Whose Heritage? Rethinking the West Dean Collection: An update

Students at West Dean College have had the opportunity to work with the Collections Team on the Whose Heritage? project over the past year. Although limited by the Covid-19 lockdowns, the project has continued, with taught sessions delivered to students from across the School of Arts and School of Conservation. Preventative conservation work on related archival material has been undertaken by MA Conservation Studies students specialising in Books and Library Materials, and a current student studying on the MA Collections Care and Conservation Management programme has been working to support the take-down, research, and documentation of two problematic displays in the College’s Oak Hall that contained a number of historical inaccuracies.  

In addition, the project is supporting Warwick University PhD student, Fleur Martin, whose research focusses on collections resulting from expeditions into East Africa by Europeans and Americans between 1860 and 1914. The central case studies are the James Collection at West Dean College, the Teleki collection in Budapest and Vienna, and the Bottego collection in Parma.  

We also continue to work with professional artists through the residency programme. This includes Claire Ratinon and Sam Ayre’s Gardens Residency looking at the crossovers between contested collections and horticultural space, which subsequently led to the 2021 publication of Horticultural Appropriation: Why Horticulture Needs Decolonizing, published by Routh Trade Books in partnership with the Garden Museum. West Dean College also recently announced a commission in partnership with the Wellcome Collection and De La Warr Pavilion that invites the RESOLVE Collective to create new work focussing on access and representation. Additionally, we are working with Sherie Sitauze and Sonia E Barrett on an Outside In residency partnership that has invited the two artists to respond to the African Collection. You can read about Sherie’s plans for her residency in a recent interview here

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Water bottle from North East Africa. Late 19th century. From the West Dean College Collection
Water bottle from North East Africa. Late 19th century. From the West Dean College Collection.

Online Resources

Developed as part of the Whose Heritage? Rethinking the West Dean Collection project, the following resource list is designed as a brief introduction to a growing range of resources that de-centre Western canonical perspectives on conservation and museum studies.  

About Whose Heritage? Rethinking the West Dean Collection

Whose Heritage? Rethinking the West Dean Collection is a research project set up to explore the cultural legacy of colonialism at West Dean College and re-evaluate how the collections are displayed throughout West Dean House. Initiated in late 2019, the project works with academic staff, students, and external subject specialists, to discuss ethical curation, challenge existing and embedded curatorial practices, and lay the framework for a new approach to collections interpretation and display. The project encourages students, staff, residents, and visitors, to take another look at the Collection, College, Gardens and Estate through a decolonial lens and rethink what heritage really means in the context of West Dean. For more information, please contact the Collections Team.