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. We publish a blog showcasing latest art historical research, and organise internal work-in-progress meetings and public events at the Courtauld. 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 a public seminar on Black Masculinities and Contemporary Art in Britain. We also collaborated with the Courtauld BAME Society to host a panel on Decentring Whiteness: A Platform for Intersectional Conversation; and with Glasgow School of Art/Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art to hold a lecture by artist susan pui san lok. 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
susan pui san lok: seven x seven – Courtauld x GSA x GI2021, 2021
‘seven x seven’ marks the Scottish exhibition debut of London-based artist susan pui san lok, bringing together new commissions and existing work across installation, sound, film and text, for Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art 2021. The exhibition focuses upon the artists’ enquiry into witchcraft, gender and persecution via themes of voice, memory, remembrance and resistance. Presented as a collaboration between the Courtauld and The Glasgow School of Art, this artist talk will discuss the artists’ presentation for Glasgow International 2021, and her 2019 exhibition ‘A COVEN A GROVE A STAND’ at Firstsite, Colchester. A limited edition multiple with texts from curators Mother Tongue and Dr Alexandra Kokoli will be launched as part of this event.
susan pui san lok is an artist and writer based in London. Exhibiting and publishing since the mid-1990s, her practice-research projects range across immersive installation, moving image, sound, performance and text, evolving out of interests in archives, memory, nostalgia, amnesia, diaspora, displacement and translation. She studied BA Fine Art and MA Feminism and the Visual Arts at the University of Leeds, going on to complete a PhD at the University of East London with Aavaa, the African and Asian Visual Artists Archive. Selected solo exhibitions include: A COVEN A GROVE A STAND, Firstsite, Colchester (2019); RoCH Fans & Legends, CFCCA, Manchester (2016) and QUAD, Derby (2015); Faster, Higher, MAI, Montreal (2014) and BFI Southbank Gallery, London (2008); Golden (Lessons), Beaconsfield, London (2006) and Golden, Chinese Arts Centre, Manchester (2005). Selected group exhibitions include: Rewinding Internationalism, Van Abbemuseum (2022, forthcoming),
Diaspora Pavilion, Wolverhampton Art Gallery (2018); Diaspora Pavilion, 57th Venice Biennale (2017); Asia Time, the 1st Asia Biennial and 5th Guangzhou Triennial (2015-2016); Everything Flows, De La Warr Pavilion (2012); and Cities on the Move, Hayward Gallery (1999). Publications include: visual/text essays, book chapters, journal articles and several artist books and multiples, of which seven x seven (2021) is her seventh. She is currently Professor in Contemporary Art and Director of the Decolonising Arts Institute at UAL.
Mother Tongue was founded as an independent curatorial project in 2009 by Tiffany Boyle and Jessica Carden. Based out of Glasgow, they have since produced exhibitions, film programmes, discursive events and texts, working both locally and further afield. They have worked in partnership with organisations including CCA Glasgow, National Galleries of Scotland, Stills Gallery, Edinburgh Printmakers, LUX Scotland, and Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art. They have undertaken guest residencies with organisations spanning CCA Glasgow; Galerie de l’UQAM Montreal; Fresh Milk Barbados; and VideoCLub, and are part of the organisation cohort behind the 2017 and 2019 Tilting Axis Caribbean Fellowships. They were the first independent curators to be awarded an Art Fund New Collecting Award in 2018, for their ongoing ‘AfroScots’ project, mentored by Prof. Lubaina Himid CBE. Independently receiving PhDs from Birkbeck (Tiffany) and the Research Centre for Transnational Art, Identity and Nation (TrAIN), UAL (Jessica) respectively, Tiffany is now based at The Glasgow School of Art and held a Hauser & Wirth Institute NY Postdoctoral and Senior Scholar Fellowship 2019-20, researching pivotal shifts in the practice of seminal Caribbean artist Donald Locke through the 1970s.
Decentring Whiteness: A Platform for Intersectional Conversation, 2021
This event features three distinguished art historians, Michael Ohajuru, Marenka Thompson-Odlum, and Jasmine Chohan, to discuss race and art history from their own perspective or in relation to their work. Organised with Courtauld’s BAME Society, the event seeks to bring attention to personal experiences and art historical approaches of scholars of colour. During the event, the panelists will highlight paths and methodologies that senior scholars have taken in the academy, as well as their limitations. The conversation will be useful for anyone interested in discussions around decolonising art history and decentring whiteness in the discipline.
