Welcome back – and congratulations to today’s graduates!

Welcome to the summer term! I hope everyone had a good break over the vacation – although I know for many of our students the Easter break is a particularly busy one, not least for those final year undergraduates coming back to submit their dissertations at the start of the new term, as well as to face upcoming exams. I see from the timetable that they’re starting pretty early this year – I think those BA students taking Michael Douglas-Scott’s option module on art in Renaissance Venice will have the dubious honour of being the first in the department to take their seats in the examination halls, on 15th May! I want to take this opportunity to wish everyone the very best of luck!

It was a great pleasure to be at the Spring graduation ceremony earlier today, to see those who have completed their studies have their names read out, and shake the hands of the Master of Birkbeck, Professor David Latchman, and our President, Baroness Joan Bakewell. I was up on the platform with my colleagues Leslie Topp, Fiona Candlin and Zoe Opacic, beaming as we watched students from a range of our programmes go up, from the Certificate through to the PhD. Many of our Masters students who completed their studies last Autumn were there – here’s a lovely picture of Dorigen Caldwell with one of them, John Peacock, also a graduate from our BA History of Art, and now Liaison Officer for the department and the London Art History Society.


I am going to allow myself a personal indulgence here, and to say how proud I am of two students who I supervised who gained their doctorates today: Dr. Hannah Armstrong, who did her thesis on the sadly vanished Wanstead house and its grounds, and Dr. Amelia Smith, who worked on the building, collections and gardens at Longford Castle – very well done to the two of you! (I really am as delighted as I look here…)


So, onto events… A few weeks ago now, a new exhibition opened in the Peltz Gallery. El Encanto will run until 4th May. This is a display of work by the artist Freddy Dewe Mathews, looking at the history of the rubber industry in the Putumayo – a large area of the Colombian Amazon once heavily exploited for this naturally occurring resource. The show brings together the Third and First Worlds, tradition and modernity, past and present in fascinating ways, comprising 16mm film, sculptures, engravings, drawings, photographs, and installations. Do pay a visit! There’s also an opportunity to hear the artist himself in conversation with curator Robert Leckie, discussing issues of landscape, progress, international trade and local mythology, the day before the show closes: 3rd May, 7-8pm.

El Encanto

Gabriel Koureas, ever busy, has co-organised and will be speaking at a one day symposium on 5th May, dealing with ‘Transcultural Memories of Mediterranean Port Cities: 1850 to the Present’. This event will explore the intersections between Mediterranean cultures with a specific focus on visual, textual and material representations of Mediterranean port cities, asking: what is it that binds these cities together other than geographical positioning? What do representations reveal in relation to shared Mediterranean identities? What were the effects of colonization? How did the British, Ottoman, French and Italian Empires which all, at various times, ruled over these cities, alter their cultural and memorial fabric? For more information, do take a look at the full programme here.

Then, we’ll be into Arts Week 2017! The programme is now fully live, and I do urge you to follow this link, and to have a look at the more than fifty events which will be taking place between Monday 15th and Saturday 20th May. There really is something for everyone and, as ever, it’s all free, and everyone is welcome! Share as widely as you can with colleagues, friends, family, and come and be part of the buzz around the School of Arts that week. The History of Art department, as always, is very well represented.

  • On Monday 15th May, Steve Edwards and Patrizia di Bello will be doing a workshop on the Jo Spence Archive and Memorial Library.
  • Wednesday 17th sees a discussion of ‘Art Nouveau and Modernist Architecture’, led by Patrizia (more than doing her bit for Arts Week!), Tag Gronberg and Sabine Wieber. It will focus on two iconic buildings: the Jugendstil Photo Studio Elvira in Munich (1896 by August Endell) and E-1027 (1926-1929) built in the south of France by Eileen Gray with Jean Badovici.
  • On Thursday 18th, you are spoiled for choice! At 6pm, you could listen to a panel discussion introducing the exhibition of works from the Adamson Collection, which opens in the Peltz Gallery at the start of Arts Week: ‘Mr A Moves in Mysterious Ways: Selected Artists from the Adamson Collection’. Or you could listen to three distinguished speakers on the subject of ‘Landscape and Power’. Swati Chattopadhyay, David Haney and Birkbeck’s own Joel McKim will be sharing new research on the politics of landscape in colonial Bengal, Nazi Germany and post-9/11 America. Utoya MemorialStarting later that evening, at 7.40pm, Aris Sarafianos – a scholar at the University of Ioannina in Greece, but with us for the summer as a Visiting Fellow at Birkbeck – will be giving a lecture hosted by the Eighteenth-Century Research Group, which I co-organise: ‘The Sublime Real: Painful Excitements in Eighteenth-Century Art and Criticism’.
  • More delights courtesy of my colleagues follow on the Friday, 19th May. We have the Rome lecture, organised by Dorigen Caldwell. There’s a showing of ‘The Price of Desire’, the 2014 film dealing with Eileen Gray’s iconic modernist villa E1027, picking up on Wednesday’s discussion. Or you could take part in an evening with members from Ph: The Photography Research Network. Notions of reality will be explored through work from emerging artists/researchers Lauren Winsor, Anne Pfautsch and Alexandra Hughes.

I’m going to end with a word from our new Professor in the History and Theory of Photography, Steve Edwards, but before I do, a couple more quick things to squeeze in. To all those potential applicants for our full-time Wallace studentship, to support study on one of our Masters programmes in the department in the coming academic year, 2017-18, do remember that the deadline is coming up in just a few days, on 30th April… And I can’t resist inserting this lovely photograph of Laura Jacobus with T.J. Clark at his Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities lecture last month, on ‘What can Art History Say about Giotto?’

© 2017 Birkbeck Media Services / Dominic Mifsud

Steve Edwards, Professor in the History and Theory of Photography

“Having completed my classes for my modules, I finally have a moment to say hello to you all. It has been a hectic few months since moving to Birkbeck as Professor of History and Theory of Photography in September. I previously worked at the Open University and haven’t taught classes for a long time. The preparation has involved a lot of work (PowerPoint!) and the new systems take a bit of getting used to, but it has been great to engage with students and colleagues. I had almost forgotten how much I enjoy teaching and that the history of photography can be so stimulating. The students I have worked with have been engaged and enthusiastic, so thank you all for making my first year inspiring.

I was recruited to develop the history and theory of photography at Birkbeck. Dr Patrizia di Bello has done excellent work establishing the subject in the department, both as a topic for teaching and in establishing the Photographic History and Theory Research Centre. As many of you will know, we run an MA History of Art with a Photography pathway. Patrizia’s work has drawn out the current enthusiasm for studying and researching photography, and indicated the scope for developing this area.”