Telly viewing tip and Liminal London

It’s that survey time of year again: your chance as Birkbeck students to give your feedback on your experience here. If you’re in your final year of a BA programme, you’ll have received (several) emails from the National Student Survey, which is the big one, the results of which are publicly available, and paid close attention to by the government’s Office for Students. Please do take the time to fill it out (and don’t forget to collect your reward: a £15 Ethical Shop or Waterstones voucher!) There are also internal Birkbeck surveys for all other students, undergrad, postgrad, and PhD, and we are very eager to have as many people as possible fill those out. You can find links to all the surveys here, along with info about how we’ve changed things in the past in response to your feedback. I’m also always very happy to have feedback on any aspect of your programmes and Birkbeck experience – you can email me directly at

A tip for your weekend viewing: One of our own will be on the small screen this Sunday 16 Feb at 9pm on BBC Four (and streamable on the iPlayer after that). Dorigen Caldwell, Senior Lecturer in Italian Renaissance Art in the department, has contributed to ‘Michelangelo: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly‘ and she offers us here her insider’s view of the process of doing art history for the telly:

‘Michelangelo’ is part of a series of programmes looking at ‘Art on the BBC’ – which sets out to investigate how art – and particularly ‘great artists’ – have been discussed in BBC arts programming over the years. The pilot episode focused on Leonardo da Vinci, and the other episodes in the first series are looking at Michelangelo, Picasso and ‘The Nude’. In discussions I had with the director, there was a clear desire to take a critical look at how these big artists and themes had been treated in programming that was more often than not fronted by white men, and tended to perpetuate a fairly traditional narrative. Whether or not the final programmes will really deconstruct that narrative is hard to tell, as I wasn’t involved in the conceptual process, and I’m guessing that my contribution will amount to little more than a few minutes. I was interviewed for the programme over a year ago, and haven’t seen it yet myself, but it was quite fun to do, and the director seemed genuinely interested and enthusiastic about Michelangelo. Apparently there’s another series planned, so you might see some more familiar faces take part in that…

Annie Coombes, Professor of Material and Visual Culture in the department, gave a lecture last week in the Department of Culture and Aesthetics at the University of Stockholm. Her lecture, Decolonizing the Monument/Rethinking the Memorial,’ looked at how the increased demand on many university campuses for institutions to address colonial amnesia and to actively decolonize the curriculum has focused on municipal statuary – with the call for iconoclastic removal ironically transforming them from neglected and banalized remnants of former colonial glory into hyper-visible symbols of colonial power. Using examples from Kenya, Spain and South Africa, her lecture considered the ways in which various visual and cultural strategies might be said to perform the requirements of either a monument or a memorial – a living symbolic commemorative structure – in the contexts of particularly violent pasts targeting civilian populations.

The Keiskamma Guernica, 2010, Mixed media, Hamburg, South Africa. Photo: Robert Hofmeyr

A reminder of the upcoming lecture by the School of Arts’ Professor Dame Marina Warner next Wednesday 19 February 6pm in Clore, as part of the lecture series marking 100 years since the College officially became part of the University of London. Marina’s lecture is entitled ‘The Map is not the Territory: Re-imagining Place, Reweaving Story’. More information and a link for booking here. A plug for the department: our own Kate Retford is leading on the School of Arts’ contributions to both this anniversary (100 years in the University of London) and the upcoming 200th anniversary of the foundation of Birkbeck in 1823.

Next Friday 21 February two of our PhD students, Jo Cottrell and Alistair Cartwright, have organised a brilliant-sounding day of talks on the theme of Liminal London: Real and Unreal Spaces of the 20th-century Metropolis, sponsored by the Architecture, Space and Society Centre. Academics and writers will explore the existence of heterotopic sites and other spaces straddling the real and the unreal throughout London in the twentieth century. Papers will examine spaces that exist between the public and the private, and the heteroclite communities that have gathered there, considering how such spaces have fostered modes of cosmopolitan life, and helped overcome – or alternatively reinforced – inequalities of race, class, gender and sexuality. 9.30-6 in Keynes Library, followed by a drinks reception, music and poetry. Spaces are limited, so don’t forget to book using the link above.

Birkbeck has just announced an exciting new opportunity: the Diversity100 PhD Studentships. Five generous PhD studentships (fees and stipend) are available across all areas of research represented at Birkbeck for BAME students. We are concerned at Birkbeck with the lack of representation by Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) students at doctoral level. Compared with other institutions, our BAME students form a relatively high percentage of overall student numbers, but the proportion of BAME students at PhD level is significantly lower. In this context, Birkbeck is offering five studentships for PhD students starting their studies in Autumn 2020. These scholarships actively address under-representation at the highest level of research, and encourage BAME students to consider academic research in all disciplines. Successful candidates will have a strong academic background and/or exceptional research potential. More information at the link above. The closing date for applications is 11 May 2020.

There are still a few places available on the Study Trip to Budapest (11-15 May) with Kasia Murawska-Muthesius and Stefan Muthesius. Really worth looking into this, I mean it!

The British Council Venice Fellows have been announced for 2020: George Townsend, a PhD student in English (co-supervised with History of Art) and Foteini (Claire) Saramanti, a student on the MA Text and Performance. The Venice Fellowships, which are awarded every year, fund two students from the School of Arts to travel to Venice and work as part of the team at the British Pavilion of the Venice Biennale or the Venice Architecture Biennale. Many congratulations to both of them!

And warm congratulations too to Patricia Yaker Ekall, who is a student on the BA History of Art, and one of the 2019 Venice Fellows. She’ll be heading back to Venice in summer 2020 to take up one of the very competitive internships at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, following in the footsteps of Danilo Reis, an recent graduate of the BA History of Art. The Birkbeck invasion continues…