Open Courtauld Hour

Open Courtauld Hour: Indecent Exposure?

Thu 4 Mar, 2021

Join The Courtauld on the first Thursday of the month at 20.00 for our fourth online series, ‘Open Courtauld Hour’.

The Courtauld is home to numerous depictions of women historically labelled or deemed courtesans, prostitutes and night-walkers — women of disrepute painted as sexually and/or morally dubious. This Open Courtauld Hour will ask if it is in fact women’s ‘indecent’ exposure, in other words their nudity, that provides legitimised ‘slut-shaming’ in traditional art historical dialogues. We will question why these images of naked women are sanctioned as ’Fine Art’, appropriate and un-bashfully displayed in family-friendly spaces, yet some images of naked women are censored from these places, and beyond, due to assumed ‘overt-sexuality’ and ‘pornographic’ content.

It could be said that ‘sex sells’ exhibition tickets, yet art history has been prone to sanitise the interpretation and display of female bodies. The splendour, the misery and the ambivalent status of the women who pop-up frequently in art history is still too often framed as a signpost to their overarching oppression and lack of voice and choice — essentially the exploitation of artist and viewer. In these modes of thinking, there is little room to recognise women’s sexual agency and power. When you look outside the white-masculinist-western canon, unclothed does not necessarily point to frailty. The female gaze and the harnessing of female erotic power is prevalent and celebrated in art from around the world (both historic and contemporary).

In this hour, we are teaming up with Rosumund Garret (Associate Curator of European & Decorative Arts, Memphis Brooks Museum of Art), Heather Nickels (Joyce Blackmon Curatorial Fellow in African American Art and Art of the African Diaspora at Brooks Museum of Art), Kate Lister (Founder of Whores of Yore, author of ‘A Curious History of Sex and Lecturer in the School of Arts and Communication at Leeds Trinity University) and Imma Ramos (Curator of the South Asia collections at the British Museum and lead Curator of ‘Tantra: enlightenment to revolution’) and more to lay bare the contradictory, complex and challengeable shame and stigma associated with some representations of nude females and not others.


This online mini series will provide concise one hour packages of pop-up talks, performances and in detail object study sessions that explore and celebrate our collection, research in art history, curation and conservation.

The series will touch on pertinent issues — magnifying contemporary thinking in society through the field of art history. These episodes will explore how the public, artists and galleries are adapting to a digital world, showcasing art historical research in light of this global pandemic and providing a platform for creative practice in the age of social distancing.

Most importantly, as art is relevant to all, these informal sessions will give attendees the chance to access, engage and read art and art history through a different lens— revamping and rethinking art historical discussions through retelling hidden stories. These episodes will platform new perspectives, new ways into art practice, looking at art and reading its history through themes that impact us all.