The Manchester Art Gallery’s In Translation is a new collaborative exhibition displaying selected works from the Empire Marketing Board alongside new commentaries and pieces derived from the artists’ collective Ultimate Holding Company’s workshops with foreign female immigrants to the North West.
The Empire Marketing Board existed in the interwar period between the years 1926 to 1933. It was a government body aimed at promoting empire consumerism via diverse mediums that ranged from short films, domestic advice literature and propaganda posters, such as those exhibited at the gallery. Often gendered sales pitches offered women in particular, a role in building imperial prosperity through the purchase of ‘Empire Sugar from Mauritius’ or ‘Empire Cotton from Uganda’ amongst other commodities from the British colonies, creating the illusion of shopping for home as being, in some way, patriotic.
These posters were produced by noteworthy contemporary artists and are accordingly visually impressive; their subject matter, however, can be quite unsettling when displayed in a post-colonial society. Though they sought to depict a transcontinental and mutually beneficial British Imperial community, works such as Adrian Paul Allison’s ‘Empire Tobacco from Northern Rhodesia & Nyasaland’ provoked a furious discourse about colonialism, and the ills that surround it. And it is for this divisive reason that these pieces have been chosen by the UHC’s female migrant collaborators.
Members of the Wai Yin Chinese Women Society, Europia and the Cumbria Multicultural Women’s Network have selected a number of emotive pieces from the gallery’s 222 EMB posters and reflected on how they interpret them as new citizens in modern day multicultural Britain. The concept of ‘Britishness’ is examined throughout as the women discuss the controversial legacy of Empire and how these posters shape the ways in which they identify their own nationalities and positions within the wider community.
Whilst it seems that the exhibition doesn’t quite realise its full potential in terms of critiquing the posters displayed this is, nonetheless, a challenging and unique exhibition that will be of interest to anyone seeking to understand Britain’s Imperial past and it’s modern day legacy.
In Translation: Women, Migration and Britishness will be on display until 25th February 2013.