Monthly Archives: October 2012

Liquid Networks

On Wednesday last week, Jamie, Imogen and I attended the first in a new series of employability workshops for postgraduate research students in the College of Arts and Law. Prof Michael Whitby, the Head of College, answered questions on forging a career in academia in the 21st century, which provided a useful insight into the job interview and selection process, especially.

Whilst waiting for the workshop to start (we got the wrong room, but we won’t talk about that), we got chatting to an English PhD student, David Robinson and ended up co-forming an interdisciplinary research group called Liquid Networks. The group aims to be a forum where postgraduates can share and discuss aspects of their research with peers from across the university, without the boundaries of subject disciplines. For more information, visit the Facebook page!


Charlotte Bagwell reviews Vanley Burke, By The Rivers Of Birminam, at the MAC

Vanley Burke is an artist who has been documenting the diversity and cosmopolitan characteristics of Birmingham city for almost 50 years. This is why it is fitting that, as part of the MAC’s 50th birthday celebrations, they have staged a retrospective of Burke’s work, By The Rivers Of Birminam, honouring the photographs he has taken in the last half century. Curated by Lynda Morris, many of the images included were taken in the Cannon Hill Park and Handsworth areas of Birmingham, highlighting Burke’s ties with the city, and making this an exhibition where Birmingham people are honestly documented.  Burke was prominent in the representation of the African-Caribbean community at a time when mass media portrayed this community in a very negative light, and this rebalancing of damaging thoughts is observable in this exhibition.

Burke was born in Jamaica in 1951, and was raised by his aunt while his parents moved to the UK in order to start a new life for their family. For his tenth birthday they sent him a camera, and he became hooked on photography. In 1965 he moved to the UK, and by 1967 he was consciously documenting the lives of the African-Caribbean people in his neighbourhood to display their life and struggles after leaving their native homelands.

As part of Burke’s contesting of media portrayals of the Afro-Caribbean community there are consciously few photographs depicting integration with the oppressive white community. There is, however, a number of images showing the connection with the Asian people living in Birmingham, highlighting the support minority that groups gave to one another during times of repression.

Saying this, there is a number of images showing the bridging between Jamaican heritage and modern British life, such as the photograph Velrose, Cannon Hill Park 1972, which depicts a woman of Afro-Caribbean heritage in thoroughly a 1970’s British fashion.  The themes of assimilation are also heightened by the use of objects, taken from the community and displayed in cabinets in the exhibition space. These ornaments however, are not displayed to the best of their ability, and are one of the few shortcomings of the exhibition.

The decision to use black and white photography over colour, especially in recent photographs gives continuity to the exhibition, but also highlights race differences between social groups. This was possibly done in order to show isolation from each another, and to enhance the theme of separate communities, rather than one integrated society. This is also highlighted by the newspaper extracts that accompany the exhibition, with the headlines regarding immigration and Afro-Caribbean people clearly showing the negativity that Burke has spent his career refuting.

Overall, By The Rivers Of Birminam is an exhibition that displays the best of Vanley Burke’s work over his lifetime, and clearly displays its core themes of racial relations and the changing nature of culture.  The people represented in this exhibition form part of the diverse and cosmopolitan city Birmingham is today.

By the Rivers of Birminam runs from Sat 22 September- Sun 18 November at mac Birmingham, Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham, B12 9QH, free entry

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Our first ‘View from Abroad’ post, by Beatrice Hughes, studying in Padua as part of her History of Art-Italian programme

When you think of Italy, you might think of a few of these things: Renaissance art and architecture, pasta, pizza, olive oil, small fiats and coffee. As an art history student, you would think that on arriving in Padua I would go straight to The Scrovegni Chapel to see Giotto’s legendary frescoes. And I did; last time I was here in June. However, on arriving here a second time, I decided to pursue some more modern art, having already spent a lot of time in Italy looking at the classics.  As it happens I struck gold on this mission, even narrowly missing the artist himself who was returning from the city centre.

It was a particularly muggy day last week with that kind of temperature which makes it difficult to physically move your limbs faster. I’d located on the map an exhibition of the works of Paolo del Giudice a little out of town and set off from my apartment on my medieval little street. I took my time getting there in the oppression of the afternoon heat.  When I arrived, I found a stunningly curated exhibition in a high-ceilinged warehouse. The canvases were spatially positioned well apart from one another and some were suspended in mid- air from the ceiling.

The huge, raw and expressive oil paintings  of Italian architecture and industry really took my breath away, which doesn’t happen very often.  The artist Paolo del Giudice has an impressionistic knack for capturing the formative, lineal and tonal essence of a building/face/object, but without the sentimental and ‘wall-flower’ type interpretation of the Impressionists.

As for pasta, pizza, small fiats, coffee, architecture and olive oil; check! When I arrived in my apartment there were no plates, there was no bedding, not even a fork. But there was a gigantic 2 litre bottle of homemade olive oil.


“Heard it on the Golovine…”

…so the joke went. In Summer this year, the idea was floated to launch an official blog for the Department of the History of Art at UoB. The department reckoned it would be a good idea if the blog was created, managed and edited by postgraduate students, who can share their experiences of what it’s like to study in the department and our day-to-day trials and triumphs as fledgling academic art historians/general art-buffs. In short: what do PG researchers really spend all their time doing and what are some of the more interesting things we get up to when we’re not in the library, some archive, or–“shhhh”–this or that gallery, show or exhibition. We also wanted Undergrads to have a voice, and tell readers about their experiences as budding art historians, besides some of the exciting adventures that many of them embark on after their degrees. Along with myself, the project attracted several volunteers.

So far, so good!

Or so we thought. Because, what should we call such a blog?? And here problems ensued. The obvious choice was “The History of Art, UoB Blog”, or something like that. This, though, we thought  was a little dry. “Hello Art History”, perhaps? Which translates into what we thought was a rather nifty acronym: “HAH!” We had numerous other suggestions, and variants on suggestions, some more eccentric than others, some already taken and some simply boring. Deciding proved onerous. The issue was then somewhat complicated when it was announced that the department was heading in new, and exciting directions. With the merger of the department of Art History with Film and Visual Studies, and its renaming as The Department of Art History, Film and Visual Studies, the scope of our blog became much wider and its name needed to be more inclusive but still catchy… alas, Summer came and went, and still no blog.

With research pressures mounting and teaching to do, the blog ended up on the back burner. Until myself, Liz (academic editor) and a couple of other PGs and UGs were sat in the marquee on the UG open day near the start of the Autumn term 2012. Towards the end of the day when the visiting 6th formers were flagging, we brainstormed ideas for the blog’s name. Maybe, we thought, we should take inspiration from the Barber Institute; the internationally-renowned small art gallery on campus where the department is based. And one of the most famous, and intriguing, pictures in the Barber’s collection is Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun’s Portrait of Countess Golovine.

Courtesy of the Barber Institute

So “Heard it on the Golovine” was proposed. A little play on words and tongue-in-cheek, we all agreed that this was quite amusing. But gradually, this was shortened to simply “The Golovine”. Marked by candour, charm and intrigue, and a definite hint of cheekiness, Countess Golovine’s portrait seemed to fit the tone we envisaged for the blog. Spontaneous? Maybe. But the old Countess has been around for over two centuries, so we figured She’s a keeper!

So here we are, finally publishing our inaugural post. Future posts are set to include: exhibition reviews by our students and staff, some of which they may have been involved with the curating of; news about our Alumni; posts about interesting trips made by students in the department; information about conferences we attend or speak at; news about research fellowships, publications and so on…. Besides generally-interesting bits of general arty news. So be sure to check back regularly!  [JE]

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