Michael I. Ohajuru is a Senior Fellow of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies with honours degrees in Physics (Leeds, 1974) and Art History (Open University, 2008). He retired in 2014 after a twenty-five-year career holding senior positions in international sales and marketing in the data and mobile communications industry, he lives in South London with partner the artist Ebun Culwin. He blogs, writes and speaks regularly on the black presence in Renaissance Europe, he has spoken at the National Gallery, Tate Britain, British Library, National Archives and the Victoria Albert Museum on the subject. Founder of Image of the Black in London Galleries a series of gallery tours highlighting the overt and covert black presences to be found in the national art collections in London. He is the Project Director and Chief Evangelist of The John Blanke Project: a contemporary Art and Archive project celebrating John Blanke the Black trumpeter to courts of Henry VII and Henry VIII. Michael is the co-convener of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies What’s Happening in Black British History series of workshops fostering a creative dialogue between researchers, educationalists (mainstream and supplementary), archivists and curators, and policy makers, now it its fifth year having held 10 workshops. He is also co-convenor of the Institute of Historical Research Black British History seminar program and a founder member of the Black Presence in British Portraiture network, managing their podcast – The BP2 Podcast
Marenka Thompson-Odlum is a Research Associate at the Pitt Rivers Museums and a doctoral candidate at the University of Glasgow. Her doctoral research explores Glasgow’s role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade through the material culture house at Glasgow Museums. At the Pitt Rivers Museum, she is the researcher on the Labelling Matters project, which investigates the problematic use of language within the museum spaces and ways of decolonisation through re-imagining the definition of a label.
Jasmine Chohan is an Associate Lecturer and a final-year PhD student at the Courtauld Institute of Art. She specialises in Contemporary Cuban Art, Global Biennials, Contemporary Asian Art and Contemporary British Diaspora Art. Having first studied Cuban art at the San Alejandro School of Fine Arts in Havana, Jasmine later completed a course in Art History at the University of Havana in 2015. She continued her work in Cuba by working as an artistic producer and translator for the 12th Havana Biennial.
More recently, Jasmine has been researching the history of British Diaspora artists. She has been collaborating with groups such as Southall Resists, the 1989 Collective and the Brilliant Club’s Scholars Programme to reach out to secondary schools in outer London boroughs to ensure the dissemination of this pertinent history to the next generation. To reinforce this work, Jasmine has recently collaborated with the Arts Cabinet to write the introduction to their upcoming publication on Art and Migration.
Black Masculinities and Contemporary Art in Britain, 2021
How has contemporary art reimagined Black masculinities in Britain? The Courtauld’s Gender & Sexuality Research Group welcome Dr Alice Correia (Independent) and Dr Elizabeth Robles (Bristol University) to speak about their research into gender, race and visual culture (followed by a Q&A).
Dr Alice Correia, ‘From Social Problem to Superhero: Some Thoughts on Black Masculinity in the 1980s and 90s’
In his 1991 exhibition catalogue, Step into the Arena: Notes of Black Masculinity & The Contest of Territory, Keith Piper wrote an incisive essay identifying a series of stereotypical tropes that framed the representation of Black men during the 1980s. I will consider Piper’s essay and the hyper-visible blackness of public figures including Lenny Henry, in relation to the work of Piper and Donald Rodney. I will then consider how Piper’s observations might contextualise Chris Ofili’s Captain Shit series made in the late 1990s.
Dr Elizabeth Robles, ‘Space and Stereotype: Faisal Abdu’Allah’s I Wanna Kill Uncle Sam Cause He Ain’t My Mutherfuckin’ Uncle (1993)’
Produced in collaboration with the London-based rap group Scientists of Sound, Faisal Abdu’Allah’s 1993 series I Wanna Kill Uncle Sam Cause He Ain’t My Mutherfuckin’ Uncle plays with the tensions of space, place, self-representation and stereotype. In this session, we will consider the ways in which Abdu’Allah draws on the early 1990s Trans-Atlantic hip hop scene to interrogate the construction of the racist spectre of the violent, young black man.
Dr Alice Correia is an independent art historian. Her research examines late twentieth-century British art, with a specific focus on artists of African, Caribbean, and South Asian heritage. She is currently Research Curator at Touchstones Rochdale, working on a major project examining the exhibition programme of Rochdale Art Gallery during the 1980s; is undertaking a Decolonising the Archive Research Residency at University of the Arts Decolonising Arts Institute, examining the archival trace of South Asian women artists; and is Chair of Trustees of Third Text and co-Chair of the British Art Network’s Black British Art Research Group. Her articles and reviews have appeared in Art History; British Art Studies; and Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art.
Dr Elizabeth Robles is a researcher and Lecturer in Contemporary Art in the History of Art Department at the University of Bristol. She is particularly interested in the formation of ideas around “black art” across the twentieth century and is currently a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow working on a project entitled “Making Waves: Black Artists & ‘Black Art’ in Britain from 1962–1982”.
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.