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Bodies of Colour

Breaking with stereotypes in the wallpaper collection

Bodies of Colour: Breaking with stereotypes in the wallpaper collection

This latest exhibition uses the Whitworth’s extensive and significant wallpaper collection to focus on how imperial attitudes to people are reflected in wallpaper.

The wallpapers in this exhibition were designed in Western Europe (and a few in America) but inspiration for the patterns comes from across the globe. The popularity of wallpaper grew through the 18th to 20th centuries, at the same time as the rapid expansion of the British Empire; the collection spans these three centuries. The exhibition contains a mix of commercially available wallpapers as well as wallpapers made by artists.

This exhibition deals with some difficult questions.

Racism is a system of oppression originating from the belief in the superiority of white people over others; it has affected many of us in different ways. The words and images that are used to describe our cultural identities are often contentious. Many unique and complex histories are touched upon in this exhibition. Our aim is to bring together different positions and experiences within an atmosphere of respect, learning and understanding.

The Exhibition Guide offers a brief introduction to some of the themes raised by the wallpapers on display. It is a starting point for stories, links and images that will grow through the year of the exhibition.

The team at the Whitworth have been discussing how we challenge racist representations within our collection. We all believe in this but don’t all agree about how it should be done. Bodies of Colour opens this up and invites you to contribute to an evolving conversation.

Read the Exhibition Guide


Event: Manchester Literature Festival: Rommi Smith and Dave Evans
18 October, 7pm. Free, booking advised. 

Manchester Literature Festival and the Whitworth have co-commissioned poet and playwright Rommi Smith to respond to the exhibition Bodies of Colour. Spanning three hundred years to the present day, the exhibition looks at the representation of race and ethnicity in wallpaper, and includes work by Sonya Boyce, Robert Gober and Niki de Saint Phalle. Rommi is a prolific writer and performer, who often combines words and music to create beautiful and soulful work with a political bite. She will perform new poetry inspired by the exhibition and a recent research visit to New York, drawing out themes related to her own passionate interest in the historical Black Jazz and Blues Women of the 1920s – 1960s. At this special event at the Whitworth, Rommi is accompanied by pianist Dave Evans. Dave is a composer, musician and band leader with the Afro-Jazz outfit Ubunye.

Click here to book. 


4 May 2018 – 28 April 2019

Image: Zineb Sedira, Une Génération de femmes, 1997
Screen-printed wallpaper
The Whitworth, The University of Manchester