CFP: Northern Ireland’s Feminist and Queer Art Histories

Call for Papers – Online Conference – January 21st 2022 

Keynotes: Dr Fionna Barber (Reader in Art History in the Manchester School of Art) and Emma Campbell (Activist/Artist/Academic and member of Array Collective).

How has feminist and queer art and visual culture challenged Northern Irish society since 1968? The period is one in which wider political developments relating to gender and sexuality evidence both the challenges that women and LGBTQ+ people have faced in gaining equality and the energy of groups that fought for it. Complicating much of the current discourse around Northern Irish art after 1968, which is often dominated by examinations of the impact of ‘the Troubles’, this symposium seeks to nuance this discussion by highlighting the complex and various approaches to political art making that formed a significant part of Northern Irish practice. Whilst not discounting the importance of the conflict, this symposium considers the ways in which attention to gender and sexuality can help us rethink the writing of Northern Irish art history.


The period since the late ‘60s has been one in which activism has led to social and legislative change. In the 1970s Cara-Friend provided LGBTQ+ counselling, information and social space; while the Northern Ireland Gay Rights Association lobbied for the decriminalisation of homosexuality. The law changed in 1982 after a European Court of Human Rights ruling brought by activist Jeff Dudgeon, but it wasn’t until 1991 that the first Gay Pride took place in Belfast. Social changes have at times been met with backlash: for example recorded homophobic hate crime and domestic violence rose after the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. Legislation has often been implemented by Westminster rather than politicians at Stormont: the 2004 Gender Recognition Act, Civil Partnerships in 2005, same-sex marriage in 2019. Although the UK Parliament decriminalised abortion in Northern Ireland in 2019, Stormont has refused to provide services.

Responding to this changing political landscape, sexuality and gender came under scrutiny of artists working and exhibiting in the North of Ireland. Feminist and queer practitioners made work that examined existing ideas of femininity, heteronormativity, and historical ideas of gender globally and in Northern Ireland, challenging conventions and proposing new ways of thinking. Through publications such as Circa, galleries and spaces such as Art and Research Exchange and The Orchard Gallery, and in activist groups like the Northern Irish Women Artists’ Action Group, a dialogue around the specific experience of women and LGBTQ+ people living in the North of Ireland developed, one that was informed by wider feminist and queer movements, both activist and artistic. Fuelled by a culture of artistic exchange that saw Northern Irish artists working internationally and international artists developing and exhibiting work in the North of Ireland, a conversation around gender and sexuality emerged in practice, criticism, display and arts activism.

We invite contributions that examine work created by artists working in the North of Ireland and Northern Irish artists, and exhibitions, publications and material culture during the late twentieth century and up to the present day, that relate to gender and sexuality. These might include but are not limited to:

  • Activist groups and artist collectives
  • Brexit and borders
  • Race and imperial legacies
  • Ecology and landscape
  • Sex and desire
  • Murals and public space
  • Museums and heritage organisations
  • Film and TV
  • Class and capitalism
  • Occultism and the supernatural
  • Science fiction and technology
  • Moral panics and apocalypticism
  • Gothic bodies and non-humans
  • Psychoanalysis and violence
  • Craft and material culture

Please send a short bio with proposals of no more than 300 words for 20-minute papers to by Monday 13th December. The conference will take place online, hosted by The Courtauld Institute of Art, on January 21st 2022. The event has been co-organised by Anna Liesching and Clare Gormley of the Northern Irish Art Network in collaboration with Edwin Coomasaru and Rachel Warriner of the Courtauld’s Gender & Sexuality Research Group.

Red ink drawing of a landscape
Ursula Burke, After Jan Frans Van Bloeman, from the series Arcadian Landscape, 2014, Indian Ink and Gouache on Fabriano Paper, 22cm x 14cm.