Creativity vs culture wars

Art, design, and advertising are critical for bringing new narratives into our understanding of history, and helping us confront and accept the difficult parts of our past

Richard Sandell has spent a lot of time in meetings, preparing for press controversy. As professor of Museum Studies and co-director of the Research Centre for Museums and Galleries (RCMG) at the University of Leicester, he has collaborated on more than one project that’s proved contentious.

Sandell found himself on the frontline of the so-called culture wars in 2017 when he worked on Prejudice and Pride – a research project, coinciding with the 50-year anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality that explored how the National Trust could better engage with LGBTQ+ history. “It was the biggest controversy the National Trust had ever experienced,” he tells CR. “We were on the front page of the papers for the best part of 10 days.”

His latest project is Permissible Beauty, an exhibition at Hampton Court Palace until March 12, created in partnership with art historian and musician David McAlmont, photographer Robert Taylor, and filmmaker Mark Thomas. It places the historic 350-year-old ‘Windsor Beauties’ portraits of women at the court of Charles II alongside new work by Black, queer creatives. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Sandell says he was preparing for a backlash before the show even opened.

Top and above: Artworks on display at Permissible Beauty, Hampton Court Palace; Photos: Robert Taylor