Category Archives: Student Experience

A new term, a new name, new students & some fresh advice for our new students from 2nd year student Rebecca Savage!

Ambrosius Holbein, Signboard for a Schoolmaster, 1516, Öffentliche Kunstsammlung, Basel

Ambrosius Holbein,
Signboard for a Schoolmaster, 1516, Öffentliche Kunstsammlung, Basel

With the new academic year now in full swing, and having welcomed all our new Undergraduates and Postgraduates to the Department, The Golovine is also springing back to life!

First thing: a bit of news! The more observant reader might already have noticed that with the new academic year comes a new name for the Department, which is now called the Department of Art History, Curating and Visual Studies. The name change has come in the light of new additions to the Department’s academic staff, which has enabled the institution of, among other things, an exciting new postgraduate pathway in Art History and Curating.

And in order to kick things off on The Golovine, Rebecca Savage (2nd year student) volunteered to write a post for us about what she learned as a 1st year student in the Department and offer some experienced advice to our new students. So here’s Rebecca’s thoughts on what she learned during her first year as a student of Art History at the University of Birmingham:

R Savage

CLICHÉD though it may sound, the first year of university really does fly by. The whole thing–from your first meeting with your flatmates, which is followed swiftly by numerous meetings with your course mates and the staff in your department, and going right through to the exams at the end of the year–really does, somehow, seem to whizz by in just 5 minutes. Most of your time will be spent finding your feet (and loosing them again on nights out), all the while trying to get your head around what it really means to study Art History–or any subject for that matter–at Uni. The first year is certainly a steep learning curve for many, so here’s a couple of things that my first year as an Art History undergraduate taught me…

ONE   There will be a lot of reading. A lot. The reading lists I took away from my first few lectures and seminars certainly quashed the (misguided) view of (some of) my flatmates who believed that I’d just enrolled on a “looking-at-paintings-every-once-in-a-while sort of degree”. From translations of 16th-century Italian texts to modern critical or theoretical analyses of artists, works and exhibitions, most seminars will come accompanied with at least one piece of reading for you to work your way through in preparation. Forget about it to your peril; not unlike most other humanities degrees, reading has a direct correlation with marks and the more you read the better you will do. This is because if you do the core reading in preparation for each seminar and lecture, you’ll not only be equipped to participate in discussion but will have already done the legwork when it comes to researching your essays and preparing your revision!

TWO   There’s lots of reading and some of it you’ll just “get”, which is great. Some of it, though, you’re bound not to understand and, you know what, that’s OK too! It’s not necessary–or expected–that you will understand absolutely everything you read the first time you look at it. Academic texts are often complicated, sometimes dense and regularly lengthy, and inevitably it will sometimes feel as though you are walking through thick fog with no idea of your where you’ll end-up. But what’s key is: don’t panic. Take a break, get a cup of tea and then try again, making a note of not just the things you do understand but also the things you don’t (even if that’s the whole text), and take it with you to the seminar. Chances are everyone else is in the same boat and the seminars are the perfect place to iron out any confusion under the guidance of the seminar tutor. So make the most of it!

Following on from this…

THREE   You will not understand every topic you study and this is also OK. History of Art degrees cover a huge range of ideas, from religious views in Europe in the 14th century through to psychoanalytic theories of the 20th and 21st centuries. It is impossible to understand everything, and you’ll find yourself more interested in ABC topics compared to XYZ. Even Ph.D teaching assistants and our lecturers have areas they are not so confident on or, indeed, especially interested in (I’ve checked). So if, after hours of study, you still don’t understand how Micheal Craig Martin’s Oak Tree is anything more than a glass of water, then discuss it with your mates, think about it a bit more and if you still don’t get it, then fine, move on: you’re not gonna fail the whole year! Focus most of your efforts instead, especially when it comes to writing essays and revising, on the topics you do understand or are most interested in, and strive to learn even more about them.

Craig-Martin's err... Oak Tree?!

Craig-Martin’s err… Oak Tree?!

FOUR   Getting to know your course mates early on is very important. The first few weeks of freshers can be overwhelming when it comes to meeting new people but make an effort to talk to the people you are studying alongside. Group work is much easier when you all get on and a meet up when you don’t understand something (see above) is invaluable. study sessions outside of lectures are also helpful for highlighting gaps in your knowledge and proving just how much you do know.

FIVE   Don’t forget a spare pen. Rudimentary but the pen giving up on you half way through that seminar on Semiotics is nightmare stuff… Oh, and, something to write on.

SIX   Do not underestimate the power of good grammar and referencing. A well written essay is the only way to reach a 2:1 and above! Markers do not appreciate silly, which is to say avoidable, mistakes, so go back and check your work before handing it in. And then check it again just to be sure! And maybe check again. And if you’re not sure, make sure that you go to the Academic Writing sessions run by Ph.D teaching assistants in the Department (details will be made available soon!).

SEVEN   The more you contribute to seminars the better they are. Yes, it’s daunting at first but a room full of silence is no use to anyone. In fact it’s downright awkward, not just for us but for the seminar leader as well. The more people contribute to a discussion the better that discussion is, and the more ideas you leave with at the end of the day. No one wants to end a seminar feeling it was a waste of time, so do the reading and come along with something to contribute, whether that be a list of points that you found most interesting or the stuff that you just did not understand.

EIGHT   Get involved wherever and whenever you can. There is a reason everyone keeps telling you this! It is so, so, so important to make the most of every opportunity that comes your way. Not only will getting stuck in enrich your CV but it will teach you things a degree doesn’t teach. You will also get to know lots more people this way which, given what I said in number 4, is no bad thing.

