Ukraine Independence Day at the Sackler Library Book Display
By Jamie Copeland
The Sackler Library has hosted a display celebrating the unique cultural heritage of Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion back in February (see below for one such iteration).
Although the display was curated and regularly updated (by Graduate Library Trainee Izzie Salter, during her traineeship) it was felt that something new should be created; both to mark Ukraine Independence Day and to do what the Libraries could to promote an awareness of Ukraine’s artistic, archaeological and architectural heritage. There was also the opportunity to display the breadth of the Sackler’s collections, stretching from archaeological findings, including Scythian jewellery, through the Golden Age of Kyiv and the treasures of the churches, up to the strife of recent centuries and events where avant-garde and contemporary artists have continued the varieties of a resilient Ukrainian culture.
As the deadline of Ukraine Independence Day was close, I wanted to focus largely on the Sackler’s collections as they were immediately accessible (compared to the items held in other libraries) and could be selected for visual impact and as part of a curated collection focusing on material culture. I also wanted to take the opportunity to highlight individual artists who I felt had made important contributions to Ukraine’s culture. One of the more interesting issues of the conflict was also the debate about what constituted an independent Ukraine and whether there was such a nationality as the Ukrainians; from the history of nomadic populations and disputed borders to the internationalism of the USSR, masking famines and deportations. By promoting individual artists, I felt I could examine the histories of people such as Kazimir Malevich, an ethnically Polish artist born in Kiev, highly regarded as a leading figure in the Soviet avant-garde who described his nationality as Ukrainian when arrested for crimes against ‘Socialist Realism’. Another figure I found to be of interest was Donia Naschen, born in Zhitomir (then Russia, now Ukraine) whose family fled tsarist pogroms to settle in London, illustrating editions of Gogol, translations of the Haggadah, and WWII propaganda posters. I wanted to take the opportunity to highlight such individuals, from various backgrounds, linked by war and exile, but marked, I felt, by the shared environment of Ukraine and its cultures.
It was also necessary to create a poster to publicize the display. While researching the artists I had seen a particular work by Malevich which, unlike his more abstract works, shows a figure, almost devoid of feature, standing against a background that closely matches the Ukraine flag. Although the figure is faceless it seemed that this made it more representative of a people, with its seeming motionless, expressing an air of steadfastness.
While reading about the painting technique used by Malevich, the building of layers of paint to achieve a unique colour through the accumulation of surfaces, it occurred to me that I could add a (digital) layer of yellow to the image to heighten the resemblance to the flag without completely effacing the underlying image. I felt that this could be symbolic of the various histories of Ukraine and work as a promotional poster for the display, which I intended to reflect the Sackler’s holdings on Ukraine’s culture, celebrating its Independence Day, while extending beyond the war. The alterations to the image were made with GIMP, using largely fill and brush effects to retain a paint resemblance and allow the original image to show through. This was then pasted into a Word document to enable revisions to the text of the poster to be easily made.
With the art, archaeology and architecture collections that would make up the display, I wanted to include some books, such as ‘The gates of Europe: a history of Ukraine’ that would give an accessible overview of the nation’s history, combined with books, preferably in one of the languages previously/currently used in Ukraine, and from the Sackler holdings, that could address more specific topics. I wanted these, as being largely textual, to be arranged in a stack similar to a bookshop display to encourage people to feel free to browse the volumes without feeling that they were tampering with an arranged display.
To complement this and to reflect the strengths of the Sackler Library collections in architecture, archaeology and art I decided to group books in an order that would broadly follow the layout of the collections around the Sackler’s five-floor building. (See below image galleries.) So, starting from the left-hand side of the display, with items from the archaeology collections (normally housed on the Library’s lower floors) forming a pillar surmounted by a striking visual image. Complementing this, I placed a German language book on the early history of the Crimea, choosing a map showing the Scythians’ movement through the Crimea, which I hoped would display the long history of migration while showing Ukraine and the currently annexed Crimea as deeply connected geographies. The facing page also had illustrations of archaeological finds, which I wanted as a demonstration of the scientific aspect of that collection. While arranging the display I became concerned that a prominent map of an invasion might not be suitable for a day celebrating that nation’s independence. To balance this, I placed a book showing the collection of the Lviv Picture Gallery, open at a page containing a portrait of a woman dressed in blue and yellow.
Echoing this, and shifting to the Sackler Library’s art collections, I placed a selection of books on individual artists in the space behind, with the book, ‘Alexis Gritchenko: Dynamocolor’ opened at a painting that again had strong use of yellow and blue facing the chapter title quotation ‘The Young Ukrainian Artist Has Conquered Paris’ which I felt demonstrated the importance of Ukraine’s contribution to global culture and refuted the claim that Ukraine was merely a Russian province whose sense of nationhood was a recent Western creation.
To support the poster, I placed a book with Malevich’s name clearly visible. Although the Sackler has impressive holdings of publications on this artist I was careful about keeping the focus upon Ukraine Independence Day, so I restricted myself to one book on Malevich and one book about the Anna Leporskaya collection of his work, as she was an important Ukraine artist in her own right. I also felt her work as an archivist indicated the importance of cultural institutions as collective memory-banks. Below this, I placed a copy of the Haggadah, open at Donia Naschen’s illustration of Israel’s bondage, as I felt this would be a recognisable scene and that the yellow matched the adjacent promotion of badges supporting Ukraine.
(Please collect your Ukraine badge from the display.)
Finally, I placed another group of books themed around religious art and church buildings, as this would represent the Sackler’s holdings on architecture, and the significance of the granting of autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine in 2019, described by the then president as ‘a charter of [Ukraine’s] spiritual independence’.
Although reasonably happy with the final arrangement of the display, I was conscious of the need to show traditionally underrepresented artists and cultures within the Ukraine spectrum. Although work on these categories has been published recently, many of these publications are available primarily online so I was unable to include them in the display. I also wanted to make better use of the Sackler’s collections of art journals, especially regarding more contemporary artists. As the plan is to update the display in coming weeks I hope to be able to include this material in future arrangements.
This blog post documents my experience as a Graduate Library Trainee assisting at the ‘Introduction to Bodleian Libraries Special Collections’ event, held for History of Art undergraduate and graduate students at the Taylor Institution Library in December 2021.
Across the libraries, we hold a myriad of intriguing and unique items. Still, it may be difficult for readers to know how to find these, and where to start. It is here where the then Subject Librarian for Art & Architecture Librarian and Italian Literature & Language, Clare Hills-Nova, was able to draw upon her knowledge of the Bodleian Libraries’ collections to introduce History of Art students to a few of our less well-known holdings.
Since having arrived at the Sackler in September 2021, I have been fortunate to spend plenty of time around visual culture materials. I’ve arranged a Japanese photobook display (in support of the Ashmolean’s Tokyo! exhibition), relabelled items from the WJ Strachan collection, and processed new publications about architects and artists on a broad range of periods and geographic areas. This is a far cry from my undergraduate haunts of law statutes and case reports – albeit a very welcome change. When Clare asked me to support the event she was planning for the History of Art Department’s students, and subsequently attend it, I was more than happy.
Artist interpretations of Dante’s Divine Comedy (14th Century – 21st Century)
The event comprised two parts. The first, held in the Voltaire Room, expanded upon the Taylorian’s exhibition on Dante Alighieri and his Divine Comedy, which my fellow Trainee Malcolm Spencer has so wonderfully discussed. The exhibition’s curator, Professor Gervase Rosser led a presentation here – titled ‘Illustrating Dante’s Divine Comedy – on artists’ interpretations of the themes expressed in the Comedy.
This incorporated a vast range of work and approaches, as Professor Rosser traced the fluctuating reception of Dante’s Divine Comedy through the centuries. The talk (and display) included: a facsimile of one of the earliest illustrated Dante manuscripts of the 1330s; an edition of Doré’s seminal engravings, through which he became considered a ‘master of the visually dramatic narrative’ (Angel, 2014) (see image below, line 2, tile 1); and American artist Leonard Baskin’s compelling illustrations (1969). Also on view were some of the many recent translations of the Divine Comedy — some of them with striking book covers and other illustrative material.
