Researcher Nadege Forde-Vidal introduces Black Chiswick through History Project 2023

As we reveal the displays produced in response to our Black Chiswick through History community research project, researcher Nadege Forde-Vidal digs deeper into this season’s theme: ‘300 Years of Built and Natural Design’ at Chiswick House & Gardens.

Nadege explores the carpet designs with a group from Hounslow Action for Youth

Using the theme as a starting point, our three community groups (Hogarth Youth and Community Centre, Hounslow Action for Youth and Chiswick School) have been exploring 300 years of culturally diverse styles visible across Chiswick House & Gardens, and on display throughout our collections.

This season’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.

Chiswick House, or ‘Villa’ as it was originally described, was designed in the early 1700s in what was commonly regarded as a classical Roman style and is, therefore, embellished with a multitude of classical features copied from Roman buildings. They are present everywhere in the House – adorning the ceilings and doors, the walls and windows, the fireplaces and furniture.

Through the Black Chiswick through History project we are delving into the source of these decorative elements, exploring what they were intended to look like; what meaning they held for those that created them, and the manner in which they have been passed on and integrated into the artistic repertoires of diverse cultures across the last four thousand years.

Through the carpets and silks that cover the floors and walls of the Baroque-style velvet rooms, and the layout and planting of the gardens, we are rediscovering the dramatic impact that the ancient and Islamic cultures of the east have had across the estate – from the origins of the walled garden in the oases of ancient Persia, to the exalted status of the tulip and daffodil in the Ottoman and Mughal arts, to the central role played by the carpet within Islamic communities.

Carpet in the House, image by Gregor Petrikovic

We have looked at the way plants and flowers connect inside and outside spaces – the tulip designs on the carpets as woven copies of those growing in the Kitchen Garden, the silk damasks on the walls and their shared history with the mulberry trees in the grounds. exploring the impact of the rise and fall of empires on design trends, access to raw materials, new technologies and industry.

Tulips in the Kitchen Garden, April 2023. Image by Gregor Petrikovic

This project has allowed us to shine a light upon design influences from all over the world, and to bring new, colourful and inclusive stories to our community collaborators. Young people from Chiswick School, Hogarth Youth and Community Centre and Hounslow Action for Youth have sought to respect the history of these designs, whilst creating new interpretations that reflect their own styles and identities.

Nadege’s workshop with Hogarth Youth and Community Centre

Together, we are seeking different and exciting ways to present these stories to our visitors, through creative writing, by tracing the journeys of objects and materials through digital maps, restoring the original colours and meaning to classical features – all with the intention of adding another multicultural layer to the Chiswick House & Gardens community.

Nadege’s workshop with Hounslow Action for Youth

As well as researcher for our Black Chiswick through History project, Nadege Forde-Vidal is also the creator of The Sankofa London Schools Project. A KS3 & 4 Local History Study of people of colour in 18th century London. Find out more.

Connect with Nadege on LinkedIn.

Visit Chiswick House, open 11am-4pm, Thursday-Sunday from 6 July to view the artworks by Chiswick School, Hogarth Youth and Community Centre and Hounslow Action for Youth. Included with a Chiswick House & Kitchen Garden ticket. Members go free. Book tickets.