British Art News: Newsletter of the British Art Network, April/May 2021

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BRITISH ART NEWS

Newsletter of the British Art Network | April/May 2021


The British Art Network (BAN) promotes curatorial research, practice and theory in the field of British art. Our members include curators, academics, artist-researchers, conservators, producers and programmers at all stages of their professional lives. All are actively engaged in caring for, developing and presenting British art, whether in museums, galleries, heritage settings or art spaces, in published form or in educational settings, across the UK and beyond.

Cover image: John Mallord William Turner, Fishing Boats Bringing a Disable Ship into Port Ruysdael, Tate

CONTENTS 1.

Convenor’s Introduction

4.

Contacting BAN

5.

BAN Administrator

6.

Events

10.

BAN Research: Beth Hughes on Working Class British Art

11.

BAN Steering Group

19. Comment: Hassan Vawda on sacred spaces and museum spaces 22.

Interview: Deborah Cherry and Alexandra Kokoli on feminism, British art, diaspora.

29.

About the cover image: Ashokkumar Mistry on writing disability into art history

The British Art Network is supported by Tate and the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, with additional public funding provided by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.


CONVENOR’S INTRODUCTION The texts assembled in this issue reflect discussions involving the British Art Network team over the last months, undertaken with members, bursary holders, within our Steering Group – whose current members are introduced below – and with others beyond the Network...

Sometimes informal, sometimes organised as consultations, many of these discussions have been prompted by our commitment to become more representative and equitable as an organisation. These conversations often ended up going in unanticipated directions. Talking about race and representation led to debate about what constitutes the curatorial; addressing LGBTIQ+ inclusion ended up with a discussion about digital culture; thinking together about identity led to a reflection on the hazards of social media; observations about cultural criticism provided insights into the economics of publishing and the censorious power of commercial galleries. Reporting here on the activity to date of the new research group on British Working Class Art, Beth Hughes registers how immediate and necessary the consideration of race and disability was in connection with social class, all topics which became the focus of their first session. Hassan Vawda and Ashokkumar Mistry offer perspectives on British art across history, asking provocatively how and why the lived experience of religious commitment and of disability, respectively, have been so often ignored. In a joint interview, Deborah Cherry and Alexandra Kokoli reflect on the multiple intersections of gender, ethnicity and class in the work of Tracey Emin, offering thoughts about the work of cultural analysis and the legitimacy and limitations of the category of British art. All these various contributors are addressing things which have been overlooked, overshadowed, underplayed or actively rejected, and the litany of topics touched on here – class, religious diversity, disability and ethnicity – might inflame anyone intent on claiming ‘anti-woke’ credentials. But what these pieces make clear, individually and collectively, is that these topics are far from ‘marginal’. They are not being imported into or imposed upon mainstream/legitimate/ established British art studies. Instead, they take us to the heart of the matter. Thinking about neurodivergence and disability among artists over history raises a vital question: if such differences are such a prevalent feature of creativity – as emerging work from the RCA cited by Ashokkumar suggests – then do we need 1


to rethink, even turn upside-down, what is considered ‘normal’ in the art world? Faith commitments might be generally excluded from museum experience and from established ways of talking about art, but arguably structure both in fundamental ways. If working class people face demonstrable struggles to find a place in the art world, is it also the case that the history of British art is peppered with narratives of artists overcoming disadvantage and achieving creative glory – from Turner, our cover artist, the Cockney son of a Covent Garden barber, through to Tracey Emin, whose personal experience, as Deborah and Alexandra note, has been lingered over relentlessly and sometimes sensationally. It is perhaps harder to argue that the idea of the working class or excluded artist is so marginal; rather, the opposite appears to be the case. All these contributions are evidently intended as pieces of criticism, although what that means in the context of the British Art Network is open to debate. In a meeting (not related to BAN) I attended recently, the chair observed at one point that two quite different ideas of being ‘critical’ were in play as the discussion unfolded – one centred on the issue of reputational risk, where criticism was taken to mean attack; the other deriving from art-school practice, and the ‘crit’ in particular, and meaning something more open-ended, non-judgmental and exploratory. In fact, these two positions were set out by individuals who are part of the same, high-profile, art institution, so this certainly wasn’t a simple matter of being inside/outside the establishment. In their joint interview, Deborah and Alexandra comment that being ‘critical’ means a ‘combination of being both indepth and independent’, and entails ‘investigative engagement’ which necessarily involves a degree of distance and reflection. With such definitions in play, the question of independence, or critical autonomy, is clearly a live one for BAN. The Network itself enjoys institutional support, from the Paul Mellon Centre and Tate, and has received funding from Arts Council England. Many of our members are currently in, or have held, positions in institutions, or are otherwise dependent upon them. Yet I’ve repeatedly heard from members how the Network’s value is that it allows time and space away from work pressures and institutional settings to think and exchange thoughts. An assertion from Sara Ahmed may be pertinent here: ‘We need space that is not designated as institutional space to be able to talk about the problems with and in institutions’. Ahmed was interrogating the institutionalisation of ‘diversity and inclusion’, but the point surely has even wider application? There is a further, foundational thought which has stuck in the back of my mind: that to achieve real insight, the ‘critic of culture must both participate in culture and not participate’ (Adorno). Just because of the name, if nothing else, the category of ‘British Art’ is inevitably brought into play in relation to any BAN activity. But it is perhaps not the situation that it is something we have either to believe (patriotically or nostalgically) or disbelieve, support or attack, 2


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identify with or oppose, in a categorical fashion. In the last newsletter I alluded to the philosopher Bernard Yack’s reflections: ‘Community’ he suggests, ‘involves awareness of difference as well as commonality. In other words, communities are composed of individuals who focus their attention on something that bridges, rather than erases, their differences’. What Yack was navigating was a productive position between the stark poles he observes in existing notions of collective identity: on the one hand, the idea of community as categorically, unavoidably based in inherited identity (ethnic, national or religious); on the other, an alternative idea of civil society as an artificial product of a contractual agreement, entered into voluntarily by self-defining individuals with differences of background and identity suspended. Professional associations, like BAN, may be the obvious example of the latter. But Yack’s suggestion is that the distinction is not so clear-cut. The bridges and connections suggested in the various contributions to this newsletter, all bringing a critical perspective to bear on the institutions of British art and all responding to current and emerging discussions within the membership, may reflect how the British Art Network as a whole may take shape as a community precisely because it is critical, precisely because it encompasses differences, and keeps actively in play a critical awareness of those differences.

