Enjoy the Easter vacation!

We’re now in the last week of the Spring term – a big week for the History of Art department, as our Internal Review takes place this evening (Wednesday) and all day tomorrow. Every department in the College has such a review every four years, and it’s a key moment to pause and reflect on every aspect of our programmes – from admission, through curricula and learning resources, to assessment. The Review starts at 6pm today with a group of students meeting with the panel, and I want to take this opportunity to express our thanks again to those of you who have so kindly agreed to take the time to be part of this event. When we sent out emails to a range of students from across our programmes, from the Certificate through to the PhD, inviting participation in this meeting, we were so pleased to receive so many willing and enthusiastic responses.

Before I move onto telling you about some departmental news from the last couple of weeks, I want to remind you of a couple of funding opportunities….

One is the London Art History Society research fund, available to support the research of MA and MPhil/PhD students in the History of Art department. The London Art History Society is an organisation affiliated to the Birkbeck History of Art society, and it has generously established this fund to help our postgraduate students with expenses relating to their research. This academic year, MA students can apply for a sum of money up to a maximum of £150, while MPhil and PhD students are eligible to make an application for a sum up to a maximum of £300. Any research-related expenses are potentially eligible, including travel, accommodation, photography and photocopying. We award this money on a first come first served basis, so please do get in any applications you’d like to make as soon as you can. Having met with a number of Masters students over the last few weeks, to discuss developing research projects and dissertation plans, I know that many of you are now concentrating on these independent pieces of work, and so are in a position to start making good use of this fund. You can find out details of how to apply here. This is also a handy opportunity to recommend that everyone keep an eye on the Society’s programme of events. Having just had a rummage through their website, I’m reminded that a lecture by our own Tag Gronberg is coming up soon: On the scent of Art Deco, Tuesday 11 April!

The other opportunity is one I’d like to flag up to those BA and Graduate Certificate students due to complete this summer. Last year, we were lucky enough to be able to announce a generous donation from Graham and Denise Wallace, to fund a series of studentships for our Masters programmes. These studentships are available for all three of our MAs: in History of Art; History of Art with Photography; and Museum Cultures. This donation is in honour of the History of Art department’s upcoming Anniversary, next academic year, celebrating 50 years of widening access to the discipline. We were delighted to award the first studentships last summer, and we are now advertising one full-time Masters studentship for the coming academic year, 2017-18. This is non-repayable, and will cover the successful student’s fees and a contributory stipend of £2000 pa. These studentships are available to Home/EU students, and are allocated on two criteria: academic excellence and financial need. When making the award, the panel will give priority to those applicants who are able to demonstrate strong promise for Masters work, but who would be unable to progress to taught postgraduate study without financial support. If you are considering a full-time Masters programme next academic year, and feel that you can make a strong case for a studentship on these grounds, then do take a look at this webpage to find full details. The deadline is the end of next month, Sunday 30 April 2017. 

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So, onto some news – beginning with a couple of follow-ups. In a previous blog posting, I advertised a lecture by T.J Clark, organised by the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities on 2 March, asking ‘What can Art History Say about Giotto?’. My attention was drawn the other day to this lovely comment about Professor Clark’s talk on our School of Arts facebook page: ‘I went and it was amazing – never seen an audience so enraptured. Can’t wait for the new book…’ You’ll also remember that, for the last blog, Charlotte Ashby wrote a great piece about her new book, Modernism in Scandinavia: Art, Architecture and Design, recently published by Bloomsbury. I have a copy of the flyer in front of me, with some impressive plaudits. This from Professor David Jackson of the University of Leeds:Charlotte Ashby’s impressively wide-ranging survey of Nordic modernism is a timely and much needed examination of the complex and interrelated strands of Scandinavian innovation in theory and practice. Its inclusive and multi-disciplinary approach, giving recognition to the internal and international impulses that fuelled the phenomenal successes of progressive Nordic culture, offers a fresh and original consideration that will appeal to the specialist and general reader alike.’ What great feedback! Charlotte celebrated with a launch in the Keynes library last week, presenting some of the material from the book in a fascinating lecture before the guests tucked into their wine and nibbles.


