Black Chiswick through History 2023

Hounslow’s young communities back in the frame to explore 300 years of natural and built design.

Launched in 2021, Black Chiswick through History is our ongoing community project researching Black presence at Chiswick House & Gardens. Working with young people, educators and creative practitioners from the London Borough of Hounslow, the Trust is peeling back the layers to foreground diverse stories from the history of the House, Gardens, and collections, offering a fresh perspective on these, told through new and hitherto unheard voices.

Working in partnership with three community organisations, Chiswick School, Hogarth Youth and Community Centre and Hounslow Action for Youth, Black Chiswick through History draws out our global connections and reveals how closely woven its history is to the history of the British Empire, in displays which speak to the experiences and backgrounds of young people from the local community but enrich interpretation for all visitors. Xanthe Arvanitakis, Director of Chiswick House & Gardens Trust said:

We are delighted, thanks to support from English Heritage’s Shout Out Loud team, Linbury Trust, and Art Fund to have been able to continue this important project for a second year.  Seeing local young people engage and explore their local heritage then work with artists to develop their own interpretation and response is brilliant – see for yourselves!

Harvinder Kaur Bahra, our Community Participation Manager, said:

Black Chiswick through History places our local communities and young people at the very heart of Chiswick House & Gardens. In coming together to explore what this place of heritage and history means for us today, as a diverse and vibrant community, helps connect the past to the present and the local to the global. I am deeply grateful to our local partners Hogarth Youth Centre, Chiswick School and HAY. Working with them has been incredibly rewarding. It is these partnerships and collaborations that will keep Chiswick House & Gardens relevant and meaningful to audiences new and old, and help us understand our shared history in creative and innovative ways.

Design is the starting point for Black Chiswick through History in 2023, and the theme, ‘300 years of built and natural design’ has directed the research undertaken by the Trust’s young collaborators, who have delved into the archives and permanent displays with the support of artist-practitioners Rachel Long and Ayesha Weekes, researcher Nadege Forde-Vidal and Harvinder Kaur Bahra, building on work from 2022, when students from Chiswick School worked with Forde-Vidal and historian Raj Pal to learn about the Black history of Chiswick House & Gardens.

Forde-Vidal said:

This year’s theme has revealed fascinating stories about the many different cultures that have shaped the inside and outside spaces here at Chiswick House & Gardens; stories that take you from the tombs of the Ancient Egyptians to the paradise gardens of the Persians and along the silk routes of Asia on magical carpets, uncovering a global love affair with floral designs that dates back millennia.

Inspired by the carpets and velvet wallpaper found in Chiswick House, Year 10 and Sixth Form history students from Chiswick School have created Chiswick House and its Silks, two digital visualisations exploring the story of the silk trade, tracing the journey of silk from its creation in Asia, to its trade across the world, to the development of textile designs that left an indelible mark on British visual culture. The students have produced an interactive map and an illustrated timeline of the House’s carpets and velvet wallpapers, revealing the influence of the East on the interiors at Chiswick House. Visitors aged 6+ are invited to click on images of the objects that interest them to discover the history of the item alongside the meaning of the botanical design elements. Also on display is Chiswick School’s series of short videos exploring a number of objects from our collections: The painting of the Moroccan Ambassador (1684) by Jan Wyck and Godfrey Kneller, the Bust of Roman emperor Caracalla, the Medici Vases and the Chiswick Sphinx sculpture.

Hannah Nonnenmacher, Head of History at Chiswick School said:

Working with Chiswick House has been a fantastic opportunity for our Sixth Form students. The chance to engage so deeply with their own local heritage has been eye-opening. Although these students have walked past Chiswick House every day for many years, most have never been inside. All felt that it was a place very far removed from their identity and their own lives. Watching them reconsider these opinions and engage with their local history in a completely new way has been a privilege for me.

Meanwhile, the young people of Hogarth Youth and Community Centre’s after-school programme have carried out in-depth research into the distinctive colour themes that feature throughout the House. Working with artist Ayesha Weekes for a second year, the Hogarth group learnt about the histories of the sumptuous interiors at Chiswick House including the Velvet Rooms, which were inspired by Ottoman and Mughal Royal palaces (in what are now Turkey and Pakistan) and the Roman-inspired white and gold colour scheme used to decorate several of the rooms of the Neo-Palladian villa.

For this project titled Putting the Colour back into Chiswick House, the Hogarth group created their own colour palettes in response to the insights gleaned from exploring the interiors and collections, weaving in inspiration from their own cultural backgrounds and family histories in a process which helped the group to ‘put themselves into the frame’. Through their colourful and detailed panels, which recreate one of the columns in the Upper Link room, the young people from Hogarth have made visible design elements throughout the house with origins in African, Egyptian, Persian, Arabic and Grecian art and culture.

Denny Anthony, Hogarth Charitable Trust said,

The young people involved in this project live within walking distance of Chiswick House & Gardens. This project has helped them to be proud of where they live and allowed them to understand how things were for Black people during that period of history. This project has had a positive impact on all the young people who took part in it… As a youth worker, it is so rewarding to see young people strive towards reaching their own potential.

Hogarth participant, Joshua Olumodi, added,

Being involved in the Black Chiswick through History project has made me express myself in ways that I didn’t know that I could have done before. It has opened me up more creatively and made me feel a part of Chiswick House & Gardens Trust. Learning about the diverse history here has made me know Chiswick more than I did before.

Carpet in the House, image by Gregor Petrikovič

Artist Ayesha Weeks said,

Working on the Black Chiswick through History project has been an inspiring experience bringing a fresh perspective and a new level of creativity, leading to meaningful connections and a sense of shared accomplishment.

In a third project, a group of young people from Hounslow Action for Youth (HAY) have been working with local poet Rachel Long to develop new written works inspired by the Persian and Arabic floral designs found throughout Chiswick House from the carpets, wallpaper and fireplaces to the collection of paintings, as well as the 17th century Kitchen Garden, itself inspired by the walled paradise gardens of Ancient Persia dating back to the 6th century BCE. The resulting collection of poems and prose, Notes from a Paradise Garden, will be on display inside Chiswick House from 6 July, presented in both book form and in frames.

Hounslow Action for Youth, image by Gregor Petrikovič

Rachel Long said:

It was a distinct pleasure to work with HAY at Chiswick House & Gardens as an artist-facilitator, supporting the young people to explore and write poems inspired by the rich history and design of the House and Gardens. Writing outdoors, in context and in close contact with nature, was a real highlight in terms of what it was able to enhance sensorially, how it uniquely sparked personal experience and memory.

In-depth, participatory, and collaborative, Black Chiswick through History puts young people from the local community at the heart of the Trust’s work. Through innovative research and thoughtful responses to the collections, young people from Hounslow are enriching the interpretation for all visitors to Chiswick House & Gardens. The Trust invites everyone to rediscover the House, Gardens and collections this summer and learn new stories about our shared global history.

The artworks will be on display inside the House from Thursday 6 July. Book tickets to visit the House, open Thursday-Sunday, 11am-4pm.


Supported by: