Welcome to the summer term!

A very warm welcome back to all staff and students after the Easter vacation! I hope everyone got to have a good break – even those embedded in coursework due in immediately at the start of term, such as the BA finalists putting the finishing touches to their dissertations. These were submitted on Monday – but, unfortunately, it’s a little longer until these students can take a well deserved rest, as it’s straight into concentrated revision for the exams which begin in only a few weeks time! Our thoughts are with you…

Some of our other BA students are currently deliberating which level 6 option modules to choose next academic year – here’s a word from one of my colleagues, Dr. Kasia Murawska-Muthesius, about some of her recent research activities and how they relate to the BA and MA modules she has on offer in 2016-17:

“I have just been to the 2016 RSA conference in Boston, where I co-organised, with Sandra Cheng (New York City College of Technology), two sessions debating Italian caricatura: Material Practice, Collectors, and Art Theory. This emphasis on caricature, still under-researched by art history, attracted a range of distinguished speakers, including Sheila McTighe (Courtauld), Roger Crum (University of Dayton) and Joris van Gastel (Hertziana). Renewed attention to the bewildering appeal of caricature, to its potential to resist as well as to slander, is particularly urgent today, in the wake of the ‘Muhammad cartoons crisis’ in 2005 and the recent atrocities in Paris in 2015.

I will be replacing Leslie Topp in the forthcoming Autumn Term 2016-17, while she takes up some Wellcome-funded research leave, and will be teaching two modules. My level 6 module on ‘Satire, Caricature, Cartoon: from Punch to Charlie Hebdo’ will focus on the equivocal kinship of caricature both with democracy and racism, exploring its affinities with the avant-garde, as well as the status of the cartoon in the age of the World Wide Web. My MA option ‘The Aesthetics of Resistance: Caricature as Dominance and Defiance’ will be an inquiry into the specific mechanisms of caricature, one of the most articulate voices of dissent against the hegemony of beauty. It will evaluate its capacity to resist the canon, or political power, across a wide historical frame, from early modernity to the present.”

That’s current students – but we were able to celebrate the success of a cohort who have now completed their programme of study with us on Wednesday afternoon this week – our MA students who finished in 2014-15. Many congratulations! My colleagues Gabriel Koureas and Suzannah Biernoff and I were interviewing that afternoon, but managed to make it over to Senate House just in time to join other members of staff and say well done to a couple of our alumni in person. Here’s a lovely picture of Suzannah and Gabriel with Jo Cottrell and Graham Head looking splendid in their robes.

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There are lots of events to tell you about, as we embark on the summer term – and I have some notably busy colleagues. Professor Lynn Nead, in particular, has an eye-wateringly packed itinerary over the next week. Tomorrow, Saturday 23rd April, she will be speaking on ‘Picasso as Romantic Artist’ in a study day at the National Gallery connected to the ‘Delacroix and the Rise of Modern Art’ exhibition. That evening, she’ll be one of a panel of critics on ‘Saturday Review’ (BBC R4). Then, on Wednesday next week, 27th April, she’ll be speaking at the V&A in the morning on ‘The Image of the Prostitute’, and again in the evening as part of a panel discussing ‘The Crinoline’, along with Brian May. Yes, that’s Brian May of ‘Queen’ fame, as he’s just published a book about his collection of stereoscope photographs on this subject!

Early period colleagues have, as ever, been organising a wonderful array of speakers as part of the Murray series on Medieval and Renaissance Art. Tonight (Friday 22nd April), in the Keynes Library, Bernd Nicolai will be examining the late-gothic west facade of Bern Minster and its extraordinary sculpted portal featuring scenes of the Last Judgement. He’ll be considering the power of change in this and other church-building programmes in imperial cities during the fifteenth century.

But it’s not only staff who have been busy organising events – one of our current PhD students, Vazken Davidian (who also got a first class BA honours with us back in 2010) will be part of a panel discussion around a special art history edition of a peer reviewed journal, Études Arméniennes Contemporaines, which he was invited to edit. This is entitled ‘Towards Inclusive Art Histories: Ottoman Armenian Voices Speak Back’:

Vazken picture

“Despite a focus on art history in its widest sense, the concerns raised in Issue 6 of Études arméniennes contemporaines offer critical reflections upon the manner in which the heavily politicized seas of the Ottoman historical past are navigated by historians of all stripes. The five revisionist essays published in this volume, and presented by their authors, advocate, collectively and individually, new types of methodologically and empirically sound histories that challenge misconstrued and misrepresented historical pasts, and critique the reductive projections of dominant nationalist/nation-centric or Ottomanist historiographies. Furthermore, they introduce into the debate hitherto silenced voices that have thus far been deliberately excluded from history. Two further presentations offer the personal reflections of two working artists on their own Ottoman historical pasts and presents.”

The journal is available online, free of charge, and the event is next Tuesday, 26th April in the Keynes Library, at 6.30pm.

Just before I sign off, a word of thanks to all those students who’ve been completing the various surveys being run at the moment. I’m very proud to say that the NSS response statistics for the History of Art department (yes, we get briefed on how our returns stand in relation to other departments across the College!) are looking exceptionally good, and I have been congratulated on the responsiveness of our students. Well done art historians – and thank you! (And if there’s anyone who hasn’t yet completed the survey, there are still a few days left..)

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