Meanwhile, Gabriel Koureas has been very busy, speaking at and co-organising an international conference on ‘Museums and their Publics at Sites of Conflicted Histories’, at the recently opened POLIN Museum of the History of the Polish Jews in Warsaw (13-15 March). Gabriel’s paper was entitled ‘Conflicted Histories in the Re-designed Imperial War Museum London: Heroes and Perpetrators’. He explored what he terms ‘selective empathy’ in the space of the re-designed Imperial War Museum in London, through two particular objects. One was the ‘L’ Battery QF 13 pdr Mk 1 (Nery Gun), which has become symbolic of the First World War since it was first exhibited in 1921, currently re-positioned in the atrium of the museum. The second was the Ferret Mk II, 4×4 Scout United Nations Car, that served in Cyprus. In his paper, Gabriel unravelled the dynamics and exchanges that take place between memory, history, victim and perpetrator on the one hand, and empathy on the other.

Gabriel was not the only member of the School of Arts at Birkbeck to head over to Warsaw for the conference, however – it was a veritable delegation! Anthony Bale from English and Humanities spoke about ‘Blood in London’, Diana Popescu, a Research Fellow at the Pears Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism, gave a paper on ‘Performing local memories of multicultural pasts in contemporary Poland’, Kasia Murawska-Muthesius, from our department, engaged with the ‘The Critical Museum’ and its debates – while Annie Coombes was also on the academic organising committee. I hear that Kasia organised a traditional Polish dinner in Warsaw for the Birkbeck group – sounds like a lot of fun!

I shall now sign off for the Easter vacation. I know there is lots of hard work to be done over the next few weeks – not least by those undergraduates who have exams coming up in the summer, and especially by final year BA students who are also submitting their dissertations at the start of the new term. I hope you do all get the chance for a break as well. But, before I go, a couple of dates for your diaries. A few days after we get back after the vacation, the History and Theory of Photography Centre will be holding its next lecture. Dr. Christina Riggs, from the University of East Anglia, will be coming to speak about Photographing Tutankhamun: Photo-objects and the archival afterlives of colonial archaeology (Thursday 27 April, 6-7:30pm, Room 106, School of Arts). And do make a note that Birkbeck Arts Week 2017 will be taking place between 15 and 19 May – watch this space for further announcements! Those of you who have been with us in previous years will rightly be expecting a typically packed week of free events, from lectures and workshops through to performances and guided walks. I had a sneak peek at the draft programme the other day, and it looks as exciting as ever…

Arts week 2017 banner

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The Birkbeck Hours, biopolitics, and Bolivia

I want to open this blog with a big thank you to the three alumni who took time out of their demanding schedules to come back to the History of Art department at Birkbeck, and to give talks to students about their careers – about what they do, and how they have developed their careers in the Arts: Sonia Solicari, Alice Payne and Jacqueline Riding. I was able to go along to the last in the series, and hear Jackie Riding, freelance art historian, author, and historical consultant, speaking about her diverse career: from curatorial work at the Palace of Westminster and her position as founding Director of the Handel House Museum – through her experience of the Clore Leadership Programme – to the recent publication of her book on the Jacobites, her curatorial work at Wilton’s Music Hall (the oldest surviving Music Hall in the world, in Whitechapel) and her work as historical consultant on Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner film. I thought I had a busy professional life, but, as Jackie laid out her current projects, I wanted to go and have a lie down! Highlights include: involvement in the restoration of J.M.W. Turner’s house in Twickenham, opening soon – consultancy work on Mike Leigh’s forthcoming film about the Peterloo Masacre of 1819 – and curating an exhibition at the Foundling Museum, which opens on 29th September this year: ‘Basic Instincts: Love, Lust and Violence in the Art of Joseph Highmore’.

Work continues apace on the other elements of our Careers and Employability programme. I look forward to announcing work shadowing opportunities in the summer term in due course, and the next of our workshops is coming up on 15th March: CVs for Arts (4-5pm, room 106, Gordon Square). Do sign up for your free place if you haven’t already!