In advance of this, Malcolm and I gathered together items on artists’ engagement with Dante from our libraries.
Athanasius Kircher’s L’Arca di Noë (Amsterdam, 1675)
The second part of the event took place in the Taylorian’s Room 2, and showcased other works from the Sackler, Taylorian and Weston Libraries’ Special Collections. These works ranged in date and publication location from 17th century Amsterdam to 1970s Tokyo, via 1960s Los Angeles. Here, the earliest work on display was Athanasius Kircher’s (1602-1680)L’Arca di Noë (Amsterdam, 1675). This publication includes, for example, as shown, Kircher’s illustrations of hieroglyphics. Kircher prolifically studied and attempted to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics – from his translations and commentaries, he became considered ‘one of the greatest polymaths in 17th-Century Europe’ (Klawitter, 2015).
The page on display at the event was a fold-out depiction of the interior of Noah’s Ark, showing Noah’s family members, barrels of food (or beer) and a menagerie of creatures. What struck me in this view was the measurements below the image, giving dimensions of the Ark itself. Beyond being a fascinating detail, this grounds the narrative in reality. For contemporaries, it made the Ark easier to conceive, and its magnificent nature – even including a pair of unicorns – that bit more believable.
F.G. Haverfield Collection (18th century interpretations of Classical art)
Turning to 18th century England, students could also see examples from the Sackler’s F. J. Haverfield Archive — specifically, from his collection of images of Romano-British pavement mosaics. On display was an illustration of themosaic found at Littlecote Park, Wiltshire – the ‘Orpheus’ mosaic – alongside Joseph Bonomi’s (1739-1808) original carpet and ceiling designs (1785) for Bowood House, Wiltshire. Bonomi, like many of his contemporaries such as the Adam brothers – John (1721-1792), Robert (1728-1792), and James (1732- 1794) – for whom he worked at various points, was inspired by classical art and architecture. It is thought that Haverfield may have included the Bonomi designs in his image collection because one of their sources of inspiration could have been the mosaics discovered around this time. Indeed, the carpet bears some resemblance in shape and content to the mosaic (and is perhaps why Haverfield included it in his collection). You can find more about these works in a blog post written by former Trainee, Chloe Bolsover. These parallels were instantly compelling. The students could see the physical copies displayed side-by-side, draw comparisons, and possibly gain an understanding of the thought processes underlying Haverfield’s collection.
W.J. Strachan Collection (mid-20th Century)
In the weeks preceding the event, Clare and I had explored the Strachan Collection of mid-20th century artists’ books, made in France, for potential display items. The Strachan Collection comprises over 250 items – with, according to Strachan himself, ‘every ‘ism” from Cubism to neo-realism represented. Therefore, deciding which items to include for the event was a challenge.
Ultimately, we decided to focus primarily on women, non-French and other less well-known artists. Among the selection was Leonor Fini’s beautiful lithographs for Shakespeare’s La Tempête (The Tempest), and Chinese artist Zao Wou-ki’s lithographs illustrating André Malraux’s La Tentation del’Occident. To me, Wou-ki’s work was especially well-suited for the ‘Show’ aspect of this event: his bright and gestural work seems to capture harsh emotions so succinctly: hard to miss.
Hans Bellmer, a German artist, was also on display. Bellmer is best known for creating a series of life-sized dolls and photographing them. The Nazi Party labelled this work as ‘degenerate’, causing him to flee to France in 1938, where he remained for the rest of his life. His interest in dolls can be seen in his engravings for Les Marionettes, through the somewhat disjointed limbs he illustrated. These are coloured with a distinct blue and yellow. For me, this made Bellmer’s work particularly effective for a Show-and-Tell: viewers can trace the lines of his drawings, and enjoy the unique colours against the brown paper.
Alongside these artists from the Strachan collection was Wifredo Lam’s etchings for L’antichambre de la Nature. Of Chinese and Afro-Cuban descent Lam became familiar with African spiritual rites. It was also at this point that he began to be influenced by Surrealism. In 1938, he moved to Paris and met members of the art and poetry scene. He began to work alongside Picasso and became more interested by Cubism. After the Nazis occupied Paris, Lam returned to Cuba. Here, he combined his multiple artistic influences with his cultural experiences to create works on Afro-Cuban identity. To me, these various influences make Lam’s work so unique and striking. His singular work was therefore very fitting for the event, both to look at and to appreciate the diversity of the 1930s Parisian art scene.
Ed Ruscha’s Every Building on the Sunset Strip (1966)
We also showed Edward (Ed) Ruscha’s iconic Every Building on the Sunset Strip (1966). Running through through West Hollywood, Ruscha pasted hundreds of his photographs of the Strip together to create an 8-metre linear image. He shot these photos from his pick-up truck, with a motorized Nikon camera positioned on top. Interestingly, Ruscha opted to set the lens to infinity, bringing everything in each image into equal focus. The result is remarkable, almost like a flattened montage. Every Building on the Sunset Strip arrived in a slim silver slipcase – deceptively, very small (18 cm.). As we unfolded it, we asked our building staff, again and again, to bring in another table to support the length of the ‘strip’. It ended up stretching almost the whole length of the Taylorian’s Room 2! In the images shown here, the viewer can grasp the extent of the Strip, as Ruscha perhaps intended it to be viewed (many museums display it in concertina format).
The Japanese Box (1960s-1970s)
The item I was personally most excited about was The Japanese Box, a facsimile edition (2001) of seminal photographic works produced in post-War Japan. Throughout this Michaelmas term 2021 at the Sackler Library, I worked with a lot of material on Japanese photography, particularly from the 1970s. I created a book display in conjunction with the Tokyo exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum, and a corresponding blog post. Whilst researching for the post, I read a lot about Provoke, a 1960s-1970s avant-garde Japanese photography magazine, and its associated photographers. I developed a real love for the style and telos of this magazine. The photographers tasked themselves with reclaiming ‘documentation’ and they were keen to show life in 1970s Japan beyond the general perception of it as an economic powerhouse and post-war ideal. When Clare told me that the event for the History of Art students would include a box of recently-acquired facsimiles of the three issues of Provoke, alongside monographs by Provoke photographers,I was genuinely thrilled.
As with much of Japanese publishing it was clear that a lot of thought had gone into the design and packaging of this facsimile set. Characteristically, the black box containing the publications was itself striking: it was designed by Karl Lagerfeld. Inside, ‘designer’ plastic bands, labelled ‘The Japanese Box’, carefully held the six publications together. We spread them out on the table, ready for students to examine. Picking each volume up, we could see a rich array of photos of Japan and each artist’s personal experience of living there. This ranged from Nobuyoshi Araki’s photos of his honeymoon in Sentimental Journey (Senchimentaru na tabi), to student protests in Tokyo in Provoke. A few days ahead of the event, Clare asked me to introduce the event’s attendees to the box and its contents. Studying and presenting this set was a highlight of my traineeship. After my presentation several students asked to examine the Box’s contents further, and we discussed the Provoke movement while viewing our favourite images in the set.
At the event itself, the students appeared to be completely immersed in the works we showed. In the Voltaire Room, where Professor Gervase Rosser presented the Dante-inspired work, attendees asked questions about how different artists interpreted the themes of the Divine Comedy. In Room 2, the group lined up along the length of Every Building on the Sunset Strip, pointing at (for example) where pasted pictures cut up cars. L’Arca di Noë invited students to examine the interplay between imagination and reality,whilst others admired the various artists’ books and different mosaic patterns from the Haverfield collection. Although held on the last day of term, the event overran, with many attendees keen to continue examining and discussing the works on display. It was a huge success, and a tribute to the remarkable range of Special Collections held across the libraries. I cannot wait to explore them further.
