‘What a World!’ A creative look at Penrhyn's collection and the culture of colonialism

What do a glass dome full of stuffed birds, Chinese wallpaper, blackout poetry and an ancient sculpture of an Egyptian god have in common?

What a World! exhibition on the ground floor opens daily from 7 September from 10am-4pm (last entry 3pm). Please follow social distancing guidelines. 

When we reopen the castle, these pieces and others will be showcased as part of a spectacular new creative experience at Penrhyn Castle - inspired by a group of local school children.

Since 2018, Shaza, Fatimah, Leon, Adam, Abhay, Victoria, Julia, Alice, Khalid, and Zahraa from Our Lady’s Primary School in Bangor have been coming to Penrhyn Castle to look at our collection and the castle's links to colonialism and the transatlantic slave trade.

Books featured in the What a World exhibition at Penrhyn Castle

The children worked with historians Marian Gwyn and Dr Corinne Fowler to examine and research objects in the collection that speak to our colonial past before teaming up with poets Martin Daws and Aneirin Karadog, to write creative responses to the objects they chose and the stories they discovered.

What a World! is their creative take on the objects and their history - presented through poetry, lights, colour and sound.

" I’ve been amazed at how powerful, poignant and refreshing their work is. It has inspired us to look at Penrhyn differently and to display these important objects and paintings which used to be easy to miss. We can't wait for people to experience the collection and our history in a new light."
- Eleanor Harding, 'What a World!' Curator

Eleanor Harding, Curator of ‘What a World!’, explains what people can expect:

“It’s a chance to celebrate these pieces as extraordinary items in their own right, but also a chance to reflect upon another aspect of their story.”

“We hope it will allow people to interact and think about the collection in a different way. “

The experience also had a profound effect on the children. During a recent presentation at Bethesda Rugby Club, Leon reflected upon what they learnt and why looking at these objects and Penrhyn Castle in a world context was important:

“It’s important to talk about these objects because it’s everybody’s history. It’s dark, unpleasant and brutal. Take the Bird Dome, they’ve taken something beautiful and treated it as if it was not living, as if it was property. This castle is beautiful, these objects are beautiful, but they come from cruelty, some of them come from cruelty to enslaved African people.

“Writing these poems has made me reflect and think back on the story of Penrhyn. I’m not a very emotional person to tell the truth but it is important to think about our past and other people’s past, why does this castle exist?

“We need to look at the beauty of the past but also recognise our mistakes and build a better future. Why make the same mistakes again?”

The exhibition is part of a wider project 'Beyond Penrhyn' that begins to change the way we look at our history, how it is presented and the way we work with our communities to do so.