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A couple of news items before I whet your appetites with the wide range of events coming up over the next couple of weeks. Just before Christmas, I included the exciting fact that the School of Arts building was to be used as a film set in this blog – and the tantalising detail that this would involve an actor being thrown through Gabriel Koureas’s window! We were all sworn to secrecy about the precise nature of the filming – but I can now formally reveal that 42-47 Gordon Square will be seen playing the part of Baker Street in the upcoming Sony film, ‘Holmes and Watson’ – a comedic take featuring Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly.

The other piece of news is that the Derek Jarman Lab have made a short film about the rediscovery of four medieval books in Birkbeck’s library by Professor Anthony Bale in the English and Humanities department. Anthony brought these to light when teaching a class on ‘Medieval Material Texts’ on the MA Medieval Literature and Culture – three of them had never been catalogued, and did not seem to have been viewed since about 1991! They include a book of hours from northern France, dated c.1400, and a history of the Trojan War, printed in Venice in 1499, Dictys Cretensis & Dares Phrygius. Do take a look at the film about this exciting find – it’s fascinating!

Birkbeck Hours; Pentecost (fol. 105r)Birkbeck hours; King David at Prayer (fol. 85r)

from the Birkbeck Hours

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So, onto upcoming events. The Architecture, Space and Society Centre is as busy as ever! The next annual ‘Thinkers in Architecture’ lecture will be held on Monday 20th March (6pm, Keynes Library). Professor Peg Rawes, from the Bartlett School of Architecture at UCL, will be talking about ‘Housing Biopolitics and Care’, engaging with Spinoza’s seventeenth-century philosophy and Foucault’s writings on technologies of the self within a biopolitical discussion of the UK housing crisis.


It’s also well worth heading to the ASSC’s website, to read Leslie Topp’s write-up of the most recent event in the ‘New Books’ series, held to mark the publication of a collected volume entitled Healing Spaces, Modern Architecture and the Body (Routledge, 2016).

Meanwhile, the next Murray seminar is coming up next week, on Wednesday 15th March: Péter Bokody, speaking on ‘The Politicization of Rape: Giotto’s Allegory of Injustice in Padua’. Dr. Bokody, from the University of Plymouth, will be looking at the allegory of Injustice in the Arena Chapel in Padua, by Giotto di Bondone, and the allegory of War in the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena, by Ambrogio Lorenzetti (1338-39), as key allegorical images of rape. These two monuments are well-known amongst scholars, but they have not, to date, been fully explored as representations of sexual violence – Dr. Bokody’s focus in this paper.

In my blog, I concentrate on events organised by my colleagues in the History of Art department, but it’s always worth keeping an eye on what’s going on in the School of Arts more broadly. Colleagues in Film have been working hard on this year’s Essay Film Festival, which runs from 24th March until 1st April. They’ve got some great filmakers coming to Birkbeck to show and share their work, including Babette Mangolte and Jocelyne Saab. Screenings will be taking place at the ICA, the Birkbeck Cinema, and the Goethe-Institute, and some events are free. As well as going to the website, you can also follow what’s happening on Twitter and/or Facebook.

Finally, as you’ve been negotiating your way around our currently non-functional front door (at least the attendants on the front desk are warmer than usual!), you may have spotted that there’s a new exhibition on in the Peltz Gallery, here in the School of Arts: ‘Decolonising Witchcraft: Portraits of Traditional Healers in Bolivia‘.

Bolivian pic.jpg

This display is a collaboration between the photographer  David Green, and the geographer, Dr. Kate Maclean, who has worked in Bolivia since 2006. It portrays the women whose livelihoods involve the traditional rituals, artefacts and medicines that play a central role in culture and health in Bolivia. The portraits are accompanied by quotes from the women themselves, discussing how they came to this profession and their role in the community. The exhibition opened on Friday, with a panel discussion, and will run until 25th March, so do drop in when you’ve some time on your way in or out of the building. The closing event, on 22nd March, will also be of great interest to everyone interested in the history and theory of photography. Join David Green, our own Patrizia di Bello and others for ‘Photographing the Rituals of Healing and Dying in Latin America‘, to consider some of the visual and ethical challenges of documentary photography.

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