Gender and Sexuality Group
The Courtauld’s Gender and Sexuality Research Group brings together scholars to investigate the ways in which feminist and queer politics have shaped or been shaped by visual culture. Alongside internal work-in-progress research workshops, in 2020 the group hosted a seminar on feminist histories of blood and a lecture by Turner Prize winner Tai Shani on feminism’s occult imagination. The 2021 programme featured lectures by Turner Prize Winners Lubaina Himid and Helen Cammock, as well as an upcoming public seminar on Black Masculinities and Contemporary Art in Britain. We also host a blog, commissioning and publishing the latest research by art historians on gender and sexuality. The group aims to promote feminist and queer approaches to art history at the Courtauld and beyond, offering a space to share new scholarship and exchange ideas.
Convenors: Dr Rachel Warriner and Dr Edwin Coomasaru
Black Feminist Vision: Artist Lubaina Himid, 2021
One of Britain’s most important and celebrated artists and curators, Turner Prize Winner Professor Lubaina Himid CBE has spent decades exploring the politics of race, gender and class. Early works like sculpture We Will Be (1983) or mural Justice, Unity, Equality, Freedom (1985) proclaim confident Black figures in dialogue with Black history, culture and resistance movements: mixing together visions of the past and potential futures to proclaim in a vital vision. Himid’s practice is keenly attuned to the ways in which contemporary politics continue to be shaped by or draw energy from colonialism and struggles for liberation. In the sculpture Toussaint L’Overture (1987), a portrait of the 1791-1804 Haitian Revolution leader is collaged together with current-day newspaper coverage of racist violence – accompanied by the caption: ‘this news wouldn’t be news if you had heard of Toussaint L’Overture’. Alongside her artmaking, Himid’s curatorial practice also had a huge impact on art history: exhibitions including Five Black Women (1983) at the Africa Centre, Black Woman Time Now (1983) at Battersea Art Centre, and The Thin Black Line (1985) at the ICA.
In her painting Between the Two My Heart is Balanced (1991), two Black women sit in a boat with a stack of navigation charts between them. The work reimagines James Tissot’s Portsmouth Dockyard (c.1877) in which a Highland Sergeant sits between two white women he is picking for a romantic partner. In Himid’s reinterpretation, her figures tear up the navigational charts and throw the pieces overboard, in what the artist described as a “call to arms”. The artist’s revolutionary images are also accompanied by and interlinked with demands for historical justice. Her sculptural installation, Naming the Money (2004) responds to the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century practice of wealthy white portraits accompanied by Black servants or enslaved people. In Naming the Money these figures are stripped of their white masters, and together form an army or a collective imaginatively standing together. Portraits of enslaved people also adorn Himid’s series of painted antique porcelain, Swallow Hard: The Lancaster Dinner Service (2007), exposing how the economics of slavery underpinned British society and culture.
Himid’s practice insists that racism is not just the preserve of the conservative right, but is as much a part of liberalism: her series Negative Positives: The Guardian Archive (2007-15), painted newspaper pages draw attention to the portrayal of Black people in the British press. Considering how the legacies of slavery and colonialism are still ongoing in the present, historical violence sometimes haunts Himid’s subjects. Her work Le Rodeur: The Exchange (2016) responds to the murder of enslaved people on a French slave ship in 1819 – drowned because they were considered no longer profitable after contracting an eye disease. The painting portrays a series of Black figures, one with a bird’s head, who gather in an abstract interior overlooking the sea: a surreal and speculative vision of otherworldly times and places or possible futures to come. Following exhibitions at Modern Art Oxford, Spike Island and Nottingham Contemporary, Himid won the 2017 Turner Prize, and will be holding a major retrospective at Tate Modern in 2021.
