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British Empire Exhibition Centenary: Wembley - The Crucible of Modernity’s Coloniality

Call for Submissions: Deadline 14 June 2024

Thu 12 Sep—Fri 13 Sep 2024

The London School of Architecture

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2024 marks the centenary of the opening of the British Empire Exhibition (BEE) at Wembley. As we publish this, April 23rd 1924 was the opening day of the exhibition.

The BEE was organised to promote intra-imperial trade among the colonies and dominions of the British Empire. In the early twentieth century, there was a persistent debate about trade and economic policy in Britain. Though some advocated for Free Trade, there was increasing clamour to promote Tariff Reform, essentially protectionist policies to promote trade within the boundaries of the British Empire. The parallels with our contemporary moment, following the UK’s departure from the European Union are striking. Meanwhile, the role of design - architectural, industrial, and graphic design - was fundamental in envisioning and promoting the policy of intra-Imperial trade, creating an imperial language through a range of design media. Through this visual culture, the BEE shows us how largely the Empire loomed over and permeated through popular culture in Britain in the first quarter of the twentieth century.

Its significance and legacy today is surprisingly overlooked, meaning that this centenary poses an opportunity for a critical reexamination of the BEE, the first exhibition to attempt to provide a holistic view of British Imperialism, with a particular view to its relevance today:

- It asks us to explore the place of design in the promotion and maintenance of the British
imperial project
- It helps us to understand enduring currents of Imperial nostalgia, especially in the context of national decline
- It creates the possibilities of deconstructing these elements to chart routes towards a more equitable future

In response to these concerns, The London School of Architecture, with the support of the British Council, is proposing to convene a conference on 12th - 13th September 2024.

This conference will convene the foremost thinkers, practitioners, archivists, curators, designers, artists, and other communities of interest around the British Empire Exhibition to understand the breadth of work that has already been done, and what still needs to be further explored in understanding the legacies of the exhibition.
What will distinguish the framework for this response to the BEE is the engagement with decolonial thought and praxes. We will use the conference to bring into reexistence narratives/processes/methods borne of indigenous knowledge, working class labour, lost ecologies and ecosystems, ‘deconstructing’ the exhibitionary order and way of seeing. The conference will encourage a scholarly dialogue that engages with non-Western forms of knowledge production and records of both BEE and the imperial/colonial experience.

Call for Participation
The London School of Architecture, in partnership with the British Council, invites proposals for papers, films, audio, crafted objects, and other media for a presentation of 10 minutes for a hybrid conference that will re-examine the BEE.
We are seeking proposals from all disciplines and a variety of media. In particular, as part of a decolonial approach to the BEE, non-Western thinking, media, and narratives of the BEE are actively encouraged.

Our provocation is that by marking and studying the centenary of the British Empire Exhibition through a decolonial lens, the opportunity to understand the post-imperial remnants within our societal systems can be redressed, and routes can be charted towards a more equitable future in the built environment.
Submissions are encouraged in, but by no means limited to, the following areas and on the following questions. They are separated into four themes:
1. History and Research of the Exhibition

2. Publicly Accessible Digital Resource

3. Contemporary Design / Artistic Responses

4. Cultural Policy

Practical information
We welcome submissions from academics, practitioners, makers, creatives, and professionals of all disciplines and backgrounds for participation. The format of the conference is to be confirmed, but will certainly include the following:

- Presentation of submissions
10-minute presentations, tackling substantial historical perspectives or responses to the theoretical themes posed. Media and modes of presentation are open to interpretation
- Film interludes
Short original footage from the BEE interspersed with contemporary film that responds to the themes of the BEE
- Roundtable Sessions
Discussions involving a number of participants focusing on a particular
question/problem relating to the conference themes.
- Short features/papers/works for circulation accompanying the programme
- Other suggestions for ancillary programming around the Conference are welcome

Respondents should indicate what type of submission they are proposing, and to which of the four themes they are primarily responding to. The deadline for submission of proposals is 14 June 2024.

Submissions should take the form of an abstract of maximum 500 words in length, submitted as a PDF via email to alistair.napier@the-lsa.org.

If writing is not your preferred medium, please feel free to submit a proposal with the intellectual equivalent of 500 words through your preferred medium.
Please use the following file- naming convention:
SURNAME_BEEConference_2024.PDF
Please include your name and any institutional affiliation you may have at the head of the document (with any links to relevant work or faculties you are a part of).
Proposals will be selected by: Alistair Napier (London School of Architecture), Nathan Quainoo (London School of Architecture), Will Rea (University of Leeds), and Neal Shasore (London School of Architecture). Successful participants will be notified by 31 July 2024.