I c e g s o Y e t t A

Martin Myrone Convenor, British Art Network mmyrone@paul-mellon-centre.ac.uk

T g c w e N u E

O n D a m e k a f 3


CONTACTING BAN For comments, suggestions and proposals for the British Art Network Newsletter, and for events or news for our mailings, you can email: BritishArtNews@paul-mellon-centre.ac.uk For membership and other enquiries, email: BritishArtNetwork@tate.org.uk You can also contact the British Art Network team directly. With the appointment of Danielle Goulé as Administrator, the British Art Network now comprises a dedicated team of three based at Tate and the Paul Mellon Centre: Martin Myrone, Convenor, British Art Network, Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art mmyrone@paul-mellon-centre.ac.uk Jessica Juckes, Coordinator, British Art Network, Tate jessica.juckes@tate.org.uk Danielle Goulé, British Art Network Administrator, Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art dgoule@paul-mellon-centre.ac.uk

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BAN ADMINISTRATOR I have just joined the BAN as Administrator based at the Paul Mellon Centre, so you will be probably be receiving emails some from me over the coming months. I’m delighted to be joining the BAN team this exciting moment with so many events in the pipeline and I’m looking forward to learning more about all the work that is being carried out by our members and collaborators. Prior to joining BAN, I studied for a BA in Fine Art with Art History at the University of Leeds, and a MFA in Craft (specialising in ceramics) at the Academy of Art & Design, Gothenburg University. I have a background of roles within the gallery context, including a Curatorial Internship at the University of Leeds Fine Art Project Space. Recently I have been working as a Studio Assistant for Rochester Square, a ceramics studio and events space in Camden, and as Administrative Assistant for CANOPYCollections, a curatorial project which sells contemporary artworks through seasonal collections. I have a background working with arts networks and so I understand how valuable they can be for their members. In 2015 I co-founded Nocturne, a support network for art students and artists in Leeds at various points in their professional trajectories. The project was formed with the goal of increasing collaboration between the city’s art schools, studios and institutions and our programme included regular group-crits, exhibitions, and seminars to encourage the cross pollination of ideas between participants. By running Nocturne, I was able to witness the potential for ideas and projects to be accelerated though collaboration and I am certain I will have the privilege of experiencing more of this through my work with BAN. Danielle Goulé BAN Administrator dgoule@paul-mellon-centre.ac.uk

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EVENTS

7 May: British Landscapes Virtual tour of Natural Encounters at Leeds Art Gallery 10:00–11:30, online. Drawing from Leeds Art Gallery’s rich collection, Natural Encounters explores the many different strategies artists have used to approach, interpret or respond to nature. During this event, Dr Laura Claveria, co-curator of the exhibition will be live in the galleries and will lead a tour via Zoom. This will be followed by a discussion of themes raised by the exhibition and Q&A. The event will be quite informal and open to all and offers a much-missed opportunity to venture inside a physical exhibition. Book via Eventbrite here 11 May: British South-Asian Visual Art Post Cool Britannia The Body, the Home of Unseen Landscapes George Chakravarthi, Jai Chuhan and Alia Syed 18:30–20:00, online. This event looks at the placement of the diasporic body within the traditions of Western European art. Three artists share their depictions of the ‘other’ through painterly surfaces, deteriorated celluloid film and the photographic male nude. We enter pictorial spaces of displacement and ownership, offering alternate narratives through the gaze, mudras and fabric. Book via Eventbrite here 6


27 May: Working Class British Art Network The City in British Art 14:00–16:00, online. Online event exploring interpretations of The City in British Art. The Research Group will be circulating booking details for the event to its members shortly. To enquire about joining the group, please contact WCBritArt@gmail.com 27 May: Race, Empire & the Pre-Raphaelites Artists in Dialogue: Contemporary responses to nineteenth-century art, design and Empire 10.30–12:00, via Zoom How are contemporary artists of colour engaging with nineteenth-century art, design and Empire in their practice? What are the challenges, potential and limitations of displaying contemporary artists’ work to challenge racism and colonial violence in historic collections? This online event will feature presentations by artists Sunil Gupta, Belinda Kazeem-Kaminski, Farwa Moledina and Bharti Parmar, followed by structured discussion in breakout rooms. The Research Group will be circulating booking details to its members shortly. To enquire about joining the group, please contact Race.Empire.PRB@gmail.com Coming up in summer 2021… Irish Modernism seminar series, led by CCA Derry~Londonderry BAN supported seminars Dates tbc Itinerant Imaginaries seminar series, led by Creating Interference in association with CREAM (Centre for Research and Education in Arts and Media), University of Westminster Dates tbc

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BAN RESEARCH WORKING CLASS BRITISH ART ‘There is no such thing as a working-class curator,’ a gallery director said to me not long after starting in my role at the Arts Council Collection …

This isn’t true. There are a vast amount of talented and insightful workingclass curators all over the UK. Nevertheless, the fact that this opinion was held by a person in a position of power was telling. In that moment I didn’t have a response, I didn’t have the evidence to hand or the argument ready to reply. Last year a key text was published that provided the statistical evidence behind what many in our sector have felt to be true. In Culture is Bad For You (Manchester University Press, 2020), Orian Brook, Dave O’Brien and Mark Taylor showed that our cultural industries are heavily skewed in favour of middle-class people. It also outlines how this is reflected in visitor demographics, showing that attending art galleries is very much a minority pursuit appealing primarily to those who are already advantaged. What I was looking for was about the visual art, and artists in particular. But with this book I felt I now had a solid foundation to show a gap in research which needed addressing. When I saw the call-out for new Research Groups from the British Art Network, I posted on the Museum as Muck Facebook group asking, ‘does anyone agree this is needed?’ ‘shall I go for it?’ The response was overwhelmingly positive. Founded in 2018, Museum as Muck is an activist network supporting workingclass museum professionals and advocating for social change within the sector. As BAN asked for a partner organisation, they were the natural choice and I was delighted when their founder, Michelle McGrath, agreed to collaborate on the Group. The decisions arts organisations make are powerful. They shape history and when looking at our public collections, we see society’s inequalities reflected. Who gets an exhibition, what works are purchased, and whose voices are validated dictates whose history is deemed worthy of historicising. If workingclass artists are under-represented, we only have a partial view of what life is like for so many and if this isn’t addressed then the gap between the art we care 8


for and the audiences we seek to engage widens, and the case for the arts in general becomes weaker. By building a picture of how our cultural institutions represent working-class identities we can ensure stories told through British arts organisations include the perspectives of working-class artists, adding to complex and contested notions of national identity. From education to early career opportunities, gallery representation and ‘ways in’ to public ownership, artists from working class origins have less exposure to the social currency needed to advance their careers. Calling yourself an artist in the first place may be a challenge for those from working class backgrounds. We are often told that things are improving but progress is slow. But are things improving? Neo-liberalism suggests that moving ‘up’ class strata is what we should aim to do. This research network starts with the premise that progression in the arts means a shift towards including more working-class perspectives to more closely reflect the demographic of the UK. There are two key aims to this research network: 1. To promote and lead research around work by artists from working class backgrounds 2. To support arts organisations to adequately care for and present work by artists from working class backgrounds Overall, we want to see more paid opportunities for artists from working-class backgrounds come out of the work we do. What I have found both daunting and encouraging in equal measure is the openness many have shown in sharing information about their backgrounds. In some of the conversations I have had, I have witnessed people reflect on their earlier lives and how it has shaped who and where they are today. While I found the research around working-class British art fairly sparse, what I did find tended to be centred on white, male, heterosexual, able-bodied artists. This Research Group needed to be intersectional in its approach to ensure it was contributing to the wider movement to dismantle discriminatory power structures. In our first event artist Elsa James spoke directly to the insidiousness of classism intersecting with racism, and how for black people to approach something like a level playing field we are not just talking about working twice as hard but more like 14 or 15 times harder. Aidan Moesby, an artist, activist and curator, spoke in no uncertain terms on how our structures are not fit for the purpose of nurturing the talent of someone from a working-class background living with a disability, and that it was the duty of those with agency to make the changes. Many media outlets would have us believe that there is one working9