NINE   Birmingham gets cold. Wrap up warm. Then go to the Christmas Market.

TEN   Lecturers, tutors, markers etc. want you to pass. More than that, they want you to thrive and do really well. Contrary to popular opinion, academics and your markers are not looking for a way to catch you out or reveal how little you actually understand. So make sure to visit your lecturers, seminar tutors, academic writing advisor or whoever during their office hours, or else arrange meetings with them, so that you can discuss any essay anxieties that you may have and ask them the questions that you really want the answers to! The support of your lecturers is invaluable when it comes to passing your degree, so make the most of what they have to offer and in return do the work they set you on time.

Finally: good luck, and have FUN!

Eastside Projects: Eloise Colbourne on volunteering at the gallery and their current exhibitions

I have just completed my first year at the University of Birmingham and I have been volunteering at Eastside Projects since Easter. It was a trip to Eastside Projects during my Object and Medium module that inspired me to start volunteering there because I am very interested in contemporary art and I like the gallery’s culture and ethos. Working at Eastside has provided me with many invaluable opportunities to develop my skills and knowledge of this area of the art world, including helping during gallery installations. Furthermore, I have been able to attend very interesting talks and late night gallery openings, as well as being introduced to curators, artists and like-minded students. Volunteering at Eastside Projects is something I would highly recommend to anyone with an interest in contemporary art and information on becoming a volunteer can be found on the gallery’s website ( The current exhibitions are Silks by Samara Scott and YOU AND ME HERE WE ARE by Roger Coward, and I hope that this post explains a little bit more about how the gallery functions as well as serving as a taster of the current exhibitions.

Eastside Projects


Eastside Projects is a contemporary art space in Digbeth. The gallery is curated by artists who commission experimental contemporary art exhibitions in order to demonstrate the use of art in society. The city of Birmingham’s motto is ‘Forward’ and this is displayed all over the city through official documents, civic buildings and street signs. However, Eastside Projects believe that Birmingham should have a new motto: ‘Layered’. This is because, as described in Eastside Projects User’s Manual, Birmingham Council can be symbolised as a hammer; forever knocking things down in order to move ‘forward’ and start again. In response to this, Eastside Projects propose that instead of always knocking things down with the negative connotations of Birmingham’s motto of ‘forward’, art and artists should be involved in every level of the development of the city. In this way, the city could have an ‘alternative urban landscape’ where cultural history could coexist. The gallery is an interesting and eclectic mix of artworks past and present. When exhibitions finish, the gallery holds on to parts of the exhibitions (for example the door handle, black pleasure, chairs and table cloths) to create the ever evolving and layered landscape that is Eastside Projects. Currently at the gallery are the exhibitions ‘Silks’ by Samara Scott and ‘You and Me Here We Are’, by Roger Coward which are open until July 11th. Further information on both of the artists is available to explore at the gallery. Eastside Projects is very inviting and friendly, with an endless supply of tea available at the honesty café. It is well worth the visit Wednesday – Saturday 12-5pm during the week, and particularly on Digbeth First Fridays.


Samara Scott, Silks


Noodles, glitter hairspray, household chemicals and pistachio shells are just some of the misused materials poured and pooled into the recently dug up holes in Eastside projects concrete floor. Samara Scott’s new exhibition ‘Silks’ combines and contrasts products you could find in a supermarket and demolishes our intrinsic desire for order and perfection. Realistically, the very notion of order and perfection is flawed. We walk into shops daily and scan the isles methodically and meticulously for the products we want. We never question why a yam from Africa is in the same location as Ribena manufactured in Poland. Products are ordered by their packaging and advertising materials, but Scott argues this is only to make us feel in control. In Silks, Scott blends these materials together in her pools of disorder and chaos, she works with no clear structured idea of what she wishes to produce because this would destroy the emphasis of the show. In this way, the flat paintings in the ground depict instances of beauty clashing together with moments of scum, like the splodges of milk plopped into the pond of oil.

The works are alive and fragile, with the materials constantly evolving as they decay, rot, and in the instance of the salt crystals – grow. So called man-made materials are not stable, and these microbiomes are in a continuous state of flux. The publication ‘Lonely Plant’, which is about Scott’s residency in Turin, discusses the way she explores ‘the life span of materials in their interaction with processes of decomposition and intermingling’. The very title of the exhibition ‘Silks’ connotes the artist’s desire to express movement and fluidity. Scott’s works take influence from Wabi-Sabi, which is the Japanese world view or aesthetic centred on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The miniature worlds are sensual, tangible and above all mysterious. The swirling colours and contrasts of textures make this exhibition a sensory delicacy and the exhibition is a fascinating visit. It will be interesting to watch the ponds change as they evolve and decay throughout the exhibition.



The Artist Placement Group (APG) was established in London in the 1960s. The organisation’s aims were to reposition the role of the artist within a wider social context, including government and commerce. It also played a key part in the history of conceptual art during the 1960s and 1970s. Roger Coward is a filmmaker who created a series of films and plays with residents and this exhibition explores Coward’s 1975 APG in Small Heath, Birmingham. Coward was the first artist to be placed in a government department on an open brief as negotiated by AGP and the Department of the Environment. The purpose of the urban studies, which were initiated by the Department of the Environment, was to develop a new approach to making improvements to environments such as Small Heath.

Coward worked with four other artists – Gavin Brown, Roland Lewis, Evadne Stevens and Frances Viner. Crucially, the group emphasised the importance of art in society. They trained three community groups to use video in order to present their views on the environment to the City Council officials and these are included in the film ‘Spaghetti Junction’. By encouraging the use of VTR (video tape recording), local residents were able to communicate effectively and vividly with political representatives and officials as well raising awareness amongst their own community. Coward offered video training so that the community could produce films about the issues they faced and said ‘all I did was supply the equipment needed and explained how it worked. They then made the film on their own.’ The exhibition is a fascinating exploration into the integral use of art in society and the way it can function to deliver a comprehensive and articulate argument to people in power.

The exhibition includes original material from 1975, such as the film ‘The Most Smallest Heath in the Spaghetti Junction’ as well as a symposium ‘The Studio in Society’ (Saturday 4th July), and a revival of two plays which were performed in Digbeth in 1975 which will take place on the 5th and 6th July.

Eloise Colbourne

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Abstraction at the RBSA: Undergraduate curator Emily Robins explains what it takes to put together an archive exhibition

Thirteen artworks, two volunteers, one exhibition. This autumn the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists (RBSA) will present their latest archive exhibition, Abstraction at the RBSA. The show is being curated entirely by two University of Birmingham undergraduate students, Tate Gronow and me, Emily Robins.

I’ve been volunteering at the RBSA for a while now, primarily in their archive department. I usually spend my time responding to archive enquiries from members of the public and updating the museum databases, while also researching and organising collection and archive material. In November 2014 I was offered an opportunity that would be the envy of art history students across the country, a chance to curate in its entirety a public exhibition at a prestigious local gallery. It was, quite clearly, an opportunity not to be missed!

Tate and Emily are pictured here with Joan Woollard's  'The Races', which is one of the Artworks up for adoption. Woollard was the first female president of the RBSA.

Tate and Emily are pictured here with Joan Woollard’s The Races, which is one of the Artworks up for adoption. Woollard was the first female president of the RBSA.

Since January, Tate and I have been working on this rather exciting undertaking. Our chosen theme for the exhibition is ‘Abstraction’ and we began by searching the archive for interesting pieces which fitted that category. We came across a wide variety of works and decided on a roughly chronological approach to the exhibition, charting abstraction as a concept from works in the Impressionist style towards pieces such as Caged Yellow (1996, RBSA) by William Gear, which are fully abstract in their use of line, tone and colour. We were then able to start preparing all the written interpretation needed for the exhibition, including text panels and exhibition labels, as well as marketing material such as articles and press releases.

Initially, I have to admit, I was slightly intimidated by the prospect of this project, but find myself facing each new challenge with enthusiasm, continuing to push myself out of my comfort zone. The sheer amount of written material required for the exhibition was something which I found daunting at first, but, I have now come to enjoy this part of the process the most! My eyes have well and truly been opened to the nitty-gritty aspects of curating and all that it involves, and I am relishing the entire experience.

The RBSA is first and foremost an artist-led charity, and therefore, fundraising remains a core part of the gallery’s ethos. Without the dedication and support of volunteers and donors, opportunities like this, a chance to curate my own public exhibition, would not be possible. Having worked behind the scenes as a volunteer I’ve been lucky to see some of the treasures in the RBSA’s collection which cannot be on display because of their fragile condition. The Adopt-an-Artwork fundraising scheme helps to restore these beautiful works, so that they can go back on exhibition and be appreciated by RBSA visitors for years to come.

We are currently fundraising for some conservation costs of objects in the exhibition, please visit RBSA’s website to find out how you can ‘adopt an artwork’ to support us! –

'Seascape' by Norma Rhys Davies, shown here, is in desperate need of conservation in order for it to be included in our exhibition.

Seascape by Norma Rhys Davies, shown here, is in desperate need of conservation in order for it to be included in our exhibition.

While volunteer roles often focus specifically on one particular department such as marketing, conservation or education, this project has allowed us to dip our toes in a whole variety of roles. Each week we are gaining new experiences, skills, and insights, not just on gallery practice but the arts sector more broadly. Although it has been hard work I think we can both agree that we’ve benefited from gaining curatorial experience as well as being involved in less familiar aspects, like public engagement and fundraising. Overall, this opportunity is definitely proving to be a fully hands-on, immersive and irreplaceable experience for budding art-world professionals such as ourselves!

Of course, Tate and I still have much more left to do over the coming months, including the exhibition install, preparations for our opening private view (watch this space for invites!) and a full events programme of talks and workshops to finalise. Look out for further blogs on the Golovine updating you on our progress!

Abstraction at the RBSA opens on the 5th of October.

History of Art students have been filming ‘Projecting Culture’! Emily Robins tells us all about it ahead of next week’s screening…

‘Projecting culture’ forms the name and basis of an exciting student-led project, which has been made possible thanks to the university’s generous Education Enhancement Fund. The funding scheme is designed to provide students with up to £1,000 to realise a project which engages directly with, and contributes to, ‘the enhancement of students’ educational experience at the University’.

projecting culture logo

Back in summer 2014, History of Art students Hannah Welfare and Sarah Theobald crafted an intricate proposal which aimed to expand UoB students’ cultural engagement. The aim was to highlight events and venues not only right under their noses on campus, but across the whole of Birmingham. From the offset it was decided that, in order to showcase the wealth of places on offer we would create two short films – one focusing on campus-based attractions and the other on places further afield in the city. With helpful support from the Centre of Learning and Academic Development, ‘Projecting Culture’ was born.

As a History of Art student I was aware of the many galleries and activities open to students across the local area – Digbeth Dining Club and First Friday, Eastside Projects and Grand Union, just to name a few. However, I also understood how my experience fed naturally into my degree and that it would be fantastic to raise the profile of these great, interesting and, most importantly, cultural places to all students, not just those studying Arts-based subjects. ‘Projecting Culture’ also showcases to prospective students what is on offer beyond the university, demonstrating why Birmingham is a wonderful place to study.

The Projecting Culture team filming at the Barber Institute on campus

The Projecting Culture team filming at the Barber Institute

Since September 2014, the team has seen the project really start to heat up, with liaisons across the board between staff, gallery professionals and enthusiastic volunteers. For everyone taking part this project has certainly allowed for the development of new skills and experiences outside the practical and academic structure of degree studies. Fellow Art History students Jess Stallwood and Oliver Stevenson have been working behind the camera to jointly direct and edit the production. With the large body of filming primarily under our belts, we are currently in the editing phase of the project, polishing up the footage of some great local ‘gems’- including the Ikon Gallery, the Digital Humanities Hub and Winterbourne House and Gardens. Each new location, whether on campus or in the city, brings with it new and exciting challenges. Despite the majority of students involved in this project being from the Art History department, our tastes are quite diverse, which allowed us to explore and select a real variety of locations, as well as choosing the ones which really showed Birmingham as the thriving city we all know and love!

Filming at the new Library of Birmingham

Filming at the new Library of Birmingham

When ‘Projecting Culture’ was getting off its feet back in the first term I never could have imagined the broad range of skills I would develop as part of this team. All in all, I have continued to step outside my comfort zone to engage with the local cultural offer and appreciate a novel way of expanding fellow students’ cultural horizons. Also, it has been refreshing to examine these places from a more practical perspective, assessing whether they were suitable for filming as well as selecting which elements we should emphasise in order to appeal to a broad range of students’ interests.

The grand screening for the ‘Projecting Culture’ films is being held on Wednesday 3rd of June at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, commencing at 5.45pm with free popcorn and wine all round. All are welcome, so if you are interested in attending, don’t hesitate to email Jess Stallwood (contact, or see our facebook page for more information. For a taste of what to expect, check out the trailer here!
Applications for this year’s Education Enhancement fund are now open, so if you have an idea on how you could spend that £1000, I would thoroughly recommend giving it a shot!

Emily Robins

Barber Association trip to the New Art Gallery Walsall

Barber Association members, Hollie Pimm, Emily Robins, Jess Stallwood and Sarah Theobald, tell us about the New Art Gallery Walsall and some of their favourite works on display…

Earlier this year, the Barber Association organised a trip to the New Art Gallery Walsall for its members. This was certainly a treat as none of us had visited the gallery before. We had a private, behind-the-scenes tour of the collections with curator Julie Brown, which made the trip even more exciting for those of us art historians who see working in galleries as our dream jobs.

The Walsall gallery was built in 2000 and is a very modern and impressive building. Once inside, the gallery space is very intimate with a number of small rooms and big wooden staircases leading between floors. A great feature of the gallery is the fact that it offers artwork to suit all tastes, from panel paintings from the Renaissance to post-Impressionist and Modern works of art.

The main attraction of the gallery is its Garman Ryan collection, which was donated to the borough of Walsall by Kathleen Garman, the wife of well-known English sculptor Jacob Epstein. The collection is on permanent display and has a wealth of interesting artworks by a number of significant artists, such as Gauguin, Monet, Turner and Constable. We found the curating of the gallery very interesting; instead of the usual chronological grouping or the organisation of work according to artist, the artworks are arranged by general themes, such as landscape and townscape, animals and birds, portraits and religion, to name a few.


The New Art Gallery Walsall

Here are some of our favourite works of art from the trip:

Lucian Freud, Portrait of Kitty, 1949, Oil on board, 32 cm x 24 cm


This is a portrait by Lucian Freud of his first wife Kitty Garman, daughter of Kathleen Garman (donor of the main collection) and Jacob Epstein. Kitty was married to Freud in 1948 and therefore this portrait is from very early on in their marriage. Although their marriage together didn’t last very long, what strikes me about this portrait is that it is incredibly intimate. The viewer is left with the impression that they are very close to kitty, leaving us to imagine that she is right in front of us. The muted green and brown colours also make her delicate, pale skin glow and her beauty stand out to the viewer. The viewer takes on the role of the artist and we perhaps see her through his loving gaze.

Hollie Pimm

Epstein Archive

What fascinated me the most was the archive interventions provided by leading contemporary artist – Bob and Roberta Smith, in his ‘Epstein Archive Gallery.’ Smith’s two year residency at Walsall has resulted in an installation which not only illuminates the interesting history of the Epstein Family, but allows viewers to interact and engage with archival items and gain a deeper understanding not just of the family, but of the collection itself. Furthermore, the artistic response to the letters, photographs and diaries which form the archive basis is in keeping with the themes present in the permanent collection at Walsall, whilst remaining committed to the gallery programme which seeks to explore the diversity of contemporary art.

Emily Robins


Gauguin, Auti Te Pape, c.1893-1894, woodcut


While wandering round the New Art Gallery Walsall I found myself amongst a great number of artworks by some of the most important artists in history, such as Paul Gauguin (1848-1903). Personally, I have always been fascinated by the life and work of the French post-Impressionist and I was excited to discover that Auti Te Pape (c.1893-1894), a woodcut by the artist, was part of the collection.

As a man who chose to abandon his family and ‘civilized’ life in Europe, Gauguin developed a reputation as an artist attempting a return to man-kind’s so-called ‘primitive’ origins and connection with nature. His time living and painting in Tahiti towards the end of the nineteenth century was seen by many as an escape from the artifice of modern and industrialized France. This particular print depicts two Tahitian women, supposedly unaware of the artist’s gaze. The stylized impressions made by woodcut prints were perhaps used to represent the seeming honesty and purity of the Tahitian people. The simplified and inky markings perhaps symbolise the exotic and erotic myth which Gauguin presented to his stifled and constrained Western world.

Jess Stallwood

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Portrait of Elizabeth Siddall, The Artist’s Wife, pencil on paper, 23cm x 19.5cm


‘This particular drawing depicts Lizzie being interrupted whilst reading, with her head propped on her hands as her famous copper hair cascades down her back.’

Being a fervent admirer of the Pre-Raphaelites, spotting this painting was a pure delight. I immediately thought that it was a very intimate portrait of Lizzie Siddall, with her dream-like gaze from her heavily hooded eyes and the soft touch of her hands on her jaw line. Although Rossetti’s speed can be seen in his pencil strokes, he has arguably taken great care to capture his beautiful wife. Another thing to note about this work is its title. It is hoped that ‘Portrait of Elizabeth Siddall, The Artist’s Wife’  was the title that Rossetti himself gave to the drawing because it suggests that he was accepting commitment as they were married the same year in which this drawing was made. By titling the drawing of Elizabeth Siddall in this way, it might suggest a grand loving gesture from him to his new wife who was suffering from depression. It is unlikely that he would have named a sketch, but it was found on the wall of his studio after he died.

Sarah Theobald

Overall, we all thoroughly enjoyed our trip organised by the Barber Association, and we were very lucky to get a sneak peak behind the scenes of the gallery. The gallery is definitely worth a visit – it is only 20 minutes away from Birmingham by train and has lots of hidden treasures in its collection…

Hollie Pimm, Emily Robins, Jess Stallwood, Sarah Theobald

First-year Camila Poccard reviews ‘Antonio Berni: Juanito y Ramona’ in Buenos Aires

 golovine article-2

I was in Argentina recently and whilst I was there I visited an exhibition Antonio Berni: Juanito y Ramona at the MALBA (Museo de Arte Latino Americano de Buenos Aires/ Museum of Latin-American Art of Buenos Aires). The exhibition displayed a large collection of the work of Argentine artist Antonio Berni, the majority of which was created from the late 1950s to the late 1970s. The MALBA is one of the only art galleries in Buenos Aires that was purpose built to be an art gallery and consequently it has a modern, bright and clean interior, which seemed juxtaposed with Berni’s hectic and vibrant work.



Berni, ‘Juanito y su familia mirando el televisor’, 1974

The exhibition focused on a period in Berni’s career when he began to paint two fictitious characters he invented, Juanito Laguna and Ramona Montiel, to help explore social issues of large Latin American cities. This exhibition was the first of its kind to gather so much of Berni’s ‘Juanito and Ramona’ works, and MALBA collaborated with the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston to do so.

Juanito Laguna is portrayed as a young boy from a poor neighbourhood or shantytown, who collects garbage. Although his situation is bleak, he still retains his hopes and dreams, which Berni himself discusses in this video. This sense of hope can be seen, for example, in the painting of Juanito playing with a toy airplane and gazing up at a spaceship, dreaming of opportunities. As this was painted around the time of the moon landings, Berni makes Juanito like any other boy of his time who dreams of going to space, perhaps making him a relatable, contemporary character.


Berni, ‘Juanito Laguna y la aeronave’, 1978

Ramona Montiel, on the other hand, was created as a character to represent lower-class women. She becomes a prostitute in order to earn enough money to live and, through her character, Berni comments on the sex trade, the status of women, and also the lack of professional opportunities afforded to women.


Berni, ‘El Examen’, 1976



Berni, ‘Juanito Laguna going to the factory’, 1977

The paintings of Juanito in particular are large in size and striking. Berni was a very experimental artist and used new techniques in his artworks. Whilst he uses oil paints for the background and to paint Juanito himself, the work is dominated by collaged industrial waste and garbage that Berni collected. These objects protrude from the paintings, creating a 3D effect. The amount of metal used in the paintings is also quite jarring, as it reminds the viewer of the environment in which poor children represented by Juanito live. Instead of painting Juanito’s clothing, Berni places real items of clothing onto the canvas, often using popular clothes of the time, suggesting further how the character represents a particular class of children. However, the artist is also perhaps making a statement about how capitalist society and consumer culture fuel poverty. By using real, relevant and contemporary objects and popular culture to explore social issues, Berni creates in a way more ‘real’ characters. In fact, his characters have since taken on a life of their own in Argentina, becoming folks legends, incorporated into the lyrics of tango music and folks songs, as well as in poems and stories.


Berni, ‘Juanito the Scavenger’, 1978

In Juanito the Scavenger, the child is lost in a sea of industrial waste and garbage, and his face looks despondent. This painting depicts the common practice of children in slums rummaging in garbage for things to sell. Even though the scene is bleak, Berni’s use of colour brings life into the painting. I found that even though the paintings are gripping and have a serious political message, Berni’s use of colour makes them accessible and almost child-like. It suggests the vibrancy of Latin America, whilst also reminding viewers that Juanito is just a boy.

