2019 marks the 200th birth anniversary of Queen Victoria and has been a significant year for Historic Royal Palaces. It brought us the opportunity to address an important story at Kensington Palace. To commemorate the event, Historic Royal Palaces created a brand new exhibition, Victoria: Woman & Crown, to explore the life and reign of the famous monarch at Kensington Palace. The exhibition examines her later life and legacy as well as aiming to portray a multi-faceted representation of the Queen.
Victoria – Empress Of India
When most people think of Queen Victoria, a small frumpy woman dressed entirely in black comes to mind. She was of course more than that, she was a stateswoman, wife, mother, grandmother of Europe and Empress of India. The concept of Queen Victoria as the Empress of India is one of the key themes presented within the exhibition. In 1877, Benjamin Disraeli, Conservative Prime Minister, had Queen Victoria proclaimed as Empress of India. India was already under crown control after 1858, but this title was a gesture to link the British monarchy with the empire further and bind India more closely to Britain.
In order to present a nuanced and complex account of the Queen, Historic Royal Palaces incorporated participatory practice throughout the planning and development of the exhibition.
We worked collaboratively with members of the local South Asian community to respond creatively to the narrative, key themes and objects featured in the exhibition. This provided a prime opportunity to make the Palace relevant and meaningful to it’s surrounding communities as well as bringing a diverse range of voices and perspectives to the forefront of the exhibition narrative.
Historic Royal Palaces worked with an intergenerational group of local South Asian community members as well as students from a range of London universities studying South Asian culture and language, to develop a series of text labels in the form of ghazals (a form of poetry popular within the Indian subcontinent and diaspora community).
Over the course of six sessions, participants had the opportunity to visit the object stores at Hampton Court Palace, learn more about Queen Victoria with historian Dr Priya Atwal and create their contemporary responses to the exhibition objects with poet Jaspreet Kaur (Behind The Netra).
Community Engagement : Project Contributor Thoughts
Below are thoughts and reflections from a project participant about the objects they chose
and the poem they created.
“I chose to focus on the portrait of the Princess Gowramma of Coorg. For me the portrait was beautiful yet so sad. The Manusmriti coined the quote: ‘The essence of being a Hindu woman is to suffer with grace’ – for me the portrait was a visual depiction of that line. I was inspired by the confusion of identity she must have felt. No longer Hindu but never fully English either. Being mixed race myself I feel that confusion almost daily and it’s not nice. Her being so confused and scared but still doing as she’s told and doing it gracefully strikes a chord with me…
“Who am I? में कौन हूँ
No longer Hindu, she made me Christian
Did anyone ask me?
No, I must do as she says, smile
And keep भारत inside.”
“I was honestly pleasantly surprised by how honest HRP wanted us to be about Empire – no matter how negative our responses could potentially be.”Poem & comments by: Indira Varma
Historic Royal Palaces has had a history of working collaboratively with community groups. However this project enabled us to develop content for an exhibition and as a result has helped support a wider range of external voices which have been embedded within the interpretation and contributed to a rich, multi-dimensional narrative. This approach has
allowed us to meaningfully connect with local communities, reinforcing a key strand of our charitable mission to widen its reach amongst diverse audiences. The results of the group’s work are currently on display throughout the exhibition at Kensington Palace.
‘Victoria: Woman & Crown’ is open daily at Kensington Palace
until 05 January 2020.
Click here for more information about the exhibition