class identity: we are here to say that working-class culture is rich in its diversity. Its exploration is long over-due. The first event was held in February 2021 and it was really designed to test the water and get the conversation going, I was blown away by the response. Following the event, I have had many fruitful conversations from those wanting to get involved, hear more, drive it forward. On a personal level this encouragement has been invaluable. One person even said to me ‘I’d stuff envelopes for this it is that important.’ The second event will take a different approach. We will be holding an open call for speakers who identify as coming from a working-class background to speak to a more universal theme, not directly about class itself. Artists can often be pigeon-holed into talking about a particular element of their identity when what is needed to balance the conversation is input from a broad range of people about all facets of modern life. Social class isn’t straightforward. Debates rage on around how it the concept is applied, whether we live in a meritocracy and whether social mobility actually exists or is a myth that helps preserve the status quo. That the ways class-based discrimination operates in our arts organisations is rarely spoken about suggests that it benefits some to keep the conversation underdeveloped. To quote feminist sociologist, Prof. Beverley Skeggs: ‘class is a shorthand word for understanding power and inequality. Those with power claim class doesn’t exist, they have a natural right … It is our challenge to keep it on the agenda.’ Beth Hughes is Curator at the Arts Council Collection based at Southbank Centre. Beth’s curatorial practice balances the fundamental belief in the importance and power of public collections with a dedicated commitment to collaboration, access, equality and diversity. Since joining the Arts Council Collection Beth has curated the touring exhibition, Criminal Ornamentation: Yinka Shonibare MBE curates the Arts Council Collection alongside advising on a number of exhibitions across the country as part of the exhibition loan programme.

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STEERING GROUP The BAN Steering Group provides oversight on the BAN programme, membership and other activities. It serves as a sounding-board for new proposals from the BAN team and assesses bursary applications on an annual basis. The Group provides a forum for reporting and assessing activity across the network and makes recommendations for making BAN more inclusive and representative in its programme, membership and organisational structures. The Steering Group includes representatives from Tate and the Paul Mallon Centre, the current and previous Emerging Curators Group, and at least 8 other members representing a range of experience and interests, serving 2-year terms (renewable up to 4 years). Chaired by Alex Farquharson, Director of Tate Britain, and Mark Hallett, Director of Studies at the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, the Steering Group meets three times a year. With seven new members joining in March 2021, we take this opportunity to introduce the Steering Group. Cora Gilroy-Ware is currently a Lecturer in the History of Art department at the University of York. In her academic work she is committed to reversing the gaze to look critically and objectively at the Western art historical canon, focusing in particular on the classical body and its status, over time, as a false universal. Her first book The Classical Body in Romantic Britain was selected as one of Marina Warner’s Books of the Year in the Times Literary Supplement. She has curated exhibitions at Tate Britain and the Huntington European Art Gallery, and written for the London Review of Books, art-agenda, the White Review, Apollo, and X-Tra Contemporary Art Quarterly. She is also a practicing artist. Cora joins the Steering Group in March 2021 Dorothy Price is Professor of History of Art at the University of Bristol, where she was a founder member and the inaugural Director of the Centre for Black Humanities. She is editor of Art History journal, where she is currently finalising a special issue co-edited with Venice Biennale 2022 British Pavilion artist, Professor Sonia Boyce RA OBE on the theme of Rethinking British Art. Black Artists and Modernism and a special issue with Imogen Hart (Berkeley) on the theme of British Art and the Global. Price is currently curating a show on German Expressionist women artists 11


for the Royal Academy of Arts, London; she has written for the forthcoming Freelands Award exhibition catalogue on the work of Veronica Ryan, is a consultant for New Walk Gallery Leicester and serves as a Trustee of the Holburne Museum Bath and Spike Island, Bristol, where she also sits on the Academic Advisory Board and Exhibitions Committee of the Royal West of England Academy. Price is widely published in the areas of both British art and German modernism through the lens of race, sexuality, gender, with a particular focus on artists who identify as women. Books include Representing Berlin (2003); Women the Arts and Globalization (with Marsha Meskimmon) (2013), After Dada (2013) and Chantal Joffe: Personal Feeling is the Main Thing, which she also co-curated as an exhibition with Joffe for The Lowry, Salford in 2018. Her most recent collaboration with Joffe, Chantal Joffe. For Esme - with Love and Squalor was curated for Arnolfini Arts in Bristol in 2020. Dorothy was a member of the Steering Group 2019-21 and is renewed for a further 1 year term. Emily Pringle trained originally as a painter and worked for several years as an artist, educator, programmer, researcher and writer. She joined Tate as Head of Learning Practice and Research in 2010, with a responsibility to develop practice-based research across the Learning department. In 2018 she stepped away from Tate for a year to undertake an AHRC Leadership Fellowship and research and write on research in the art museum. The publication that emerged from this – Rethinking Research in the Art Museum (Routledge, 2019) - interrogates how research can support museums to situate themselves as sites of knowledge co-production. In 2019 Emily was appointed Head of Research at Tate. Emily is an existing member of the Steering Group, and in 2021 is the nominated Tate Representative.

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Professor Fiona Kearney is the founding Director of the Glucksman, an award-winning contemporary art museum on the campus of University College Cork that promotes the creation, understanding and enjoyment of art. In this position, she has curated numerous exhibitions of Irish and international art, with a particular emphasis on how contemporary art practice relates to research directions within academic discourse. Recent exhibitions include Circadian Rhythms: Art and biological time, The Parted Veil: Commemoration in Photographic Practices, PRISM: the art and science of light, and Outposts: Global borders and national boundaries. Kearney has published widely on contemporary art and photography, and throughout her career has received several distinguished awards including the NUI Prix d’Honneur from the French Government, a UCC President’s Award for Research on Innovative Forms of Teaching and the Jerome Hynes Fellowship on the Clore Leadership Programme. She is an assessor on the Museum Standards Programme of Ireland, and a board member of the Irish Architecture Foundation, VISUAL Carlow, Cork Midsummer Festival and Cork Chamber of Commerce. She is a member of the Irish Museums Association, ICOM, IKT, Universeum, and AICA. Fiona was a member of the Steering Group 2019-21 and is renewed for a further 1 year term. Lauren Craig (She/her/hers) is a social-media shy, internet-curious cultural futurist based in London. Her practice as a polymath draws on her experiences as an artist/curator and researcher. She has founded and directed six creative organisations with a background in ethical, social and environmental entrepreneurship and reproductive justice. Her work as a full spectrum doula and celebrant add to her interest in contemporary celebration and commemoration. She is driven by a desire to build, collaborative and caring experiences and ethical cultural memory. Inspired by archives, lived experience and futurity 13