Izzie Salter Graduate Trainee, Sackler Library
Angel, Sara. “‘Too Many Illustrations, Not Enough Glory’: Known for his Art for Dante’s ‘Inferno,’ Gustave Dore Merited Wider Fame.” Maclean’s (Toronto) 127.23 (2014): 66. Web. (available publicly here)
Strachan, WJ. The Artist and the Book in France. The 20th Century Livre D’artiste. London: Owen, 1969. Print. (Sackler Library Shelfmark: 914.2 Str)
2021 marked the 700th anniversary of the death of Dante Alighieri, Florentine poet, author of the Divine Comedy, and an icon of medieval European literature. The many celebrations held in his honour ranged from exhibitions, rare book displays and academic conferences to live readings of the poem and even Dante-themed ice-creams. This cultural eclecticism attests to the enduring impact of Dante’s works as well as the celebrity of his image, an image able to be absorbed into gastronomic promotions as much as lauded for its literary might. The distorting effects of fame were a preoccupation of Dante who, at the start of his philosophical treatise the Convivio, complains: ‘I have appeared before the eyes of many who, perhaps because of some report (fama), had imagined me in another light […since] the image generated by fame alone is always greater, whatever it may be, than the imagined thing in its true state’ (Convivio. I.iii.11).
Uncovering the ‘true state’ of Dante and his works is a primary aim of Dante Studies, an area of research that has thrived at Oxford since the late 19th century. The University’s museums and libraries have always played a crucial role in this path of discovery, preserving rich records of the poet’s reception and the ongoing vitality of his readerly appeal. The recent exhibition of items from the Sackler and Taylor Institution libraries, ‘Illustrating Dante’s Divine Comedy’, was exemplary in this respect. Curated by Professor Gervase Rosser and Clare Hills-Nova with items from Bodleian Libraries collections (principally, Sackler Library and Taylor Institution Library), the display reflected the depth and eclecticism of the visual tradition held by the University, from the intricately illuminated pages of fourteenth-century manuscripts to the neo-expressionist lithographs produced by contemporary artist Mimmo Paladino of the recent centenary year.
Presided over by the Taylorian’s august bust of Dante, whose personal iconography is a topic of myth and debate, the exhibition showcased an array of colourful interpretations of the Comedy. What the poet himself might have made of this visual afterlife becomes an almost unavoidable area of speculation. In an apocryphal tale from the 1390s, the Florentine writer Franco Sacchetti imagines Dante vociferously defending his poem against misquotation by a blacksmith, exclaiming ‘I have no other craft, and you’re ruining it’ (Trecentonovelle, 114). As far as craft goes, the Comedy is very much a literary artefact, addressing its reader no less than fifteen times and frequently emphasising the ineffability of its own descriptions. What is a reader of Dante’s poem to make of visual renditions of his text?
Final year Italian Literature and Languages students from Pembroke, Merton and Wadham colleges turned their attention to this question, using their knowledge of Dante’s poem to examine the rich visual traditions on display in the Taylorian exhibition. Offering insights into the material history and visual details of some of the objects on display, Izzy, Joshua, Anna, Matt and Olivia explore the role of these illustrations as creative records of the poem’s reception, and offer reflections on why they are interested in reading Dante today.
Isobel Sanders (Merton College)
Milton Klonsky. Blake’s Dante: The Complete Illustrations to the Divine Comedy (New York: Harmony, 1980).
Klomsky presents Blake’s evocative set of drawings and engravings for Dante’s Comedy, commissioned by John Linnell who sought to provide inspiration for Blake’s creativity alongside some much-needed money towards the end of his life. Few are complete yet this doesn’t make the rest any less engaging. Rather, we are granted insight into Blake’s artistic process, imagining for ourselves what a ‘completed, coloured-in’ version might look like. The works hug the text closely, although Blake didn’t always agree with Dante’s politics, revealed through damning remarks to friends. Small deviations appear in his watercolours, too. The Angel at Purgatory’s entrance seems bored or miserable, his eyelids half-shut; in Blake’s representation of Inferno 14, fire burns upwards rather than falling downwards. Could this be an act of defiance against Dante’s choice of infernal punishment known as the contrapasso, whereby sinners experienced a form of retribution directly related to their sin, often in inverse form? Politics, theology, ideas about fortune and sexuality all add nuance to Blake’s paintings. For, after all, going from one art form to another can never enact an exact ‘translation’. Blake’s illustrations, while rooted in the Romantic era, conjure up the Renaissance – the faces have a touch of Botticelli, or perhaps da Vinci, about them. Imaginative, unsettling and profoundly beautiful, Blake’s drawings establish a dialogue not only with Dante but also with other illustrators, over borders and across centuries. A perusal of Klomsky’s book reveals just how re-presenting the work of another is itself an exegesis – an act of personal interpretation and subsequent production.
Joshua Lavorini (Pembroke College)
Dante Alighieri. Opere di Dante Alighieri: Dedicata alla sagra imperial maesta di Elisabetta Petrowna, imperatrice di tutte le Russie ec. ec. ec. dal conte Don Cristoforo Zapata de Cisneros. Illustrated by Francesco Fontebasso, Gaetano Zompini & others 1757)
This image shows Dante presenting his work to the doge of Venice. The regal stature of the doge may call to mind the exile Dante suffered during the last twenty years of his life, since he learned ‘the bitterness of foreign bread’ (‘come sa di sale / lo pane altrui,’ Par. XVII.58–59) and was always both privileged and humbled by the patronage of other courts. The position of the crown above the doge’s head may be significant: in Paradiso, Dante fantasises that one day ‘I will return a poet, and at the font where I was baptised I will take the crown’ (‘ritorneró poeta, e in sul fonte / del mio battesmo prenderó ‘l cappello,’ Par. XXV.8–9) but in this image, it is the doge, to whom the poet comes in humility, that wears the crown. The faces in the crowd also provoke some thought – why do those to the right seem to be looking upwards towards the sky? What are those on the left looking at? Only the doge seems to be looking directly at the Tuscan poet. The dedication of this edition to Elizabeth Petrovna, Empress of Russia from 1741 until her death in 1762, attests to the fact that that Dante’s presence in Russia grew in the eighteenth century. Boris Antonov tells us that Petrovna encouraged Ivan Shuvalov’s foundation of the Imperial Academy of Arts and financed the grandiose Baroque projects of her favourite architect, Bartolomeo Rastrelli, particularly in the Peterhof Palace. She was clearly very interested in the arts (she spoke French, Italian and German as well as Russian), so it should come as no surprise that she should be fond of Dante. Dante’s impact on Russian culture continued long after her death, leaving a mark on the nation’s poetic symbolism. One Russian writer who was deeply interested in Italy and, by extension, Dante, is Nikolai Gogol. His book Dead Souls, described by him as a poem (despite being written in prose form), was intended to be the first part, i.e., Inferno, (set in contemporary Russia) of his own Divine Comedy. Gogol died before finishing the trilogy, and in a Virgilian act of insanity, burned the second part of Dead Souls. As well as his imitation of classical precedents (he wanted to imitate the Odyssey and Homeric epics), Gogol shares with Dante the use of almost uncomfortable humour and criticism of corruption. Another Russian whose work includes reference to Dante is Tchaikovsky. His orchestral fantasia Francesca da Rimini, Op. 32 (1876) was inspired by an episode in Canto V of the Inferno. In his correspondence, Tchaikovsky frequently quoted lines from Inferno V ‘there is no greater sorrow than to recall moments of happiness in misery’ (‘Nessun maggior dolore / che ricordarsi del tempo felice / ne la miseria,’ Inf. V.121–23), drawing on the enduring pathos of Dante’s infernal lovers.
Anna Zakonyi (Pembroke College)
Dante Alighieri, Cristoforo Landino, Alessandro Vellutello, La Comedia di Dante con l’espositione di Christoforo Landino, et di Alessandro Vellutello (Venice: Giovambattista Marchio Sessa et fratelli, 1564).
Landino and Vellutello’s combined commentary on Dante’s Divina Commedia was originally published in 1564 by the Venetian typographer Sessa, under the editorial supervision of Francesco Sansovino. Consisting of 28 introductory leaves and 392 leaves of commentary, this volume returns to the folio format of medieval tradition, incorporating woodcut illustrations from Marcolini’s Commedia (1544) and the two commentaries with citations of Dante’s poem. The illustrations, in contrast to previous iconographic tradition, act as a continuation of the commentaries, focusing particularly on the topography of Dante’s Afterlife. The combination of Landino and Vellutello’s commentaries on the Commedia (originally published in 1481 and 1544 respectively) is also novel, as it integrates two different approaches: Landino prioritises allegory whilst Vellutello focuses on meaning. Such innovation enjoyed public acclaim, and Sessa re-published the volume in 1578 and 1596 with minimal corrections. Of particular interest is the great authority given to Landino and Vellutello over Dante’s poem. Note, for example, how snippets of the Commedia are explained both by the ‘Argomento’ canto summary under the illustrations and by the double commentary which engulfs the terzine; this allows the commentators to guide the reader’s interpretation, reflecting medieval tradition whereby commentators largely assumed superiority over their subject texts. Considering Dante’s modern dominance within the Italian literary canon, such authority afforded to Landino and Vellutello intrigued me, with this hierarchical organisation – whereby the two commentators are, arguably, superior to the poet – what first drew me to the work. The combination of two commentaries, illustrations, and an extended introduction including a background on Dante’s Florence and his vocabulary, would have made this text an excellent guide to reading and understanding the poem. As a student of Italian myself, this insight into how Renaissance readers might have approached their study of Dante was what interested me most about the work.
Matthew Webb (Wadham College)
Lippmann, Friedrich. Zeichnungen von Sandro Botticelli zu Dante’s Goettlicher Komoedie: Nach den Originalen im K. Kupferstichkabinet zu Berlin (Berlin: G. Grote’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1887).
This facsimile of Botticelli’s original drawing from c. 1481–88 depicts the Terrace of Pride in canto X of Purgatorio. Botticelli’s drawings distinguished themselves from other fourteenth-century representations of Dante’s text in their presentation of a continuous narrative. Instead of focusing on a single incident in the canto, we are taken, like Dante, through the Terrace of Pride by Virgil, whose guiding arm indicates the chronology of the scene. First, we see Dante and Virgil emerging from a crevice in the bottom left. Then, having ascended onto the terrace itself, we see four separate scenes that move in a rightward direction. The first three of these, depicting Dante and Virgil gazing at marble engravings of biblical and pagan stories exemplifying humility, layer narratives within the main narrative of Dante and Virgil’s journey, mirroring the effect Dante creates in his text through ekphrastic descriptions of the engravings. In this way, Botticelli’s drawing captures the depth and complexity of Dante’s narrative, instead of presenting one static event. I find the astonishing level of detail intriguing, particularly the representation of marble engraving in the image, a virtuosic display of Botticelli’s own skill as a painter (and maybe also a sign of pride). The original was part of a wider collection of illustrations that were commissioned by the artist’s patron, Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de’ Medici, which, when brought to sale in the late 19th century, were purchased by Friedrich Lippmann and placed in the Kupferstichkabinett in Berlin. This remarkably detailed set of facsimiles dates from around the time of the sale, an artefact in its own right.
Olivia Ganderton (Pembroke College)
Lippmann, Friedrich. Zeichnungen von Sandro Botticelli zu Dante’s Goettlicher Komoedie: Nach den Originalen im K. Kupferstichkabinet zu Berlin (Berlin: G. Grote’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1887).
Botticelli’s late fifteenth-century drawing for Purgatorio I, often thought to have been commissioned by Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de’ Medici, piqued my interest specifically due to the challenge posed to the artist to portray both this particular canto and introduce the viewer to a whole new cantica, that of Purgatory. The drawing shows Dante and Virgil entering the realm of Purgatory, where they meet its guardian, Cato (the figure furthest right), who then advises Virgil to wash Dante clean of the filth from his journey through Hell. Moving right to left, the following elements of the canto are illustrated: Cato halts the poets and asks them their business; Virgil plucks grass to cleanse Dante; Virgil wraps reeds around Dante’s waist; a ship-full of new souls arrives on the shores of Purgatory. These events occur one after the other, yet Botticelli decides to include each moment simultaneously in his drawing, giving a sense of unity and circularity to this stage of the afterlife, whilst choosing to give each stage equal status. This continuity is further emphasised by his inclusion of the ship-full of souls furthest to the right that will be described in the second canto of Purgatory, offering a conceptual connection between the composition of the image and movement of the narrative in the text.
Antonov, Boris (2006). Russian Tsars. Saint Petersburg: Ivan Fiorodov Art Publishers.
Gombrich, E. H. (1979), ‘Giotto’s Portrait of Dante?’, The Burlington Magazine, 121.917: 471–483.
Parker, Deborah (2013), ‘Illuminating Botticelli’s Chart of Hell’, MLN, 128.1.
Ricci, Lucia Battaglia (2009), ‘Ai Margini del Testo: Considerazioni sulla Tradizione del “Dante illustrato”’, Italianistica, 38.2: 39–58.
Rosser, Geravse (2005), ‘Turning Tale into Vision: Time and the Image in the “Divina Commedia”’, RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics 48: 106–122.
The Japanese Photobook and the Sackler Library Display
Accompanying the Ashmolean Museum’s exhibition Tokyo: Art & Photography (29 July 2021 – 3 January 2022) a book display at the Sackler Library presents Japanese photobooks, books on Japanese photography and related exhibition catalogues. Over the coming weeks some of the Japanese photobooks held by the Sackler are on display (in the Ground Floor rotunda) for readers to take a closer look.
Works in the Bodleian Libraries’ collections (in particular, the Sackler Library and the Bodleian Japanese Library, or BJL) range from the 1965 book Why Mother Why, which features iconic photographer Hosoe Eikoh’s works, to multi-media artist Tokyo Rumando’s exhibition booklet from 2020. In her first European museum solo show, Tokyo Rumando presented her self-portrait photographs and films.
Since the end of the Second World War, Japan has dominated the international camera industry through companies such as Canon, Fujifilm, Nikon, Olympus, Sony or Pentax (previously Asahi). Supported by these companies, responsible for creating some of the best cameras, lenses and films in the world, photo galleries such as Fuji Salon or Canon Salon have hosted short-term exhibitions. Amateur photography clubs promote competitions, exhibitions and periodicals. Asahi Camera, founded in 1926 by the Asahi Newspaper Company, is the voice of the All-Japan Association of Photographic Societies (AJAPS, Zennihon Shashin Renmei) and is the country’s oldest photography magazine. It presents photographs, evaluations of equipment and exhibition reviews. Another popular magazine, Nippon Camera, has existed since 1951. The internet now provides access to images and texts, but until recently, photo magazines were a crucial source of information on photography, including works from overseas. Photography in Japan has developed into a web of camera companies, clubs, galleries, publishers, magazines and online platforms. More than an important industry, it also is a socio-cultural system based on countless photographers and camera fans, creating a vast number of high-quality images. This ‘photography world’ is a parallel system to the ‘art world’ in Japan, which has also produced important photographic works.
The photobook has become central to the development of Japanese photography, particularly since the post-war years. Considering Japan’s long tradition of making high-quality paper and books, as well as the lack of photography exhibition and storage space in densely populated Japanese cities, the popularity of the photobook is not surprising. Even today, for many photographers the photobook remains the ultimate format in which to present their works. Iconic photobooks by Fukase Masahisa, Araki Nobuyoshi or Kawada Kikuji continue to inspire younger artists worldwide. Over the last 30 years there has been a growing interest in Japanese photography, both within and outside of Japan, which has resulted in an increasing number of exhibitions. Japanese photobooks have also become sought-after internationally.
Tokyo has been a major motif in Japanese photography, ranging from Kimura Ihei’s post-war documentation to Moriyama Daidō’s dynamic snapshots of his Shinjuku neighbourhood, Araki Nobuyoshi’s diaristic Ginza photographs and Ninagawa Mika’s colourful images of her urban life. The number of photographs is endless, and Tokyo as a motif and shooting location is as varied as the city itself. While ‘truly copying’ the outside world (as the Japanese term for photography ‘shashin’ suggests), Japanese photography has developed from a ‘realist’ approach in the early post-war years to a free form of expression often intertwined with photographers’ lives and subjective experiences. Tokyo in photography has had many faces and no doubt it will continue to change, develop and re-imagine itself in the future. Perhaps the most engaging photographs of Tokyo, however, will continue to be linked to the photographers’ lives and inner visions.
The Sackler Library’s book display seeks to provide a ‘taster’ of the diversity of Japanese photography, featuring well-known names, such as Araki and Moriyama, as well as younger female practitioners who are less well-known internationally, including Nagashima Yurie, Tonomura Hideka, and Tokyo Rumando. I hope that the display will inspire staff and students alike, reflecting both the quality of Japanese photography and the importance of the photobook as an artistic object in its own right. The work of many of these photographers has not yet been researched enough. The display runs during the course of Michaelmas term 2021, and beyond, and we invite you to take a closer look at the books!
Dr. Lena Fritsch Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art, Ashmolean Museum
Sackler books on show in the Ashmolean exhibition
The Sackler Library has lent three publications to the Ashmolean exhibition:
Kimura Ihei. Tokyo: Fall of 1945. Tokyo: Bunka-sha, 1946
Tsuzuki Kyoichi. Satellite of Love: Vanishing Beauty of Japanese ‘Love hotels’ . Tokyo: Asupekuto, 2001
Preparing the Display: My Personal Perspective as a Graduate Library Trainee
When I was asked to put together this display, I – of course – jumped at the opportunity. Since opening up to more readers (post-Covid), and reinstating its New Books Display, the Sackler Library is gradually returning to the bustle of its pre-Covid years. The Ashmolean’s advertising for the Tokyo exhibition is hard to miss: visitors to and passers-by the museum can see Ninagawa Mika’s bright photograph of two young women bowing their pink fringes towards each another, one of them adorned by a dazzling ‘Gucci’ clip (see above). I pass the Ashmolean poster daily, on my walk to work, and it never fails to catch my eye. Welcoming new and returning readers to the Sackler Library with a connected display seemed perfect timing. This post is a small insight into the process of setting up my first book display, and all I learned along the way.
I set about gathering the list of Tokyo photobooks held by the Sackler Library, compiled by the Ashmolean exhibition’s co-curator, Dr Lena Fritsch. Once all the books were assembled, I quickly learned that Japanese photography does not comprise only colour images of vibrant scenes of Tokyo’s nightlife as represented in the exhibition’s poster. Leafing through For a New World to Come: Experiments in Japanese Art and Photography, I found countless greyscale shots. Without colour, the pictures are still remarkably expressive.
One of my preferred spreads from For a New World to Come is Shomei Tomatsu’s Oh! Shinjuku series (1969). These images show scenes of student protestors and railway passengers alongside moments from Tokyo nightlife. One of the most famous photos in the series, of a protestor clashing with the police, particularly stands out. Apparently, students had told Tomatsu about the protest (and the protestor’s) location, allowing the photographer to capture the moment. Through creating this display, I learned about the ‘are-bure-boke’ style: here, pictures are grainy or out-of-focus, just like Tomatsu’s shot. Its blurry look really captures the fast-moving pace of 1960s Tokyo: the student seems to glide through the air, showing you don’t always need bright colours to grasp the chaos of a place in time.
Looking at these images, you can see lots of parallels with other displayed books. We also have the works of Daidō Moriyama. In his introduction to Daido Moriyama (Tate, 2012) Simon Baker describes Moriyama as ‘one of Japan’s most important and influential photographers and photobook makers’, capturing the world since 1964. Inside, the book is undeniably varied – with a colour photography selection towards the end. Still, you cannot miss the familiar, blurred greyscale images throughout the book. In 1968, Moriyama joined a group called Provoke, and their eponymous magazine, where are-bure-boke was the trademark style. So, even by skimming photobooks, you can see a typical documentation style for 1960s Tokyo. As a staff member with no formal training in art history, there is something very satisfying about identifying themes and trends with a layman’s eye!
When I was organising the display I came across more than 1960s photography. For example, Ishiuchi Miyako: Postwar Shadows (2015) includes works 1976-2007; her work is fascinating, ranging from shots of apartments to close-up images of human hands and skin. I decided to group photobooks covering a longer span of time together, for readers who want to delve deeper into the world of Japanese photography and see how it has evolved over time. (These groupings have now merged, as readers view and rearrange the books on display.)
The display also includes books normally housed in our offsite facility. Readers familiar with the Bodleian Libraries’ collections will know that we hold many, many books. Despite the plethora of libraries around Oxford, we cannot keep all of them in our onsite collections and a vast number are stored offsite. Books returned temporarily to onsite include, for example, other publications on Moriyama, as well as other artists’ photobooks.
Once all the books had arrived safely at the Sackler, I began putting up the display. With the exception of giving a helping hand during my work experience at a primary school, this was almost entirely new territory. Fortunately, the photobooks contain beautiful, powerful and intriguing images, which guided me in arranging the display. After a period of adjusting the table arrangements, the display was good to go.
When I was deciding where to place the books, there were two especially important points for me. Firstly, I knew I wanted to have a spread of books open: the display is, after all, about photography! Choosing which spread to have open was more difficult: I turned page after page, looking for the most (to me) compelling images. I eventually chose two photos from Nobuyoshi Araki: Tokyo Still Life, which show four young boys in conversation, and a striking woman sitting back and staring the camera down. To me, her gaze almost invites you in to look further at the books. (That said, our readers have enjoyed looking at the display since it went on show, and one of them subsequently changed the pages to display a sleeping cat. This is, of course, entirely welcome in the library. Our books are for readers to handle.)
Secondly, although all our books are available pick up and consider, I wanted Tokyo Rumando’s 2020 exhibition booklet to be particularly accessible. This is the most recent work on display, and by lesser-known female artist. I particularly wanted to encourage display browsers to engage with newer artists, to bring home how the world of Japanese photography world has evolved to present day. If you flick through her booklet, her work is a captivating story of female empowerment: between shots of women of all ages, clothes, and poses, she emerges as one of my new favourite creators. I hope everyone considering the display finds it as insightful as I did.
Sadly, for many of us, the last eighteen months have seen the cancellation, curtailment and delay of countless celebrations, including birthdays, holidays, anniversaries and achievements. At the very least, we’ve been forced to relocate those festivities online and connect with family and friends via laptops and phone screens in a kind of digital limbo.
Re-emerging into the real world from this pandemic-induced Purgatory, I recently returned to Oxford, a city that I’d previously called home for many years. My arrival overlapped with many of the restrictions of the last year and a half being (cautiously) rolled back. As the new Graduate Trainee at the Taylor Institution Library (known colloquially as the ‘Taylorian’), my first week saw the steady disappearance of one-way systems, sign-in slots and restricted access for readers to many of the library’s more intimate spaces.
Like the Bodleian Libraries more broadly, many institutions and historical personages have also found their usual cycles of anniversaries and commemorations disrupted by lockdown measures and restrictions on large gatherings. Excitingly, the prospect of more freedom for staff and readers at the University of Oxford has coincided with another cause for celebration: the 700th anniversary of the death of Dante Alighieri (1265–1321), the great Italian poet and philosopher. As a result, the Taylor Institution Library, Weston Library and the Ashmolean Museum have prepared three exhibitions of works from among the libraries’ and museum’s many and varied holdings, which provide visions of, and insights into, the author’s most famous work, the Divine Comedy (Divina Commedia). Works from the Taylorian’s collections are included in the Ashmolean and Weston displays. The Taylorian exhibition, ‘Illustrating Dante’s Divine Comedy’, meanwhile, also draws upon the collections of the Sackler Library, Oxford’s principal research location for the study of visual culture. Alongside my regular duties at the library (with which I’m slowly familiarising myself), I’ve been fortunate enough to join Clare Hills-Nova (Librarian in Charge, Sackler Library, and Subject Librarian for Italian Literature and Language at the Taylorian) and Professor Gervase Rosser, curatorial lead on all three Oxford Dante exhibitions, in their preparations for the display of prints, manuscripts and illustrated books spanning the seven hundred years since Dante’s passing.
The photos provided here offer a window on the range of texts and images that were chosen for the Taylorian exhibition and the process that went into preparing them for public display. I came into that process after Clare and Gervase had agreed on the works to be included and their gathering from the Taylorian’s rare books and manuscript holdings and other library locations was complete. The exhibition handlist includes an introduction to the works on display as well as a list of works they considered for inclusion.
Together, Clare and I spent an afternoon preparing the exhibition space – among the already impressive holdings of the library’s Voltaire Room.
A provisional placement of the exhibits according to the chronological layout agreed by Clare and Gervase gave us a sense of how the various prints, manuscripts and books would fit within the display cases.
Working with a number of old and rare editions – including some of the oldest books that I’ve had the opportunity to see first-hand during my time in Oxford – required careful handling and the use of foam rests and ‘snakes’ (long, cotton-wrapped metal ‘beads’ designed to hold open books). Clare has a background in conservation, so provided an experienced eye and guiding hand throughout the process.
After this initial test-run of the display cases, I was tasked with assisting in the preparation of a bibliography to provide visitors to the exhibition with a comprehensive list of texts on display, and those consulted during the curation process. This not only gave me an excellent opportunity to re-familiarise myself with the Bodleian Libraries’ SOLO (‘Search Oxford Libraries Online’) catalogue, but required some further detective work to collect the full details of some of the more obscure texts included in the exhibition.
Although I’m familiar with this kind of work from my time researching and writing Russian history, and searching for texts catalogued in various forms of transliterated Cyrillic, the preparations for this exhibition included consideration of works in Italian, French and German too. Exploiting the automatic citation tool provided on the SOLO also exposed the potential drawback of relying on technology alone. Each of these languages inevitably has its own bibliographic conventions for the formatting of references (authors, titles, publishing info, etc.), not all of which are captured by auto-generation of citations. Obviously, I still have plenty to learn on that front being based in one of Oxford’s key research centres for modern languages and linguistics!
The whole process also brought home how inconsistent and incomplete some of the catalogue descriptions are within the Bodleian Libraries’ older collections and more unique items. This is quite the mountain to climb for those librarians faced with such a vast (and ever expanding) number of books, journals, periodicals and other ephemera in every language under the sun.
One particular exhibit of note is shown below:
It was wonderful to find such a striking connection between the history of Imperial Russia and Dante’s life and work!
The second set of photos below provides a view of the final layout for each display case. Supporting information to be included alongside the works was still being prepared at the time of taking, but a sense of the diversity of images and lasting influence of Dante’s work on artists, writers, print-makers and publishers across the world is evident already.
Students, faculty and staff from across the University are welcome to visit the Taylorian’s exhibition during library opening hours, from the beginning of Michaelmas term through December 2021. The parallel exhibitions marking Dante’s centenary celebrations are on display for a similar period: Ashmolean Museum (17 September 2021 – 9 January 2022) and Weston Library (8 September 2021 – 14 November 2021), which will give everyone interested in the life, history and influence of Dante the opportunity to explore the wider collections of the University.
Further Oxford Dante events, ranging from concerts to film screenings, to lectures and (of course!) at least one book launch celebrating the 700th anniversary are planned for autumn 2021.
Having now had an insight into the complexities involved in preparing, curating and displaying materials from our impressive Dante collections, the chance to come face-to-face with these exhibits sounds like Paradiso itself!
If you want to know more about Dante-related holdings in Oxford, please check out the Taylorian’s earlier blog posts in this regard (linked below):
International Women’s Day, a day dedicated to celebrating the achievements of women and challenging stereotypes, has been observed on 8March every year since its inception in 1911. The organisers of International Women’s Day describe it as “a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women, who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities.” The fight for women’s equality continues in the UK and around the world, and events like International Women’s Day show how important it is that women and girls are able to reach their full potential and contribute to all areas of our society. Each year, the organisers of International Women’s Day choose a theme as a banner under which everyone’s efforts can be channelled and unified. This year, the theme is I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights. This theme aligns with UN Women’s new multigenerational campaign, Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights for an Equal Future, which marks the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the most progressive roadmap for the empowerment of women and girls, everywhere.
“An equal world is an enabled world. Individually, we’re all responsible for our own thoughts and actions – all day, every day. We can actively choose to challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions, improve situations and celebrate women’s achievements. Collectively, each one of us can help create a gender equal world. Let’s all be #EachforEqual.”
“The centenary provides an opportunity to take stock of our progress in promoting women’s education and advancing gender equality and diversity.”
As the website also notes:
“Women Making History will shine a spotlight on the diverse women who have contributed to the University of Oxford, as well as the women who are shaping its future today. In the coming months, we will explore stories of Oxford women as scholars, students, researchers, academics, clinicians, technicians, librarians, archivists, activists, artists and much more. If you have a story about an Oxford woman that you think should be told, please join the conversation by using the hashtag #womenatoxford.”
To celebrate International Women’s Day — and to mark the 100th anniversary of Oxford degrees for Women — members of the Sackler Reader Services team compiled a Virtual Book Display. (Sadly, visibility of the physical book display was curtailed by the Covid-19 lockdown.) At the end of this blog post, you will find a list of links to various e-publications, available via SOLO, which focus on women’s accomplishments as they relate to Archaeology, Art, Architecture, Classics and Egyptology – some of the areas of collecting focus at the Sackler Library.
It is wrong to assume that amongst the most celebrated figures in Classics, hardly any women feature. Of course, there is the Greek poet Sappho. We have chosen to display Nancy Rabinowitz and Lisa Auanger’s Among Women, which focuses on Sappho’s poetic creativity and erotic themes. We can never discuss key female figures in Classics without mentioning Hypatia of Alexandria, as discussed by Dora Russell. The poems of Sulpicia are a rarity. In comparison with works by other Roman women, Sulpicia’s work has survived intact, rather than existing in fragments. Her six poems appear in the Augustan poet Tibullus’ corpus of poetry, a translation of which appears in our display. For those interested in reception theory, James Donaldson’s Woman considers the position of women in Classical and Early Christian societies through the lens of a male academic in Edwardian Britain.
“We can also see the contributions of women in Ancient Egypt where, as many may be aware, it was not unknown for women to hold positions of power. Mary Hamer’s Signs of Cleopatra and Dorothea Arnold’s Royal Women of Amarna discuss two of perhaps the most well-known female figureheads of Egypt: Cleopatra and Nefertiti. However, another noteworthy addition is the fifth Pharaoh to rule Egypt during the Eighteenth Dynasty, as discussed in Catherine Roehrig et al.’s Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharoah. Hatshepsut brought about religious infrastructure and trade reform during her 21-year reign, but all records relating to her activities were systematically destroyed by her successor, Thutmose III.