Overall I found the exhibition fascinating; it compiled so much of Berni’s work and was a testament to this experimental stage in his career. The exhibition was large and comprehensive, spread across different rooms over three floors, encompassing printmaking, sculpture as well as painting; I think it was a triumph. The exhibition opened in October in 2014 and proved to be very popular. Although Berni’s paintings were created in the late 1950s through to late 1970s, the social and economic issues they explore still plague many large Latin American cities today, so the political meaning of these paintings is still gripping and relevant.

Camila Poccard (1st-year History of Art student)


Prague, Pilsner and Palaces: Study Trip Abroad 2015

Every year in February, second-year BA History of Art students at the University of Birmingham go on a Study Trip to examine the art and architecture of a major artistic centre abroad, such as Paris, Berlin or Rome. Emily Martin and Anna Stileman report on this year’s trip to Prague…

This year’s second-year Art History Study Trip was to the art hub of Prague, led by Professor Matthew Rampley. Courageously his wife, Dr Marta Filipová, herself a Czech art historian, and University of Birmingham PhD student Kristine MacMichael agreed to come along and share their knowledge with us. The striking image of the Jan Hus memorial greeted us on our first day in the city, as it impressively stands over the square of the Old Town. Hus’ gaze took in the historical churches and decorated buildings, as well as wonderfully brightly coloured preparations for the Chinese New Year. The amount of art we saw, admired, and discussed over pints of Pilsner beer during our trip was incredible. The entire city of Prague is a work of art with its cobbled streets, painted facades and Gothic churches.

Jan Hus

Jan Hus Memorial, Old Town Square


Enjoying some Pilsner


The Czech Republic is a country which appears to have been in a constant battle to define its own national identity. The complicated history is intimately entwined with the Habsburg Holy Roman Empire and all this is what makes its collection of art, found throughout the city in its numerous palaces, so interestingly dynamic, if not a bit strange. Take St. Vitus Cathedral as an example. A testament to Gothic architecture but re-worked so many times that it reflects the interests of its nineteenth-century renovators as much as its original architects. Of note are the more contemporary stained glass windows by the Czech artist Alfons Mucha, who is well known for his Art Nouveau posters in Paris, but was also an ardent Czech patriot during the 1920s. We saw his Slav Epic, a cycle of 20 large canvases, on the penultimate day of our trip and it was a favourite for many of the group. The cycle of canvases grouped together in Veletržní palác are powerful in their patriotic display of the history of the Czech nation. However, the works were sadly viewed as too archaic in their day, and displayed since 2012 in the Veletržní palác, alongside the rest of the late-nineteenth and twentieth-century collections of the national gallery, is contrary to the works’ art-historical context.

Slave Epic

Alfons Mucha, The Slav Epic; Master Jan Hus Preaching at Bethlehem Chapel, 1916

The visit to the Senate of Parliament of the Czech Republic in Wallenstein Palace (Valdštejnský palác) gave us a glimpse of where the country is governed. Its appearance did not disappoint. Our guide took us on a tour through magnificent rooms, such as the seventeenth-century Main Hall with the slightly outrageous ceiling mural by Baccio del Bianco (note the Italian name) which features the seventeenth-century aristocratic General Valdštejnský as Mars the god of war. In addition, the Knight Hall was extraordinary with walls covered in veal leather tapestries pressed with various motifs. The Czech Republic’s variable heritage is evident by the way in which this is so casually neighboured by Venetian mirrors of the nineteenth century. Perhaps even more perplexing is how the official Parliament assembly room was originally the palace horses’ stable.

Vitkok hill

View from Vítkov Hill

On the last day, those of us who had a chance to see Vítkov Hill Memorial were glad we did. Not only was it a perfect position from which to see panoramic views of the city, but offers an amazing insight into the Czech’s era of Communism. The Communist occupation is also evidently shown in the architecture of the New Town (Nové Mĕsto).


National Mem

National Memorial, Vítkov Hill

In Prague the people are kind, the beer is cheap and the opportunity to see stunning works is all around. The remarkable thing about Prague is that the palaces and buildings, regardless of when they were built and what historical prominence they hold, all manage to fit into the landscape. Something so bold as the National Memorial on Vítkov Hill looks down on the churches and small building complexes with their red roofs, and yet doesn’t seem out of place. The friezes by Alfons Mucha do not appear juxtaposed to St. Vitus Cathedral. Prague is an eclectic city, but one which suits its own style.

By Emily Martin and Anna Stileman




An obligatory Prague selfie…



Second-year student Patricia Nistor reviews ‘Marlene Dumas: The Image as Burden’

Last term second-year History of Art student Patricia Nistor spent a Semester Abroad in Leiden at one of the most reputable universities in The Netherlands. She describes her experience as follows: “I developed a wide range of skills but also had a lot of fun, making for what were probably the best four months of my life.”  While in Amsterdam she took the opportunity to visit the exhibition Marlene Dumas: The Image as Burden at the Stedelijk Museum, which is now on at Tate Modern, and wrote a review for The Golovine…

‘Painting?! Are you kidding me?’ was my first reaction when I found out we were going to see the Marlene Dumas exhibition at the Stedelijk in Amsterdam. I consider myself a lover of all arts and all periods alike, but I was virtually convinced that painting has to be on its deathbed in the 21st century. There seemed to be no potency left for painting in a time where new media and new approaches are competing fiercely for our attention. Needless to say that Marlene Dumas is the exception that proved me wrong.

The Image as Burden is a retrospective of works created in the last 40 years by the South African-born artist Marlene Dumas. The Stedelijk is a particularly powerful place to hold such an exhibition, as it was the museum where she took part in her first group exhibition in 1978. The inclusion of the artist, then only 25, reinforces the museum’s position as a maker, rather than follower of canon.