her practice transverses performance, installation, experimental art writing to moving image and photography. Recent screenings include the CCA Goldsmiths (2020), Tate Britain (2019) and talks at Tate, British Art Network (2020). She is currently co-curating a Rita Keegan survey show, Between There and Here (South London Gallery 2021). She has written an experimental essay, A journey Through Knowing MIT Press (2021) She has an MA in Enterprise and Management for Creative Arts from the London College of Communication, University of the Arts London (2007). She is currently completing Syllabus VI an alternative MA jointly delivered by Eastside Projects, INIVA, Studio Voltaire, Spike Island and Wysing Arts Centre.

Photo: Matthew Arthur Williams

Lauren is the Emerging Curators Group representative for 2021.

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Marcus Jack (he/him) is a curator and art historian based in Glasgow and working predominantly with the moving image. He is currently completing an AHRC-funded PhD at The Glasgow School of Art investigating the histories of artists’ moving image in Scotland and is the editor of DOWSER (2020–), a new quarterly publication series on the same field. In 2015, he founded Transit Arts, an organisation for the support of artist-filmmakers working through public programmes and experimental publishing, and has developed projects with partners including Alchemy Film & Arts, ATLAS, CCA Glasgow, Document Film Festival, the Goethe-Institut, Glasgow Short Film Festival and Tyneside Cinema. He is a Research Associate at LUX Scotland and recently coordinated the nationwide Margaret Tait 100 centenary programme (2018–2019). He has sat on the submissions viewing panels of Open City Documentary Festival, London (2019–2021) and Glasgow Short Film Festival (2016–2020). Jack’s writing has been published by ICA London, MAP Magazine and Videoclub. He is a trustee of Glasgow Artists’ Moving Image Studios, a charitable organisation seeking to bring the historic Govanhill Picture House into reuse as a bespoke studio, production and exhibition facility.


Marcus represented the Early Career Curators Group on the Steering Group in 2019-20, and is the Emerging Curators Group Continuity Representative for 2021. the underrepresentation of CEE artists in British creative economy. Miles Greenwood was appointed Curator of Legacies of Slavery and Empire at Glasgow Museums in September 2020. His role involves planning and coordinating Glasgow Museums’ approach to addressing the legacies of slavery and Empire. Miles studied for an MA in Heritage Studies at Newcastle University, where he focussed on the role of PanAfricanism in the decolonisation of the British Empire through a study of the Fifth Pan-African Congress in Manchester. He then returned to his home city of Manchester to take a research job with the cultural audience research agency, Morris Hargreaves McIntyre. Building on his work in audience research, he was appointed Visitor Studies Officer at the Paisley Museum as part of their redevelopment project team, before taking up his current role with Glasgow Museums. Miles joins the Steering Group in March 2021 Pauline de Souza is the founder and director of Diversity Art Forum, which is now in its 16th year as an art funding organisation, nationally and internationally, that involves working directly with organisations on projects as well as providing funding. Recently she has been working with the Beacon Collective and Black Funding Group on philanthropy development. She is a Senior Lecturer at the University of East London in the Visual Arts Department, where she works with all creative areas in programming/ curating the Cultural Manoeuvres Programme, as well as working with Fine Art and Graphic Design students. She is a Fellow of the Advance Higher Education Academy. The Advance Higher Education Academy is a British professional accredited membership scheme for those who provide evidence of excellence in learning and teaching in Higher Education. She sits on the University of East London Equity, Inclusion and Diversity Committee.

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Pauline joins the Steering Group in March 2021 Reyahn King became Chief Executive of York Museums Trust in 2015 and is responsible for the strategic leadership of the Trust including its three museum venues: York Castle Museum, Yorkshire Museum and York Art Gallery. Reyahn joined York Museums Trust from Heritage Lottery Fund where she had been Head of HLF West Midlands and was previously Director of Art Galleries at National Museums Liverpool and before that Head of Interpretation and Exhibitions at Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery. Reyahn began her career as a curator of art with a specialism in British 18th century art and has produced ground-breaking exhibitions including Ignatius Sancho at the National Portrait Gallery, Anwar Shemza at Birmingham and Aubrey Williams at the Walker Art Gallery. Reyahn has been a trustee of New Art Exchange in Nottingham. She is currently on the Boards of Crafts Council and Culture Perth and Kinross. Reyahn joins the Steering Group in March 2021 Richard Sandell (he/him) is Professor of Museum Studies and Co-Director of the Research Centre for Museums and Galleries (RCMG) at the University of Leicester. Through RCMG he works collaboratively with cultural institutions on projects that generate new insights and advance thinking and practice around their social roles, responsibilities and agency. Recent collaborations have shaped major new gallery developments – such as Being Human at the Wellcome Collection in London - and large national public programmes such as Prejudice and Pride with the National Trust. In 2017 he published Museums, Moralities and Human Rights (2017) which explores how museums, galleries and heritage sites of all kinds – through the narratives they construct and publicly present – contribute to shaping the moral and political climate within which human rights are experienced, continually sought and fought for, realised and refused. In 2019, he published a major new international edited collection 16


– Museum Activism, with Robert Janes, that explores the ‘activist turn’ in museum thinking and practice and makes the case for the socially purposeful museum. Richard joins the Steering Group in March 2021 BAN’s Emerging Curators Group Umulkhayr is also a member of Black Curators Collective, a collective of Black women and non-binary curators working across the UK. Sarah Turner is an art historian, curator and writer. She is Deputy Director for Research at the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art in London, which is part of Yale University, and has taught art history at the University of York and the Courtauld Institute of Art. Sarah is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. She is co-editor of British Art Studies, an award-winning digital arts publication, and the co-writer and co-host of the Sculpting Lives podcast. A full list of Sarah’s publications, exhibitions and projects are listed at https://www.paul-mellon-centre.ac.uk/about/ people/sarah-victoria-turner Sarah is an existing member of the Steering Group. In 2021 she is the nominated Paul Mellon Centre Representative. Sophia Yadong Hao is a curator, writer and editor who situates the curatorial as a mode of critical inquiry directly engaging with culture and the political as an open question. Hao has curated contemporary art projects internationally, notably NOTES on a return (2009), a recontextualisation of performance art from 1980s Britain; Studio Jamming: Artists’ Collaborations in Scotland (2014); Of Other Spaces: Where Does Gesture Become Event? (2016–2017) that evokes the ethos of feminism for an alternative politics in culture and society; and CURRENT: Contemporary Art from Scotland (2015–2021), an exhibition programme in China interrogates contemporaneity in a global capitalist context. Hao is the founding editor of the art journal &labels. Her publications include Of Other Spaces: Where Does Gesture Become Event? (2019), Hubs and Fictions: On Current Art and Imported Remoteness (co-edited with Edgar Schmitz, 2016), A CUT A SCRATCH A SCORE (2015) and NOTES on a return 17


(2010). Hao is a member of Art 360 Advisory Group, and a member of Live Art Sector Review Steering Group (ACE). Hao is currently Director & Principal Curator of Cooper Gallery, DJCAD, University of Dundee.