Professor Lubaina Himid CBE (b. Zanzibar, 1954) lives and works in Preston, UK, and is Professor of Contemporary Art at the University of Central Lancashire. She is the winner of the 2017 Turner Prize. Himid has exhibited extensively in the UK and abroad. In 2021 Himid will present a major monographic exhibition at Tate Modern, London. Significant solo exhibitions include Spotlights, Tate Britain, London (2019); The Grab Test, Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem, The Netherlands (2019); Lubaina Himid, CAPC Bordeaux, France (2019); Work From Underneath, New Museum, New York (2019); Gifts to Kings, MRAC Languedoc Roussillon Midi-Pyrénées, Sérignan (2018); Our Kisses are Petals, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead (2018); The Truth Is Never Watertight, Badischer Kunstverein, Karlsruhe (2017); Navigation Charts, Spike Island, Bristol (2017); and Invisible Strategies, Modern Art Oxford (2017).
Selected group exhibitions include Frieze Sculpture, London (2020); Risquons-Tout, WIELS, Contemporary Art Centre, Brussels (2020); Slow Painting, Hayward Touring UK travelling exhibition (2020); En Plein Air, The High Line, New York (2019–2020); Sharjah Biennial 14, UAE (2019); Glasgow International (2018); Berlin Biennale (2018); The Place is Here, Nottingham Contemporary, UK (2017); Keywords, Tate Liverpool (2014); and Burning Down the House, Gwangju Biennale (2014). Her work is held in various museum and public collections, including Tate; British Council Collection; Arts Council Collection; UK Government Art Collection; Museum Ludwig, Cologne; Victoria & Albert Museum, London; National Museums Liverpool; Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; and Rhode Island School of Design, Providence. A monograph, titled Lubaina Himid: Workshop Manual, was released in 2019 from Koenig Books.
Images of Feminist Resistance: Artist Helen Cammock, 2021
How have images shaped, and been shaped by, feminism? Turner Prize Winner Helen Cammock’s work considers how photography and film are implicated in the politics of resistance and protest – asking whose voices are marginalised from history, who speaks on behalf of whom and on what terms. Her 2018 video, The Long Note explores the role of women in the civil rights movement in Derry/Londonderry in 1968 at the beginning of the ‘Troubles’ (1968-98) – a civil war between Republicans, Loyalists, and the British state over whether or not Northern Ireland should remain part of the UK or form a united Ireland. Weaving together contemporary interviews with archive footage, The Long Note examines and challenges the social norms about gender and conflict – reflecting on a society in violent transition at a time both when the peace process is fraught with uncertainty and feminist activism has transformed Northern Ireland in recent years.
Helen Cammock is one of the four awarded artists of the Turner Prize 2019: the artists requested for the prize to be shared as a symbol of solidarity at a time of global political crisis. She was awarded an MA in Photography from the Royal College of Art in 2011, and studied photography at the University of Brighton (2008) as well as sociology at the University of Sussex (1992). Awarded the 2018 Max Mara Prize, she has recently exhibited work at Wysing Art Centre, Cambridge (2020); Turner Contemporary, Margate (2019); Whitechapel Gallery, London (2019); Somerset House, London (2019); Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin (2019); Void, Derry/Londonderry (2018).
Feminism’s Occult Imagination: Artist Tai Shani, 2020
Why has the occult become such an important image for fourth–wave feminism? Turner Prize Winner Tai Shani’s work presents a profound and complex investigation into the relationships between feminism, magic, and time. Her performance-installation DC: Semiramis (2018) adapted poet Christine de Pizan’s feminist text The Book of the City of Ladies (1405). The book builds an allegorical city for notable medieval women, blurring fact and fiction in its historical narrative. Shani uses Pizan’s work as a point of departure, to imagine an alternative past and construct a possible post-patriarchal future. The title of her work, DC refers to ‘dark continent’: an allusion to psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud’s description of female sexuality. Thinking of time in non-linear ways, DC: Semiramis probes and pushes ideas and experiences of femininity – to both critique current gender norms and structures, and radically reimagine them.