Rethinking the Grand Tour

November 24, 2022  -  December 31, 2025

Free Admission

Gallery 4

Rethinking the Grand Tour

For 200 years the Grand Tour set the standard for western culture. In the 1700s and 1800s, it established forms of privileged travel and cultural tourism to Greece and Italy. Many western European artists took inspiration from classical antiquity. Ruins in idyllic landscapes, nymphs, and goddesses defined the classical fantasy as the pinnacle of taste.

Beneath the refinement of the Grand Tour is a story of empire and cultural appropriation. As the scope of European tourism extended to the Middle East and Asia, a colonial viewpoint prevailed. Artefacts were taken back home in private collections and were later acquired by museums. Manchester Art Gallery maintained this classical fantasy, purchasing Grand Tour artworks during the mid 1900s.

Two decades after this gallery was installed, the Grand Tour is being reassessed. Four contemporary artists have selected works from Manchester Art Gallery’s collection. They have responded to the legacy of the Grand Tour through the theme of migration, with a focus on empire and colonisation, trade, heritage, gendered experiences, and feelings aroused by the comfort of home.


Re-thinking the Grand Tour has been developed by a group of artists, a creative producer, University academics and gallery staff:

Group members are:

Khalda Al Khamri| Kani Kamil | Kofo Kego Oyeleye | Mahboobeh Rajabi | Ana Carden-Coyne | Chrisoula Lionis | Angeliki Roussou | Jason Cyrus | Clare Gannaway | Ruth Edson | Hannah Williamson

Grand Tour group stood on the staircase at Platt Hall

This is part of a wider project exploring Displacement Aesthetics initiated by the University of Manchester and the University of Melbourne, with Manchester Art Gallery, The Whitworth Art Gallery, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.


Mahboobeh Rajabi

Instagram @mahboobeh.mcr

Mahboobeh Rajabi is a British-Iranian artist and creative producer from Manchester. She uses digital art, film, performance, and creative writing to share journeys of displacement, diversity, and women’s rights. Rajabi sees the gallery as a platform to share these experiences, thereby challenging institutional narratives and empowering communities.

In ‘The Grand Tour Rethink,’ she continues this work through personal reflection, cultural storytelling, and artistic engagement. 

She sees Manchester Art Gallery as a space of refuge, offering a space to sit, write, and create.


Dolls’ House date and maker unknown
Painted wood and glass
Suitcase 1920-30
Vulcanised fibre with leather and paper

“There are different reasons for displacement. Some reasons are tragic and beyond our control, like losing a loved one or a relationship ending. When I found the doll house and the suitcase, I thought of my Iranian heritage. It is always with me, even though I now live in Manchester as a proud citizen of this diverse city. My heritage is my home. It is as if I packed it in my suitcase at the age of 21.”

Dolls’ House: unknown donor (Mary Greg?) M10453
Suitcase: gift of Mrs Eva Woolger 1983.563

Khalda Al Khamri

Instagram @sykhalidak

Khalda Al Khamri is a fine artist and painter with a special interest in the stories of women. She uses expressionism, symbolism, and abstraction to offer diverse interpretations to the viewer.

Al Khamri holds a MFA from Helwan University, Egypt, and has taught at the Faculty of Fine Arts, Damascus. Previously, she was director and coordinator for Syrian TV, as well as a member of CIWA, a collective of international women artists based in the North-West of England.

In ‘The Grand Tour Rethink,’ Al Khamri brings her vision and extensive experience to share stories of Syrian cultural heritage. 

The Damascene House 2022
Acrylic on canvas

“I depict the old architecture of Damascus to express my identity and traditions. We notice white stones underneath colourful windows surrounded by roses and damask jasmine. The streets are empty, expressing isolation, yet the arch in the middle symbolises connection. A big family gathers inside. They look out to an unknown future, away from political conflict.”

Kani Kamil

Kani Kamil is a visual artist and performer. Born and raised in Iraq, she lives and works in London. Her work addresses the ruthless, ongoing systems of social and political abuse in Iraqi Kurdish society. She uses human hair as a medium of expression, entangling diverse perspectives and challenging stereotypes. Kamil is interested in revealing stories that go unheard and undocumented. Her photography, installation, and video performance are tools to listen, decode, and reveal that which is hidden. These themes are present in Kamil’s work on ‘The Grand Tour Rethink.’

Kamil is a PhD candidate in Fine Art at Manchester Metropolitan University. She holds a MFA from Middlesex University, London, with Sonia Boyce as her tutor. 


A whisper behind the Grand Tour 2022

Kurdish calligraphy and ‘Moorish’ box, from Platt Hall collections

“The ‘Moorish’ box contains a pre-1910 Hashimi dress, a traditional Iraqi costume. I can’t display this chosen object from the collection. At Platt Hall, I was searching for ‘Iraqi’ textile labels but there weren’t any. After looking inside the ‘Moorish’ box I felt nostalgic about a piece similar to my mum’s dress. I found my old memory in a hidden box in Manchester. I lost it decades ago because of one of Britain’s decisions. Unboxing that piece reminded me of the poverty of the Iraqi people at that time; on the other hand, it reminded me of the joy of my mum wearing the Hashimi dress. “

This statement is about all the voiceless and unseen pieces that have been brought to this country by grand tourists. It challenges the narratives and labels to reveal feelings imprisoned by art institutions. 

Kofo Kego Oyeleye

Kofo Kego Oyeleye is a curator of visual arts, social entrepreneur, and public engagement consultant. His work promotes African stories, told with accuracy, balance, and dignity. 

In ‘The Grand Tour Rethink,’ Oyeleye was drawn to the history of travel and expatriation, with a focus on identity, royalty, stability, and the vision of the traveller. This journey starts from the Great Republic of Nigeria. Here he looks at the symbolism and meaning behind Aso Oke (top cloth) fabric, as well as two empire marketing posters addressing the history of trade between Nigeria and Britain. 


Kani Kamil’s work identifies core questions around the identity, value and use of historic objects such as the embroidered fragment.

The decision was taken not to exhibit this item within the timeframe of the exhibition because of its physically vulnerable condition. There was neither time nor capacity to carry out the necessary conservation work to display it safely, and we did not want to risk causing further irreparable damage to it. Kani’s resulting artwork A Whisper Behind the Grand Tour 2022, powerfully expresses the wider impact of such decisions, and highlights the complex questions we need to consider in deciding how to prioritise limited resources.

Manchester Art Gallery’s textile collection includes objects from all over the world. Many of these were donated by private collectors during the early 20th century, acquired in earlier times through colonial trade, as study material to inform British textile manufacture. Many are fragments cut from larger pieces of cloth or garments, acquired for use as examples of making techniques or design. We know very little about their original cultural context or even, in many cases, what they once were or where they were made.

Over the next 3 years and beyond, we will be working collaboratively across the gallery team, with communities who have expertise and lived experience, to prioritise the re-cataloguing of such collections. Kani’s artwork draws timely attention to the need to revisit the way such material is documented and understood, and the need to address historical language and classification systems that reinforce legacies of inequality. This is a major undertaking with a collection of over 50,000 objects. We are grateful to all the artists in this project for working with us to find the right way forward.

This text has been written collaboratively by members of curatorial, learning and engagement, collections management, and conservation teams at Manchester Art Gallery.