Photo: Rachel Cherry

Sophia is an existing member of the Steering Group and is renewed for a further 1 year term. Tony Heaton OBE is a practising Sculptor, Chair of Shape Arts and Consultant/Advisor to many major cultural organisations, including: The British Council, Tate and the Research Centre for Museums and Galleries. He is the initiator of NDACA – the National Disability Arts Collection and Archive. https://the-ndaca.org/. His sculpture, Gold Lamé, recently occupied The Liverpool Plinth and is currently installed at the Riverside Museum, Glasgow. His ‘Monument to the Unintended Performer’ was installed on the Big 4 at the entrance to Channel 4 TV Centre in celebration of the 2012 Paralympics. His sculpture ‘Squarinthecircle?’ is situated outside the school of architecture, Portsmouth University. He was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours, 2013, for services to the arts and the disability arts movement and has an Alumni Award from Lancaster University and honorary Doctorates from both the University of Leicester and the new University Bucks. www.tonyheaton.co.uk Tony joins the Steering Group in March 2021

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COMMENT A DEFICIENCY IN LIVED DIVINITY IN FRAMING BRITISH ART For the better part of a year, public museums and art galleries have been ghostly, empty shells. The public collections of art are archived in stasis on the very walls they were installed upon for display ...

Since the 2000’s, flexing to various political trends and the consequential injections/cuts to public spending in the arts, our public collections and the art sector have attempted to identify themselves as ‘essential’ in numerous ways: the arts are essential to wellbeing, essential to community building, essential to society; our museums and galleries are civic spaces where all should be represented. Yet, since we entered a pandemic polity in which decisions about what remains open and what is forced to close rests on the assessment of what is ‘essential’, they have been closed. Shut for the better part of 2020, public art museums are now pushed to the back of the queue. In England for instance, they are classed alongside saunas and after non-essential retail in their right to reopen in 2021. I have been observing the strife dealt to the art museum alongside the way places of worship have been treated and have responded since the start of the pandemic1. Their services never slowed down despite the buildings being closed in the first lockdown. In fact, faith communities increased activity in many instances2. By the end of the year, as we entered the second national lockdown, See Hassan Vawda, ‘Museums must go further if they want to be seen as “temples of the secular”’, Museums Journal. https://www. museumsassociation.org/museums-journal/ opinion/2020/06/01062020-museums-gofurther-temples-of-the-secular/. Published June 1, 2020. Accessed December 28, 2020; Hassan Vawda, ‘Closed Museums, Open Churches: what is essential in a pandemic?’ Religion and Collections blog. https://religioncollections. wordpress.com/2021/03/06/closed-museumsopen-churches-what-is-essential-in-apandemic/. Published March 6, 2021. Accessed March 26, 2021.

Rasheed Araeen, Bismullah 1988. Tate T06986 © Rasheed Araeen

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All-Party Parliamentary Group on Faith and Society. Keeping the Faith: Partnerships between Faith Groups and Local Authorities during and beyond the Pandemic (2020). 2

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Arthur Hacker, The Annunciation, 1892.. Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

‘Places of Worship’ were given exemption – the only public spaces individuals could travel to for public (Covid-19 safe) congregation in many parts of Britain. In 2021, we have had open mosques, synagogues, temples and churches, but not a single public art museum. This fact is profound, not just in reflecting what is deemed essential to society in this pandemic polity, but as a reflection of the schism between religion, as a lived reality in society and how this reality is present (or not) in the way we consider, research, and engage with British Art history today. Religion in British Art is often reduced to the bare fact of its historical ties, more specifically its historical ties to Christendom. As Neil McGregor stated in the Foreword to 2000’s ‘Seeing Salvation’ exhibition at the National Gallery, ‘all great collections of European painting are inevitably also great collections of Christian art’3. It is a matter for historical records, for archives and art history. Religion is the past, with secularization supposedly at the heart of modernism. Whilst this sacralization of secularization has been debunked in most disciplines, art history has yet to wrestle with a postsecular reality of religion and belief as lived, everyday experience. The discipline of art history and criticism, particularly within a British context, has not developed ways to interrogate not just the transfer of Christian art into what become the foundations of many collections, but the way the experience of art today derives from the shift in Europe from a Christian worldview to the secular civilizing worldview4. Taking the icon from the church, placing it in the art museum is an attempt to have the best of both worldviews, flattening the perception of religious authority but at the same time aiming at a profound sense of transcendence. In this lack of engaged literacy, art history and criticism has created what I think of as a deficiency in lived divinity in the discussion of religion within 3 Neil MacGregor. ‘Introduction’ in G. Finaldi, ed. The Image of Christ: The Exhibition Catalogue for Seeing Salvation, London: National Gallery Company Limited 2000, pp. 6-8. 4 W.D. Mignolo, The Darker Side of Western Modernity: Global Futures, Decolonial Options, Duke University Press 2011.

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the institutionalization of art in Britain. There are attempts to address this, drawing upon the Christian historiographies that are baked into our institutionalization of art. But many attempts to engage with religion in the context of art in Britain are blinded by Christian socialization. Religion and Christianity are as a result often used interchangeably, without any real interrogation of how the term ‘secular’ is conceptualized within the arts. This leaves a fractured engagement with religion, exposing a lack of depth in thinking about religion and belief outside of the framework of Christianity in a British context. What is this deficiency in lived divinity limiting? Or more significantly, who and what is being excluded? As the pandemic polity has emphasized, religion and belief are central to society, central to many communities – ‘essential’ in many peoples’ lives, ‘essential’ even to the politics of Britain. Maybe addressing this deficiency in lived divinity can help place collections of art back in churches – and in turn mosques, synagogues, and temples across the United Kingdom - finding a renewed purpose that helps make the case for the essential place of art in society. To start this, the institutionalization of art in Britain needs a true reckoning, in coming to terms with its exclusion of lived religion and the potential this holds. Do the themes covered in this article connect with your research and experience? How should BAN address the historically overlooked interconnection of faith and art history? Contact: Hassan hassan.vawda@tate.org.uk and/or Martin Myrone, BAN Convenor mmyrone@paul-mellon-centre.ac.uk Hassan Vawda is a researcher and practitioner in culture change, participatory practice and fragmented histories in arts, culture and museum spaces. He has curated and produced projects for Tate, INIVA, Barbican amongst others, alongside working closely in non-institutionalised forms community centred art practice. In 2017 Hassan was awarded an Aziz Foundation scholarship to develop ideas, trial projects and complete an MA in Anthropology and Community Development (Goldsmiths, University of London) around inclusion/exclusion within the cultural sector and ways of connecting with faith communities. He is currently an AHRC Doctoral Researcher at Tate and Goldsmiths, looking at the role of religion, belief and secularism in staff, audiences and programming in the British Art museum - looking particularly at the way the experiences of Muslims in Britain considered. @hassanevawda

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INTERVIEW DEBORAH CHERRY AND ALEXANDRA KOKOLI ON FEMINISM, BRITISH ART, DIASPORA Deborah Cherry is Professor of Art History and Theory at the University of the Arts London. She writes on contemporary and historical art. Her publications include Painting women: Victorian women artists (1993), Beyond the frame: Feminism and visual culture, Britain 1850-1900 (2000) and Maud Sulter: Passion (2015).

Alexandra Kokoli is Senior Lecturer in Visual Culture, Middlesex University London and research associate at VIAD, University of Johannesburg. Her publications include contributions to Companion to Feminist Art (2019) and Companion to Textile Culture (2020), and the monographs From the Freud Museum 1991–6 by Susan Hiller (Tate in Focus, 2017), and The Feminist Uncanny (2016). She is currently Leverhulme research fellow for a project on art and visual activism at Greenham Common. Here, Deborah and Alexandra discuss with BAN Convenor Martin Myrone their recent co-edited book, Tracey Emin: Art Into Life (Bloomsbury, 2020), and the intersections between British art history, curating, feminism and diaspora. MM. The book you have recently co-edited, Tracey Emin: Art Into Life foregrounds the intersectional aspects of the artist’s performed identities, including that involving her Turkish Cypriot heritage. It asserts, therefore, a crossing or connecting of feminism, British art and diaspora which hasn’t perhaps been much in evidence, at least in relation to British artists with a ‘mainstream’ presence like Emin. Would that be fair to say, and if so, what has prevented such discussion being more apparent previously? AK: There are many reasons why Tracey Emin has rarely been discussed as an artist of colour and of the diaspora, although she has repeatedly stated that she is descended from enslaved Sudanese people on her father’s Turkish Cypriot side and Roma on her mother’s side. While her art and writing are interpreted as neo-expressionist outpourings, she is simultaneously taken at face value and not 22


believed. Our book argues that such contradictions are commonly experienced by womxn artists and artists of colour, including much less ‘mainstream’ or ‘successful’ ones than Emin, which is why although the book focuses on one prevalent artist its contents explore the intersections of contemporary art, gender, class, and ethnicity. On the other hand, Emin’s success by commercial art world standards means that writing on her work is kept under strict control. DC: As Alexandra explains, Tracey Emin’s reputation is closely managed by her dealers through their support for and publication of approved books and catalogues by approved authors who are granted exclusive access to the artist in her various domains. This ensures that commercially-successful narratives remain in place. Over-interpretation of Emin’s creative practice as neo-expressionist revelation diverts attention from more complex issues such as class, ethnicity, race, diaspora. Alev Adil’s essay in our collection is the first in-depth exploration Emin’s Turkish-Cypriot heritage: her essay provides a subtle and delicate unpicking of an often-neglected yet once seen highly visible presence in Emin’s art and writing. Although much has been written about Emin’s personal trauma as a teenager and young woman, Jo Heath’s chapter offers the first sustained discussion of the artist’s approaches to motherhood, pregnancy, abortion and childlessness. Our collection looks at largely unexamined areas such Emin’s early years or the misogyny that underpins some criticism, alongside in-depth examination of her artistic strategies, agile multi-media exchanges and the materiality of her practice – several chapters offer detailed study of individual works of art. MM. The contributors brought together for Tracey Emin: Art Into Life come from museum and university settings, and several are described as ‘independent’, which can cover all sorts of circumstances – but together they represent the range of positions that people working in British art studies might occupy. The publisher’s blurb notes of the collection that while Emin is well known, her work has not received the critical attention it merits. What do you feel is most necessary, in terms of resources and working situation, to make the criticality manifested in the collection possible? AK: I don’t believe that most of our contributors think of themselves as working within British art studies, although their interests and expertise include art practices in Britain. I don’t consider myself to be a British art studies scholar either, although living and working in Britain as an immigrant from Southern Europe inflects my work in multiple ways. By ‘critical’ we mean that combination of being both in-depth and independent: our book does not aim to promote the artist’s work and is not endorsed or supported by the artist’s studio or gallery, although we received some invaluable guidance from the artist’s studio, especially Harry Weller, for which we’re grateful. As for depth, in the case of an artist who is assumed to ‘tell all’, consistently and compulsively, we’ve taken 23


Cover design by Tjaša Krivec

the route of reflecting on and problematising the emblems of that immediacy, such as autobiography (Alev Adil; Mark Durden), performativity (Camilla Jalving), and authenticity (Glenn Adamson), while Jo Heath uncovers the ways in which media cathexis on fixed narratives of Emin’s life makes them inattentive to the artist’s complex reflections on sexual and reproductive life cycles. DC: The book brings together a multiplicity of voices and points of view about contemporary artistic practice, acknowledging the strength and significance of those who speak and write outside as well as within academia. Criticality entails investigative engagement. Mark Durden, Alev Adil and Glenn Adamson interrogate philosophical and theoretical concepts of authenticity and debates about auto-fiction to examine these strategies in Emin’s art and writings. Camilla Jalving takes up theories of performativity to examine the contradictions of the artist’s myriad stagings of her ‘self’. Gill Perry’s essay offers lengthy feminist reflection on philosophical concepts of dwelling to discuss Emin’s many works that feature huts. These essays disconnect and estrange Emin’s art from the seductively-familiar confessional readings to offer more dense, more complex analysis. Perry addresses trauma, a familiar theme in Emin literature, to offer new reflections on disturbance and uncertainty. MM. While you both hold academic appointments and publish academic scholarship, you have also engaged in curatorial projects and produced exhibition catalogues. What is your experience of working between the academy and museum or gallery? In the past, these contexts have been opposed (almost as ‘theory’ is opposed to ‘practice’): does that still hold? And what is the role of the art school in the pursuit of art history and criticism now? AK: My experience of exhibition-making is limited, although the curatorial encompasses more than that. My approach to art history changed dramatically from working in art schools and teaching aspiring artists and art professionals rather than art historians. In my experience, artists are almost always interested 24


in art by others, not just contemporary art either, but that’s not the same as being invested in the discipline of art history. Survey courses don’t meet the brief, although these are being largely abandoned in the discipline of art history as well. And in my research, although I continue to engage with critical theory and philosophy, I approach art practices and visual activism as thought-and-feeling in material form. And let’s not forget that all writing, including academic writing, is a form of practice unavoidably shaped by affect. In her contribution to our book, Gill Perry interweaves philosophical and artistic reflections on dwelling(s), making it very clear that the two are in a dialogue of equals in both nuance and insight. A bit like Emin’s ‘revelations’, the recognition that art practice is an intellectual endeavour, among other things, is simultaneously taken for granted and ignored. We award PhDs for art practice while at the same time casting some artists into the mould of idiots-savants. I have written about Emin’s designation as a ‘postmodern primitive’ and its intersectional implications beyond the artist herself. Emin and her celebrity have been weaponised in the resurgence of the reactionary right across politics, culture, and civil society, as I explore in my contribution to the book. DC: For feminism and art histories, so many important interventions have come about in the synergies between academia and museums, independent curators and artistic practice. In the 1970s and 1980s, little known, then unknown works, by womxn artists came to visibility and interpretation through ground-breaking publications such as Griselda Pollock and Rozsika Parker’s Old Mistresses, exhibitions such as Linda Nochlin and Anne Sutherland Harris, Women Artists, 1550-1950, or Das Verborgene Museum in Berlin started in 1986. In these same decades Black womxn artists and activists opened galleries, curated exhibitions, wrote key papers and catalogues, created events and platforms, set up publishers to counter the white exclusivity of the mainstream art establishment and white feminism. Lubaina Himid’s Thin Black Line (ICA, 1985) was a landmark. Black students then testified to the lack of teachers of colour in British art schools and universities. Although there have been appointments, there remains a strong need for many more womxn of colour in education, for more action to come out of the talking about racism and decolonising the curriculum. We hope that our supportive publishers, Bloomsbury, will take the bold step of issuing the book in paperback so students and a wider readership can enjoy a more critical engagement with Emin’s art. MM. What are your thoughts about the state of the political project of art history, as a form of cultural criticism? Does the discipline have any life left in it, given the prominence of other disciplinary perspectives and, perhaps especially, the moral authority granted to many contemporary artists in exploring urgent political questions? Why look at historic art at all? 25


AK: The present political moment presents a tremendous opportunity for art history to rebrand itself as a discipline with substantial cultural relevance as well as potential for social engagement and even change. We live in a time when protest and activism are predominantly visual and are not only shared online but sometimes take place in social media -- social media is the medium. Art history has also a very important contribution to make to campaigns for the removal of monuments by exploring how frequently public monuments and public art have been opposed and the creative ways in which public dissent has been expressed, including ‘drowning’. Of course none of this is new: feminist art history has always described the field as a discursive space where the roles of both ‘art’ and ‘artist’ were continuously renegotiated and redefined. More like a public square for agonism than an art gallery for quiet contemplation! DC: The concerns that prompted our book are part of and indebted to intersectional studies and attention to diaspora in recent art history. Dr Alice Correia’s research on ‘Articulating British Art Histories’, the major project on Black Artist and Modernism led by Professor Sonia Boyce, the transformations to Art History with the editorship of Professor Dorothy Price and the recent bursary awards of the BAN are changing the field. MM. What about the relationship between art history and contemporary practice more specifically? I ask this particularly of Deborah, whose scholarly works has ranged from Pre-Raphaelite art to the present day. Looking at your extensive published output gives the impression of passages or segues between the art history of historic art, feminism and diaspora. To what extent has there been continuity between the work of the 1990s and the work you are doing now, or have there been, instead, ruptures or even self-revision? DC: What connects Alexandra and I are long-standing interests in art made by womxn. A contemporary artist, Maud Sulter, challenged me to write about her work and the art of womxn of colour when I was curating Painting Women at Rochdale Art Gallery in the later 1980s. And moving to University of the Arts was transformative. Contemporary practice is closely connected to the art of the past. While Tracey Emin is routinely positioned as ’neo-expressionist’, Emin is deeply aware of and refers to a much wider range of historical art as the distinguished artist and print-maker John White (who taught Emin at Maidstone) points out in his essay on her early work. It is White’s careful, patient looking based on his own deep understandings of the making of art that reveals an extensive tissue of art historical reference in Emin’s art.

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AK: I was very fortunate to have Deborah as my PhD supervisor at the University of Sussex in the early 2000s, who introduced me to intersectional feminist art history. My earlier training was in comparative literature, so Deborah’s version of art history always seemed ground-breaking and urgently political to me, entirely free from the staid associations against which the discipline is still fighting. As a teacher, one of the first things I try to do is highlight that most of the art practices of modernity were pitched as interventions within the history of art as it was understood in their time, if not always vanguardist breaks with it. It is difficult for anyone new to art history to conceive of an artwork that they’re accustomed to seeing on tea towels and biscuit tins as revolutionary at the time of its making, the fate that Walter Benjamin did not experience but foresaw and against which he argued in his famous essay on reproducibility. As for selfrevision, I tend to think of most scholarly work along these lines, with every new article or book reflecting, building, and hopefully improving on the previous one. It is not always as explicit as revising a specific piece of writing, although it’s interesting to note that three of the chapters in Tracey Emin: Art into Life are revisions and expansions on previously published work (Mark Durden’s, Deborah’s and mine), while Jo Heath undertakes the essential work of updating and complicating narratives of reproductive femininity in reference to an artist who is now in middle age and child-free. Revisions may become necessary for obvious reasons for researchers who work on active artists, but they are also suggested by changing social contexts, changes of mind, and generative encounters. MM. In thinking about addressing art critically, in an interrogative mode, is the category of British art helpful in any way, or is it, with its many negative or exclusionary connotations, only limiting? AK: It is not a category that I often use as I am not sure that it best describes the range of art practices in this part of the world, from my perspective. I find it both narrow and vague, and in many cases simply not pertinent. On the other hand, conveying the conditions under which art is practised, shared, and discussed can be useful: I see a lot of North London in the work of my students, for example, in the built environment, the ways they inhabit it and how they move through the city, but aspects of their postdigital and often diasporic experience also come through in varying degrees and in different ways. When art institutions employ the term ‘British art’, they don’t always do it because they’re convinced of its currency but because it holds a place in the taxonomies in which they still operate. Using the term ‘British art’ also frames discussions within a history that requires on-going interrogation. Some of the activities of the British Art Network test and question Britishness, including the Britishness of ‘British art’, and even aspire to overhaul the taxonomies to which it belongs and which it helps maintain.

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DC: Our collection is critically engaged with investigations of the national and transnational across Europe and globally. What it means to identify and to be identified as British is under intense pressure. The challenge is to sustain and advance projects that examine the role of slavery or imperialism in Britain’s histories and heritage, despite distracting controversies. And to value womxn’s lives more than the survival of statues and to work to ensure that creative practice and creative agency by womxn are investigated and conserved for the future.

