A roll call of success!

The Autumn term is nearly at an end, and I know many of you are working hard on coursework to be submitted next Friday. In fact, term will be coming to a more dramatic end than usual, as the School of Arts building will be completely closed from Saturday 17th December until after Christmas, when the College as a whole re-opens. This is because a major film company will be using our premises as a film set! It’s all most exciting. I have been sworn to secrecy on further details, much as I am itching to pass them on – but I can’t resist sneaking in that, during the course of said filming, an actor will be dramatically thrown out of Gabriel Koureas’s window! (Gabriel’s room will definitely have to feature in the next Open House London weekend, on the back of this).

Image result for man being thrown from window

On a prosaic note, though, this does raise certain practical issues for us all, as not even post will be able to enter the building, let alone staff and students. My administrative colleagues will be in touch next week with further details – particularly about how to submit any required hard copies of coursework.

An important feature of the second half of the Autumn term every year is the MA exam boards, which meet in late November. Colleagues from across the department, and external examiners from other universities, meet to discuss our Masters students’ work, our programmes and processes, and to ratify marks. We were delighted to be looking at the grades of a particularly strong cohort of finalists this time round, and some stellar dissertation results. In fact, one of the dissertation prizes we were able to offer – the London Art History Society prize for the best MA dissertation on a modern topic – had to be split between two students, who scored equally highly in this final piece of work on the programme. We divided the award between Anna Jamieson, for her dissertation on ‘Dark Tourists at Bedlam: Madness and Spectacle in Eighteenth-Century London’, and Wil Roberts, for ‘“Life Itself”: Victoria and Albert as Living Statues’. Another new prize available for the first time this year was the Murray prize for the best dissertation on an early period topic, and this was given to Sarah McBryde for her dissertation entitled ‘More than meets the eye?: Reassessing the Representation of Dwarfs in Renaissance Italy’. We’re very grateful indeed to both the London Art History Society and the Murray Bequest for funding these new awards. And many congratulations indeed to Anna, Wil, Sarah – and to all our MA finalists!

In fact, this blog posting is a roll call of achievement. In other news this week, Melissa Buron, one of our postgraduate research students, working on James Tissot’s spiritualist and biblical images, and an assistant curator at the Legion of Honor Museum, San Francisco, has received not just one, but two awards. Having secured a Research Support Grant from the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, she was then awarded the 2017 Amy P. Goldman Fellowship in Pre-Raphaelite Studies from the Delaware Art Museum/University of Delaware. Congratulations Melissa!

[Image: Tissot, The Mediumistic Apparition]

I’ve also been in touch recently with Vicky Hau, who finished our BA History of Art in 2012, and is currently studying on our MA Museum Cultures programme. Vicky has been very busy organising a symposium, connected to an exhibition she’s working on: Silk Roots: Travels in Chinese & Arabic Calligraphy. This will be at the P21 Gallery, a few blocks away from Birkbeck, on Chalton Street, from 18th May to 1st July next year. The exhibition will explore the interaction between China and the Middle East through the fascinating medium of calligraphy; a highly revered art form for both these cultures. One part of the exhibition will look at the historical context, particularly of the Silk Road itself, and how calligraphy has traditionally been represented along its route. The other will look at contemporary interaction between Chinese and Arabic calligraphy, exemplified by the works of Haji Noor Deen. At the end of the exhibition, there will be an opportunity for visitors to practice their own calligraphy, encouraged to write/draw the symbols for “Peace” in both Chinese and Arabic! More details anon. The one-day symposium is scheduled for 25th May 2017, and is being organised in association with the London Confucius Institute at SOAS University of London, and supported by the department here at Birkbeck, and the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts. Vicky has just put out a call for papers for this event, which – like the exhibition – will explore how the Silk Road was not only a trade route for goods such as silk, herbs and paper, but also the major route by which concepts and culture travelled both westwards and eastwards, and think about the role played by calligraphy in that cultural exchange. The deadline for the call for papers is 15th January, so if anyone reading this would like to present at this event, then please email Vicky at vcwhau@gmail.com for further details.

History of Art staff have also been very busy! Laura Jacobus’s conference on ‘Medieval Textiles: Meaning and Materiality’, which took place the other week, was – I have on excellent authority – a triumph. I had a particularly nice email from our colleague, Zoe Opacic, telling me how much she had enjoyed this exciting, high-profile – and exceptionally well-attended – event (standing room only)! Meanwhile, Isobel Elstob, who we’re currently lucky to have with us whilst Suzannah Biernoff is on leave, was off to Montpellier for a few days, to speak at a conference dealing with ‘Traces and Memories of Slavery in the Atlantic World’. I have been promised more details anon, so keep reading this blog… Meanwhile, it was announced this week that Lynda Nead has just been made a Trustee of the Victoria and Albert Museum. This is a wonderful, highly prestigious appointment, and one of many testaments to Lynn’s standing as an internationally renown scholar. We’re also very pleased in the department that it will strengthen further the already good relationship that we have with the V&A: from Tag Gronberg’s work as part of the curatorial team on the exhibition Modernism: Designing a New World in 2006, through to Carlo Rizzo’s current work as a V&A/Birkbeck collaborative doctoral student, working on ‘Collecting and displaying contemporary Middle Eastern Art and Design at the V&A: a comparative analysis of museum practices’.

Look out for one last blog of the term next week, to wish you all a very merry Christmas before we make way for the film crews…!