I learned nothing about the British Empire at school. Empire to me meant the “baddies” in Star Wars. I was fully aware of the positive sides of British history but less cognisant of the darker side of our colonial past. A speech by Shashi Tharoor at the Oxford Union during a debate about the impact of British Imperialism on India really bought this into sharp focus for me.
I don’t think I’m alone in my ignorance; in a recent YouGov Survey 59% of Britons view the British Empire as something to be proud of. Indeed our highest honours are the CBE, OBE and MBE (Commander / Officer / Member of the British Empire). I am nowhere near qualified to weigh up the positive and negative aspects of the British Empire, but what is certainly true is that we do not talk openly enough about the latter. It has quaintly been said that “we gave cricket to India” - this is what inspired my use of cricket bats as canvases, depicting British Imperial Officers wearing helmets of other less rosily viewed Empires.