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JMW Turner, Fishing Boats Bringing a Disabled Ship into Port Ruysdael exhibited 1844. Tate N00536. Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

ABOUT THE COVER IMAGE

WRITING DISABILITY BACK INTO ART Over the past few years I have been writing about arts and disability through the magazine Disability Arts Online and in particular about how disability is understood in the arts … In this time, standout moments for me have been the realisation of the massive presence of people with disabilities who strive to have creative careers, the tiny numbers of people with disabilities that make up the workforce and the lack of mention of disability across arts collections and in galleries. Many of the existing narratives relating to disability orbiting the arts were framed around disability as a blight on an individual without which, so much more could be achieved. My experience was to the contrary because, as an artist with dyslexia and ADHD, my so-called disabilities can be seen instead as the momentum for my creativity. However, this narrative was and remains absent in collections and galleries. In some ways, the lack of interest in my work I have encountered, mirrors a lack of 29


interest in disability in art writing overall. Look through art collections and one will find few references to disability and the few that are present depict people with disability as either the subject of a portrait with (as in Estado de Garcia, 1998 by Andrew Hay) or as people suffering (as in The Cripples, 1949 by Laurence Stephen Lowry). The word disabled also crops up in a number of paintings depicting ships which sustained damage in war by a number of artists. One such example is Fishing Boats Bringing a Disabled Ship into Port Ruysdael, c. 1840 by JWM Turner. One of the most disturbing depictions of disability I have found in a book, Essays on Physiognomy. The plate is titled Outlines of Twelve Faces of Mentally Disabled People, According to Lavater. With the image, one will find a quote from Lavater’s book in which he explains that the: experienced observer will easily distinguish, in this series of faces, some idiots naturally such, and others who probably became so by the effects of disease or some accident. This passage and its inclusion in the Wellcome Collection and Art UK’s website is probably the closest one will get to a serious debate into the depiction and absence of disability in British art. Disability is seldom mentioned let alone debated within collections as artist and curator Aidan Moseby found out in his study of art collections titled Disability vs Dogs. In his work, Moesby used search facilities in a number of collections to measure the occurrences of the word ‘disabled’ against other words one would assume Thomas Holloway, Outlines of Twelve Faces of Mentally Disabled to be irrelevant to the arts such as People, According to Lavater c. 1789. Wellcome Collection https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/outlines-of-twelve-faces-of‘dogs’. The point of Moesby’s work mentally-disabled-people-according-to-lavater-239873/search/ was to draw heads out of the sand keyword:disabled/page/2 and encourage a conversation around how we see disabled artists and people in general. At times it feels as though curators and archivists don’t want to talk about disability. However, through conversations with a number of curators (disabled and non-disabled) I have found that the problem could be that art collections and the arts institutions that use those collections simply don’t know how to talk about disability beyond the same few tropes.

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Let’s examine Lavater’s quote again – ‘ … some idiots naturally such and others who probably became so by the effect of disease or some accident’. This line in particular attempts to reductively place ‘Mentally Disabled People’ within a stratification that compares them against what is believed to be a normal or perfect person. Although this quote is around two centuries old, the lack of disabled artists in the sector and the lack of narratives around disability in collections suggests that our valuing of disability in the context of art has not changed much. My challenge to major art collections is to see disability or difference as a catalyst for the creative journey of some artists rather than something that holds us back. In other words, we need to understand the connection between the thing that makes one different to others and find a language to speak of that in a positive frame. Look through art history and one will find many artists - including British artists who possessed characteristics that we would class at disabilities. Moreover, these characteristics will also be found to be connected to the artists creativity - the thing that gives them an edge. A great example of the link between disability and creative outlook is Donald Rodney, whose work can be seen to encode and in a cryptic way, comment on traits of his disability. Rodney’s approach to digital media and electronics can be seen to push him to reach beyond the diagnosis of a low life expectancy and mobility problems. A prime example is JMW Turner whose work was examined by consultant ophthalmic surgeon James McGill in 2003. In the study, McGill examined Turner’s spectacles and use of colour and found that Turner was probably partially colourblind and could have had a degenerative eye disorder that changed the way he saw the world. Lucy Jones is another example of an artist whose creative output connects directly to her disability. Jones’ approach to colour composition and the fluidity of her work can be connected to her unique insights as a person with a disability. Each brushstroke inscribes the intellectual stride between her thoughts and movements. What curators really need is the new vocabulary and understanding to bring disabilities to the fore as positives without painting an individual as a superhero. I have tried approaching a number of galleries and collections to help me undertake this work. However, there is little response or interest in this way of seeing disabilities. I would argue that this is vitally important in order to enable people with disabilities to see value in themselves and more broadly to understand creativity as something as organic and evolutionary as human beings themselves. In my hundreds of conversations with artists over the years, the single factor that I have seen repeatedly is a need by artists to hide or mask their disability in case their peers interpret them as flaws. Being disabled is seen as something to be 31


ashamed of and yet, looking through history at some of the great artists we only now know to have had disabilities, such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Monet and Degas, we can see that it provides the catalyst for culture to not become stagnant. Seeing disability as a positive takes us beyond survival of the most able and teaches us to value creativity instead of throwing it away because we don’t like the people. References: Rebalancing Dyslexia and Creativity at the RCA, Royal College of Art 2015 https://www.rca.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/rebalancing-dyslexia-andcreativity-rca/ Making A Shift, Arts Council England 2018 https://www.artscouncil.org.uk/publication/making-a-shift Dogs Vs Disability by Aidan Moesby, 2020 for Disconsortia https://www.disconsortia.co.uk/aidan-moesby.html Mave Kennedy, ‘Spectacles provide clue to the secret of Turner’s visual style’, The Guardian (18 Nov. 2003) https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2003/nov/18/arts.artsnews Salvatore Mangione and Rolando Del Maestro, ‘Was Leonardo Da Vinci Dyslexic?’ The American Journal of Medicine, DOI: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2019.02.019, 2019. Cited in an article by Debbie Goldberg and Edyta Zielinska, ‘Was Leonardo Da Vinci’s Dyslexia Responsible for His Brilliance?’ https://www.jefferson.edu/university/news/2019/05/7/dyslexia-helped-leonardodavinci.html M.F. Marmor, ‘Ophthalmology and Art: Simulation of Monet’s Cataracts and Degas’ Retinal Disease’, Arch Ophthalmol. 2006;124(12), 1764–1769. doi:10.1001/ archopht.124.12.1764 https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaophthalmology/fullarticle/418859 Ashokkumar Mistry is a multidisciplinary artist, writer and curator working in the UK and internationally. By subverting technologies, he challenges conventional ways of making and viewing art. ‘As a person who sees and experiences the world differently, Much of my work is concerned with my interactions with the world and how I make sense of everything’. Ashokkumar didn’t identify as neurodivergent until he was in his 40s, and it was a seminal moment for his artistic practice. Since then, he has been focused on researching and writing about disability and neurodiversity. His writing encompasses direct research and personal experiences relating to neurodiversity with a view to sharing experiences and changing attitudes. He is currently Associate Artist with Disability Arts Online, a Development Artist with The Spark Arts and a Fellow of the International Association Of Art Critics (AICA-UK).

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