Follow, share and connect through art
Exchanges of ideas, values, traditions and other aspects of culture or identity are examples of cultural diplomacy. These exchanges help strengthen relationships with other countries and in doing so, enhance social and cultural cooperation. This work is a portrait of the Qajar ruler, Fath’Ali Shah by Ahmad, currently on display in the British Embassy in Tehran. In 1810, this Iranian ruler with his exceptionally long beard and ‘wasp-like waist,’ granted permission to the first British Ambassador to Iran, Sir Gore Ouseley, to establish the British Embassy in Tehran. Although that building no longer exists and was been replaced with a new one in the second half of the 19th century, Ahmad’s painting is an eloquent reminder of the long association between the two countries. Its installation in 2019 in the British Embassy in Tehran is even more meaningful today: having been restored after witnessing the 2011 attack on the Embassy when the two countries broke off diplomatic ties. These were resumed 2016, and the portrait of Fath’Ali Shah now carries a new layer of history within the cultural and diplomatic relations between the UK and Iran.
Join the Collection’s historical curator, Laura Popoviciu, as she looks at the art in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London and considers what the Collection tells us about Britain’s diplomatic story in the world.
The ability to persuade through culture, values and ideas as opposed to military might is called soft power. American political scientist Joseph Nye, one of the first to define soft power in this way, had a strong influence on the Clinton and Obama administrations in the USA and ideas of soft power are taking increasing precedence all over the world. Britain’s GREAT campaign and China’s Confucius Institutes are examples of soft power in action.
By Laura Popoviciu, Historical Curator, Government Art Collection.
Tim Hitchens was Britain’s Ambassador to Japan from 2012–2016 and during that time, the Collection worked with him to curate new displays of art for the Embassy and Residence in Tokyo. In this interview from 2015, he reflects on the role that art played in diplomacy, on his watch.
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