Image 1

Marlene Dumas, ‘The Image as Burden’, 1993 © Marlene Dumas

The exhibition brochure opens with a quote that is key to what is on display: “images are always political. Something is always assigned to an image –this is a criminal, (…) that is erotic – and that’s what I am involved with: the psychology of perception’’. Dumas’ subject matter is incredibly wide and fluid: ranging from religion, war, race, love, death, guilt, and art itself – all converging in representing the theme we might call life itself. In the end, the power always lies in the hands of the viewer to decipher the meaning.

The varied subject matter in the exhibition is tied together by Dumas’ style and technique, and all her works somehow find a particular place within the pictorial universe she creates. Her art seems to be a construction of simplicity: all lines seem to be in the right place and the scarce amount of detail is perfectly controlled to achieve a vagueness but at the same time coherent figures.

Marlene Dumas, ‘Evil is Banal’, 1984 © Marlene Dumas

Another major characteristic in her art is reworking. Dumas never paints life directly; the mediation of photography is always present. She uses personal Polaroids as well as newspaper photographs as a basis as she launches into a radical decontextualisation and processing of visual culture. She ends up creating her own space where people are not exactly real but they are not imaginary either. In one piece, Jesus Serene, she uses existing images of Jesus, such as the one on the Turin Shroud, side by side with images of her friends. The result is an exploration of humanity itself, with the figures all seeming equal, genderless and not of any particular race.

Image 3

Marlene Dumas, Jesus Serene, 1994 © Marlene Dumas

Echoes from Dumas’ childhood in South Africa still deeply permeate her work. She unapologetically tackles feminism, race, grief and the naked body all at once in haunting pictures such as The Widow. She also works to include African figures ignored in the narrow Western standard of beauty. It is interesting to note how the Stedelijk chose to tiptoe around this issue, claiming the title of the exhibition refers to ‘the conflict between the painterly gesture and the illusion of the painted image’. Rachel Spence writing for The Financial Times offered an alternative reading of this. She reminds that South Africa was a country where representations of certain people were banned and that it ‘had become a country where images were regarded as bombs’.

Image 4

Marlene Dumas, ‘Naomi’, 1995 © Marlene Dumas

All in all, Dumas’ work probably owes its success to a strong mixture of emotional intensity and current political relevance. In this review, I barely touch the surface of the two hundred artworks displayed in the exhibition. The multiplicity of aspects and depth in her work would require many more words to be properly explored. However, this serves as a reminder that The Image as Burden is currently on at Tate Modern until 10 May 2015, and it is definitely a great opportunity to visit a wonderfully-curated exhibition of one of the most intriguing painters of our time.

Patricia Nistor (2nd-year History of Art student)

Second-year student Emily Robins visits the Newman Brothers Coffin Works…

With a touch of what some may deem to be ‘morbid curiosity’, I decided to spend a free Wednesday afternoon visiting Birmingham Conservation Trust’s latest project – the Newman Brothers Coffin Works. The slightly-misleading name ‘Coffin Works’ conjures up an image of a rather gloomy, depressing funeral parlour place but, to dispel some myths, this image couldn’t be further from truth. In fact, the Conservation Trust has succeeded in creating not only a sensitive portrayal of several aspects of the funerary industry, but also, more importantly, an intriguing time-capsule experience of factory life in the early 1960s. After 16 years of closure, and following a national campaign, this historic jewellery quarter business has been restored to the former glory of its post-war heyday.

On arrival I was greeted by staff in authentic 1960s uniforms and asked to ‘clock in’ using the original machine. It was pretty quiet for a Wednesday afternoon, so our tour guide, the exceptionally knowledgeable Robin, took me and two other visitors for a tour. We began with a brief history of the company. I was surprised to learn that Newman Bros had never actually made coffins, only handles, plates and shrouds. All of these objects are in keeping with the company’s Jewellery Quarter location and credentials. We headed over to the first stop on the tour, the ‘Stamp Room’. Here Robin provided a hands-on demonstration of the traditional equipment used to cut out coffin plates, crucifixes and other shapes from sheet metal. This was followed by an interactive experience in the storeroom, where we were invited to touch and examine designs used for handles and accessories. The room was full to the brim with all sorts of objects; I couldn’t help but admire the sheer quantity of original packaging and furniture still in-situ.


Inside the Stamp Room


Authentic Coffin-Handle Packaging and Embalming Chemicals

Afterwards, Robin took us through to the main office, again beautiful preserved and complete with the very Mad Men-esque addition of a drinks cupboard stocked with champagne! Here I was asked to answer the telephone and jot down the orders from a client on the other end of the line, half expecting the big boss to arrive back any minute!


The Big Boss’ Desk in the Office

Robin then ushered us upstairs to the last room on the tour, the ‘Shroud Room’. The name is enough to send shivers down anyone’s spine; you might imagine a ghostly and dusty attic room. However, once again Newman bros challenged my assumptions as I entered a light and airy workshop, more befitting to a designer atelier. Piled high across every available surface were luxurious fabrics in numerous prints, textures and colours. By the windows sit sewing machines and workstations which appear as if they were only vacated a minute or so ago, whilst the factory girls nip out to lunch. Throughout the tour, keen eyes will be drawn to more of these authentic and detailed touches, which make a visit to the Coffin Works feel like as if you’ve stepped back in time. My personal favourites were touches such as the tea-break corner, complete with a variety of cups and cosies and listing how everyone prefers to take their hard-earned cuppa.


