Entangled Pasts, 1768–now: Art, Colonialism and Change ★★★★ Royal Academy | Feb 3 - Apr 28, 2024

In the courtyard of Burlington House, Tavares Strachan's impressive sculpture, "The First Supper (Galaxy Black)" (2023) brilliantly announces this thought-provoking exhibition. It is an extraordinary work that provides the perfect introduction to what proves to be a moving meditation on imperial history. Entangled Pasts, 1768–now addresses some formidable and complex issues looking at race, colonialism, immigration and slavery. These subjects are viewed through a variety of lenses: chronology, a dialogue between works past and present, and the perspective of the Royal Academy's own history. Through ten galleries, the subjects are traced via three themes "Sites of Power," "Beauty & Difference" and "Crossing Waters." For the viewer the challenge is coping with the very scope of this show. The subject matter runs from the slave trade in the Caribbean through the colonial exploitation of India, and the timeline extends from the 18th century to the present day. It is almost too much to take in. Personally, we focussed on the fascinating contrasts set up between contemporary works and historical models. For us, the comparison of Kehinde Wiley's "Portrait of Kujuan Buggie" (2024) with Joshua Reynold's "Portrait of a Man" (c. 1770) set up a juxtaposition that reverberated throughout the show. Another challenge here is that so many works merit individual consideration. While they are enriched by the complicated contexts that are being set up, they can also seem overwhelmed by them. Our caveat for this exhibition is to give yourself lots of time and, perhaps, to consider making repeat visits as you seek to disentangle the subtly interwoven fabric of artistic reflections on British imperial history.

Rated: ★★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Image: Installation view of the ‘Navigation Charts’ exhibition at Spike Island, Bristol, 2017, showing Lubaina Himid RA, Naming the Money, 2004. © Lubaina Himid. Image courtesy the artist, Hollybush Gardens, London and National Museums, Liverpool. © Spike Island, Bristol. Photo: Stuart Whipps

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