Since April 2007, academics from London South Bank University (LSBU), together with Dr. David Dibosa from Chelsea College at the University of the Arts, London, have been collaborating with Dr. Victoria Walsh, Tate Britain’s Head of Adult Programmes, on a three year research project exploring these issues.

The core of the project involved a group of undergraduates from LSBU, who documented their responses to Tate Britain. Over 600 LSBU students encountered Tate Britain over three years, and a dedicated group of 15 students became co-researchers over a two year period, which also involved members of their families. The students selected on the criteria that they or their family must have migrated to Britain in the last three generations. Their thoughts and perspectives on Tate Britain, art and identity were recorded in interviews. Students also documented their own responses using new media.

Museums and galleries have already been the subject of much research, but Tate Encounters takes a new approach, combining elements of sociology, such as ethnography, with visual culture and media practice. The team presented their conclusions in a series of seminars in summer 2010, and in ‘From the margins to the core‘, an international conference on equality and diversity in the heritage arena, at the Victoria & Albert museum in March. The Tate Encounters website also collates a wealth of material, including short films, text and images produced by students, as well as papers, discussions and reflections on the evolution of the project from the academic team.

For further information about Tate Encounters, please visit http://www.tateencounters.org

For the full version of this article please see issue 14 of Podium – Spring 2010.

Tate Encounters is funded through the Diasporas, Migration and Identities Programme. The project involves three collaborative institutions: Tate Britain, London South Bank University and the University of the Arts London, through Wimbledon College of the Arts.