It is a pleasure when the female story is celebrated and represented well, as many in the art world have been striving for since gender inequality became part of their consciousness, and since feminist art historians such as Linda Nochlin (“Why there have been no great women artists”, 1971) and Griselda Pollock drew attention to the issue. Art movements and artists have put visions into visuals, alongside providing the artwork to promote diversity and alternate views to the much discussed male gaze. Fortunately, for art, there have been many female artists such as Artemisia Gentileschi (as discussed in Keith Christiansen’s Orazio and Artemisia Gentileschi or at the now-postponed National Gallery exhibition, Artemisia, in London), who were as successful as their male counterparts during their lifetimes. This allows us to witness alternative art histories and celebrate historical women artists who worked side-by-side with male artists. We can also fight for them to be recognised in the archives and great libraries, worldwide, so that we are aware of women who came before us as well as those who are alive today, contributing to the modern art world as we know it — for example, Jenny Saville, whose first solo show in a UK public institution was held at Modern Art Oxford. For those interested in further exploring the work of women artists during lockdown, Modern Art Oxford’s online exhibition archive is showcasing exhibitions by three artists: Invisible Strategiesby Lubaina Himid, Wandererby Kiki Smith, and Tools For Life by Johanna Unzueta.
The discussion of women’s contribution to the field of architecture is a more is a more complicated one. Compared with the strides taken in the art world, architecture is much further behind in its recognition of its female figures. There are few female architects within the pages of the architectural history books that are celebrated in the same way as their male counterparts, which begs the question: what historical examples do we have, if any, of women in the architectural world? Women’s presence in architecture was often suppressed, as was the case with Annie Albers, who was unable to study architecture at the Bauhaus (whose proponents considered that architecture was a men-only professions) and so turned to weaving instead. Her work is noted for its architectural qualities and the innovation she brought to weaving techniques, showing how her interest in architecture and space could not be erased. (See, for example, her 2018-2019 exhibition at Tate Modern.)
Due to the past elusiveness of female figures in architecture, it is therefore difficult to celebrate qualities of architectural practice which are acknowledged as “feminine”. Even though a variety of books have been written on the intersection between feminism and architecture, including key works which form much of the basis of gendered architectural theory such as Beatriz Colomina’s Sexuality and Space, women still struggle to identify feminist architecture, what it is, and how it should be practised. Women have often struggled to gain recognition in architecture, leading to the controversial problem of their preferring not to identify as “female architects” or “women architects”. This is particularly true of high achieving female architects: they do not want their title of architect to be gendered. This is discussed in Francesca Hughes’ The Architect: Reconstructing Her Practice, one of the few monographs which celebrates the work of women architects. It is to be understood that women architects believed that if they left out any reference to their gender, then they would be seen and treated as equals. However, as well meaning as this appears, this provides leverage for the erasure of the narrative of women and the dismissal of the problems and experiences women may have experienced due to gender discrimination within the profession.
This can also lead to questions of privilege held by the contributors for them to not have experienced any discrimination; and to the belief that other narratives do not exist or that gender is not a problem. The publication The Architect: Women in Contemporary Architecture, edited by Maggie Toy, is a key source on women in architecture, but the women in question objected to such potential titles for the book as “The Female Architect”. The best they could do to give a nod towards the representation of women was the subtle adaptation of the Venus sign in the title on the book’s cover.
Despite the issues raised, it is important to recognise the accomplishments of the feminist movement in the fields collected by the Sackler Library. We hope that the reading list at the end of this post will provide a small insight into what has already been achieved.
Through the writings of women activists, their personal letters and diaries, and the proceedings of conferences at which pivotal decisions were made, this collection lets you see how women’s social movements shaped much of the events and attitudes that have defined modern life. This digital archive includes 150,000 pages of conference proceedings, reports of international women’s organizations, publications and web pages of women’s non-governmental organizations, and letters, diaries, and memoirs of women active internationally since the mid-nineteenth century. It also includes photographs and videos of major events and activists in the history of women’s international social movements.
Women’s Magazine Archive 1 provides access to the complete archives of the foremost titles of this type, including Good Housekeeping and Ladies’ Home Journal, which serve as canonical records of evolving assumptions about gender roles and cultural mores. Other titles here focus on narrower topics but deliver valuable source content for specific research areas. Parents, for example, is of particular relevance for research in the fields of children’s education, psychology, and health, as well as reflecting broader social historical trends. Women’s Magazine Archive 2 features several of the most prominent, high-circulating, and long-running publications in this area, such as Woman’s Day and Town & Country. Collection 2 also, however, complements the first collection by including some titles focusing on more specific audiences and themes. Cosmopolitan and Seventeen, for example, are oriented towards a younger readership, while black women’s interests are represented by Essence. Women’s International Network News differs in being a more political, activist title, with an international dimension. Topics covered these collections include family life, home economics, health, careers, fashion, culture, and many more; this material serves multiple research areas, from gender studies, social history, and the arts, through to education, politics, and marketing/media history.
Women’s Studies Archive
The Women’s Studies Archive: Issues and Identities will focus on the social, political, and professional achievements of women throughout the nineteenth and twentieth century. Along with providing a closer look at some of the pioneers of women’s movements, this collection offers scholars a deep dive into the issues that have affected women and the many contributions they have made to society.
International Women’s Day – Virtual Book Display: a selection of e-books at Oxford
Aceves Sepúlveda, G., 2019. Women made visible: feminist art and media in post-1968 Mexico City.
We welcome suggestions for future blog contributions from our readers. Please contact Clare Hills-Nova (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Chantal van den Berg (email@example.com) if you would like propose a topic.
February marks LGBT+ History Month in the UK, which aims to educate people about and increase visibility of the accomplishments of LGBT+ identifying people, and the contributions they have made and continue to make to society. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and asexual people, as well as people of other gender, sexual and romantic minority groups, have been present in the arts, the sciences and daily life from ancient times to the modern day. The Sackler Library has chosen to celebrate the rich history and diversity of the LGBT+ community by means of a book display highlighting the contribution of LGBT+ people to the areas of study within the remit of the Sackler Library.
In terms of Classical literature, our display highlights the work of Sappho, e.g. in Rayor and Lardinois’ Sappho: a new translation of the complete works (2014). Sappho was a prolific lyric poet from the Archaic Greek era. Her poetry was well-known and greatly admired through much of antiquity, and she was among the canon of nine lyric poets most highly esteemed by scholars of Hellenistic Alexandria. She is also the subject of some scholarly debate, but it is generally thought amongst modern scholars that her work portrays evidence of love and desire between women. Indeed, the modern use of the word ‘lesbian’ is derived from the name of her home island of Lesbos.
We can also see the contributions of LGBT+ people in the field of Egyptology, namely through Amelia Edwards’ A Thousand Miles up the Nile, a best-selling travelogue published in 1877. Edwards, born in 1831, was an English novelist, journal-writer, and traveller, and contributed greatly to Egyptological Studies, co-founding the Egypt Exploration Fund in 1882. She was also the founder of the Edwards Chair of Egyptology at University College London. Edwards died in 1892 from influenza, and was buried alongside her partner, Ellen Drew Braysher. In 2016, her grave in Bristol was designated as Grade II listed by Historic England, and is celebrated as a landmark of English LGBT+ history.
The cover, an illustration, and author’s signature from an 1877 edition of Edwards’ A Thousand Miles up the Nile (Sackler Library, Special Collections)
To view Special Collections materials, please enquire at the Sackler Issue Desk
Image(s) Credit: Erin McNulty
We have also highlighted the relevance of LGBT+ studies to the study of architecture by including Betsky’s Queer space: architecture and same-sex desire (1997). This work discusses how same-sex desire is creating an entirely new design process. Vincent’s LGBT people and the UK cultural sector: the response of libraries, museums, archives and heritage since 1950 (2014) also deals with LGBT+ influences in the library and heritage sector specifically.
