…what would the paintings say? Laura Popoviciu and Andrew Parratt explain to Jonathan Conlin how they curated the recent rehang of the UK Embassy in Ankara.

Laura is the pre-1900 curator and Andrew Head of Collection Care at the UK’s Government Art Collection.

Though they don’t earn a salary, the works of art installed in the United Kingdom’s 155 embassies and High Commissions are expected to earn their place. These mute diplomats are charged with promoting closer political, trade and other links between the UK and its international partners. When it came to the recent rehang of the embassy in Ankara, curators Laura and Andrew had the forbidding task of identifying which of the 14,700 artworks from among the UK’s Government Art Collection would best fulfill this brief, providing a commentary on Anglo-Turkish relations past and present. In this conversation, recorded on 20 June 2022, they take us behind the scenes of an overlooked example of “soft power”.


The discussion began by considering portraits of former ambassadors, including Clare Sheridan’s bronze of Sir George Russell Clerk, as well as depictions of Ottoman scenery and court ritual, among them Josef Schranz’ panoramic The Bosphorus, Anglo-French Fleet 1854 (shown in its new home above) and Antonio Guardi’s European Ambassador in the Second Court of Topkapi Palace (c. 1740, below). But the majority of the new display featured work by contemporary artists, including several born in Turkey or neighbouring territories. Among these were Güler Ates’ Eternal Maharani and She II (2013) and Mohammed Sami’s Displacement (2017). Here and elsewhere the rehang sought to gently challenge expectations: rather than the royal portrait one might expect, visitors entering the ambassador’s residence encounter a piece of 1990s video art, Dancing in Peckham by Gillian Wearing,

I think in any embassy the opportunity to get people talking is terrifically important; to generate trust and empathy, and art is a great way to do that.

Andrew Parratt, Head of Collection Care at the Government Art Collection

The Government Art Collection promotes British art and plays a key role in British cultural diplomacy. Works of art from the Government Art Collection are displayed in UK Government buildings in nearly every capital city, making it the most dispersed collection of British art in the world. The Collection is committed to broadening public access and engagement through digital platforms and partnerships across the UK.

Episode 18 – If those walls could talk…

Podcasts are published by TLP for the purpose of encouraging informed debate on the legacies of the events surrounding the Lausanne Conference. The views expressed by participants do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of TLP, its partners, convenors or members.

CREDITS: Large Dining Room at H. M. Ambassador’s Residence, Ankara (Feature image). Works of art are copyright of the artist and images are Crown Copyright: Government Art Collection.

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