Box of Shroud Labels


Workspace in the Shroud Room

Robin finished the tour with some final reflections and anecdotes about the staff and personnel who spent the best part of their lives in these very rooms. Overall, I left the Coffin Works with the image of a workplace that was not without its eccentricities, but that nonetheless played a crucial role in the shaping of Birmingham as an industrial city; a role which will remain crucial as Newman Bros continues its transformative trajectory as not only a heritage attraction, but a perfectly preserved slice of social, cultural and manufacturing history.

Emily Robins (2nd-year History of Art student)

ARTiculation Workshop: the Barber teams up with Ikon and UoB postgraduates to work with sixth formers passionate about art!

Back in October last year, Jen Ridding, Learning and Access Officer at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, invited History of Art PhD students to help deliver a workshop for sixth formers that she was planning in association with ARTiculation Prize.

ARTiculation is an annual national competition organised by The Roche Court Educational Trust, which invites sixth-form students to give a short presentation on a work of art, artefact, or architecture of their choice. The Midlands regional heat of the competition took place on 19 January at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, adjudicated by our very own Dr Richard Clay, Senior Lecturer in History of Art. Jen and Erin Libetta, Learning Assistant at Ikon, organised the workshop at the Barber to support students wishing to apply for the ARTiculation process. The workshop was also an opportunity for sixth formers who are passionate about art and might be interested in pursuing a Higher Education art-based course to test out their visual analysis skills in a University-based collection.

In preparation for our workshop with the sixth formers, we had a fantastic training session with Sarah Rowles, Director of Q-Art, an organisation that supports access to and development in art education. The training workshop was based on a ‘crit session’ that are normally held in art schools where students present their work to a group of peers who then respond and offer their interpretations of the work under scrutiny. For this workshop we adapted the crit format to consider artworks from the Barber’s collection. We all enjoyed and appreciated spending a Thursday afternoon upstairs in the Barber galleries analysing works that none of focus on in our own research!

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Training session at the Barber with Jen Ridding, Erin Libetta & Sarah Rowles

The following week, 12 sixth formers from 3 local schools and colleges attended our workshop at the Barber, some of whom hadn’t visited the collection here on campus before. Lucy Salisbury, Head of Outreach at The Roche Court Educational Trust also joined us to participate and spread the word about ARTiculation. We began the session by watching a talk given at last year’s ARTiculation competition by Harr-Joht Takhar on BM&AG’s Man with Sheep by Ana Maria Pacheco. Harr-Joht was also at the workshop and was on-hand to share her experiences with the rest of the group. She emphasised how much she had enjoyed taking part previously as it enabled her to develop different skills, not only in presenting but also, for example, the ability to research a subject independently.

We then divided into groups, each led by one or two of us PhD students, to produce a list of questions we might ask when facing an artwork for the first time, such as ‘what kind of reaction does this work provoke’, ‘how was it made’ and ‘what is particularly striking about it’? Armed with our A3 sheets of probing questions, we went upstairs in the galleries where each group selected an artwork on which to test out their enquiries. Group 1 picked a nineteenth-century painting depicting a tranquil, green landscape, Group 2 selected a seventeenth-century bronze statuette of a horse and Group 3 opted for a large Renaissance painting representing an exchange between two figures amidst a crowd of people. Without looking at any labels for clues, insightful group discussions ensued about the possible reasons why the particular spot depicted in the landscape had been chosen, who might have owned a bronze sculpture of a horse, and who each of the figures might be in the Renaissance painting. Each group then gave a short informal presentation to everyone else about their findings.


Group 1 analysing a landscape


Group 2 discussing bronze horses


Group 3 debating the identity of the figures in Paolo Veronese’s painting

Before the workshop, students were asked to bring along an image of their choice. We concluded the session with partner-work where the students swapped images in their pairs and spent a few minutes analysing one another’s artwork.

Overall we thoroughly enjoyed helping Jen and Erin to lead the workshop, and feedback indicates that the students enjoyed the opportunity to interrogate artworks in the Barber’s wonderful collection.

Erin Libetta said of this year’s ARTiculation heat at Ikon:

‘The ARTiculation Regional Heat, has been a highlight in Ikon’s calendar for the last four years. This year’s event was no exception, with seven speakers taking part from Sixth Forms across the Midlands and talks ranging from the subjects of architecture and illustration, to the very artworks that formed a backdrop to the proceedings, namely Ikon’s exhibition of work by Deutsche Bank Artist of the Year, Imran Qureshi. There was a fantastic atmosphere in the galleries, which were full of peers and teachers from the participating schools supporting their speakers. It was really encouraging to see students, that had taken part in taster ARTiculation Crit Sessions and Discovery Days, build the confidence to enter the regional heat, moreover securing runner-up positions.’

Ikon Heat 2015- Speakers Pic

ARTiculation participants with adjudicator, Dr Richard Clay


The winners of Ikon’s regional heat were:
First Prize Winner: Thomas Leung from Bancroft’s School for his presentation, The Turbine Hall.
Second Prize Winner: Javerya Iqbal from Holly Lodge High School for her presentation, Imran Qureshi, The Leprous Brightness (2011).
Third Prize Winner: Oscar Boyle from Kings School Worcester for his presentation, Cy Twombly,  Leda and The Swan (1962).

The final of ARTiculation takes place at Clare College, University of Cambridge this Saturday (7 March). The adjudicator will be Dr. Penelope Curtis, Director, Tate Britain.


Lauren Dudley & Imogen Wiltshire


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