Rethinking the Grand Tour

November 24, 2022  -  November 26, 2023

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

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 dollhouse 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. 


Manchester Art Gallery is committed to actively working towards recognising, reflecting and challenging the legacy and ongoing influence of Empire on culture. This complex process involves sensitivity, self-reflection and active listening.

As an institution that cares for a public collection, we recognise the importance of undertaking this essential journey of change with care and honesty.

In order to be able to address the legacy of inequality that accompanies the history of the gallery and action change, we are actively engaging with artists and the communities on resolving subjects like the attribution, language and accuracy of historical information while facilitating considerate and mindful access to the collection.

This change in working practice must, however, take into account the duty of care that we have in preserving and conserving the collection.  

Although we respect the emotional resonance of the textile piece in Kani Kamil’s work,  A whisper behind the Grand Tour 2022, we were unable to exhibit the content of the box because the display conditions currently available to us would have caused irreparable damage and a new arrangement of display would not have been achievable within the timeframe chosen for the exhibition.

As we approach a crucial moment in our organisation where we will have the opportunity to better understand and care for our collection, we know that it is more important than ever that we open the conversation beyond our walls and continue the work towards making Manchester Art Gallery a more fair and inclusive space.