Works on art also form a substantial part of the Sackler’s collections. Both of these disciplines benefit greatly from the contributions of the LGBT+ community. Davis’ Gay and lesbian studies in art history (1994) gives an overview of this. We have also chosen to showcase art books dealing with LGBTQ+ themes from earlier periods, such as Mills’ Seeing sodomy in the Middle Ages (2015), to the more modern, e.g. David Wojnarowicz: history keeps me awake at night and Robert Mapplethorpe: the Archive.
A library’s collections can tell the story of a community, such as the LGBT+ community, and it changes as new works are acquired. How the Sackler, as well as many other libraries across the Bodleian, tells these stories will be reviewed by the upcoming project Changing the Narrative: Championing Inclusive Collection Development. This project, led by Helen Worrell, “will champion diversifying our collection development across the Social Sciences and Humanities Libraries, with the aim of enhancing collections in areas such as LGBTIQ+ Studies, Disability Studies, Indigenous Studies, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) Studies and the intersections between these identities. This will enable us to think critically about the collections we currently hold so that we are aware of the gaps and the narrative these collections tell.” Keep an eye out on the Sackler blog for upcoming posts regarding this project, or head to the LibGuide for more information.
Our book display also ties in to the theme of 2020’s LGBT+ History Month, launched at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford: Poetry, Prose and Plays. We showcase works by all four featured authors: Dawn Langley Simmons’ Man into woman: a transsexual autobiography (1970), E. M. Forster’s Collected short stories (1947), Lorraine Hansberry’s A raisin in the sun (2011), and William Shakespeare’s Sonnets (1945 edition). We have also featured the work of ancient authors, such as Plutarch, Virgil, and Petronius, who are now thought by some scholars to have been LGBT+. You can visit the LBGT+ History Month website for more information and resources.
We hope you enjoy browsing the books we have on offer on our display. However, these are only a small sample of the resources the Sackler, and the University of Oxford as a whole, has to offer for anyone interested in LGBT+ studies. For example, TORCH’s Queer Studies Network meets weekly for lectures, reading groups, seminars, workshops and events. The Bodleian Libraries are also currently trialling several informational databases, accessible through SOLO, e.g.:
Archives of Sexuality and Gender (Gale Cengage)
This resource spans the sixteenth to twentieth centuries and is the largest digital collection of historical primary source publications relating to the history and study of sex, sexuality, and gender research and gender studies research. Documentation covering disciplines such as social, political, health, and legal issues impacting LGBT communities around the world is included, as well as rare and unique books on sex and sexuality.
LGBT Magazine Archive (Proquest LLC)
Includes the archives of 26 leading but previously hard-to-find magazines, including many of the longest-running, most influential publications of this genre. For example, the complete backfile of the US publication, The Advocate, one of the very few LGBT titles to pre-date the 1969 Stonewall riots, is made available digitally for the first time. Other titles include the UK’s Gay News and its successor publication Gay Times.
LGBT Life Full Text (EBSCO)
Provides scholarly and popular LGBT+ publications in full text, plus historically important primary sources, including monographs, magazines and newspapers. It also includes a specialised LGBT+ thesaurus containing thousands of terms, 140+ full-text journals, approaching 160 full-text books and reference materials, 260+ abstracted and indexed journals and more than 350+ abstracted and indexed books and reference works.
Also, don’t miss other LGBT+ projects at the University of Oxford! For example, the Pitt Rivers Museum’s project, Beyond the Binary, due to launch this month, will work with local, national and international partners to explore the global diversity of sexual and gender identities. The project will challenge historical interpretations of the museum’s collections so that all visitors can understand humanity better. It will also include a community-focused acquisition programme for LGBT+ cultural and historical artefacts. Objects will be collected from British communities and across the globe that highlight traditions of gender non-conformity, bringing British LGBT+ heritage into conversation with global LGBT+ material culture.
We hope that you will join us in celebration of LGBT+ History Month, and that you have a fantastic February!
Graduate Library Trainee
 Campbell, D. A. (ed.) (1982). Greek Lyric 1: Sappho and Alcaeus (Loeb Classical Library No. 142). Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass
Rayor, Diane; Lardinois, André (2014). Sappho: A New Translation of the Complete Works. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
 Rees, Joan (1998). Amelia Edwards: Traveller, Novelist and Egyptologist. London: Rubicon Press.
 Queer history’ landmarks celebrated by Historic England”. BBC News. 23 September 2016. Retrieved 24 September 2016.
Plutarch, Romm, James S & Mensch, Pamela, 2012. Plutarch: lives that made Greek history. Indianapolis.
Sappho, Rayor, Diane J. & Lardinois, A. P. M. H., 2014. Sappho: a new translation of the complete works. Cambridge.
Rorato, L., 2014. Caravaggio in film and literature: popular culture’s appropriation of a baroque genius, London.
Rothbauer, P. Locating the library as place among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer patrons, in eds. Buschman, J., & Leckie, G. J., 2007. The library as place: history, community, and culture, Westport; London.
Shakespeare, W. & Bullen, A.H., 1945. The sonnets of William Shakespeare. Oxford.
Simmons, D.L., 1970. Man into woman: a transsexual autobiography. London.
Spike, J. T., Brown, D. A., Joannides, P., De Groft, A. H., Rogers, M., & Bisogniero, C., 2015. Leonardo da Vinci and the idea of beauty, Williamsburg, Virginia.
Vicinus, M., 2004. Intimate friends: women who loved women, 1778-1928. Chicago.
Vincent, J., 2014. LGBT people and the UK cultural sector: the response of libraries, museums, archives and heritage since 1950. Farnham.
Virgil, Dryden, John & Keener, Frederick M., 1997. Virgil’s Aeneid. London.
Warhol, A., Feldman, F., & Defendi, C., 2003. Andy Warhol prints: a catalogue raisonné: 1962-1987, New York.
Wasserman, N., 2016. Akkadian love literature of the third and second millennium BCE. Weisbaden.
Weinberg, J., 1993. Speaking for vice: homosexuality in the art of Charles Demuth, Marsden Hartley, and the first American avant-garde, New Haven; London.
Weinberg, J., 2004. Male desire: the homoerotic in American art, New York.
Williams, C. A., 1999. Roman homosexuality: ideologies of masculinity in classical antiquity, New York; Oxford.
Williamson, M., 1995. Sappho’s immortal daughters. Cambridge, Mass.; London
Wojnarowicz, D., 2018. The waterfront journals. London
We welcome suggestions for future blog contributions from our readers. Please contact Clare Hills-Nova (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Chantal van den Berg (email@example.com) if you would like propose a topic.
The Sackler staff are getting into the holiday spirit, so we decided to put up a book display in honour of the festivities. We drew on books from various areas in our collection to illustrate links between our ancient past and how we celebrate Christmas and other winter holidays today.
Midwinter festivals have been celebrated in Western Europe and beyond since at least the Neolithic period. Archaeological sites in Britain and Ireland may show evidence of such festivities taking place, one of the most famous of these being Stonehenge, in Wiltshire, constructed from around 3000 BCE to 2000 BCE. Find out more about Stonehenge by reading Chippindale’s Stonehenge Complete (1983; 4th ed., 2012). There are many theories about why Stonehenge was constructed, but recent evidence hints that it was a gathering place for a festival held around the winter solstice (21st December). This is because the stones are aligned in such a way that the sun at dawn on the winter solstice is aligned with the central aisle, indicating that the site may have functioned partly as a timekeeping device for our ancient ancestors.
The same is true of other Neolithic sites, such as Maeshowe on Orkney, and Brú na Bóinne (Newgrange) in Ireland. The latter site is constructed so that the dawn sun on the first few minutes of the winter solstice illuminates a carved spiral on the very back wall of the chamber, the meaning of which remains a mystery. Prendergast’s Houses of the Gods (2017) explains more about the role of such sites in terms of archaeoastronomy.
It seems that this time of year has been important to people for a long time. No wonder, then, that, after the Christianisation of the Roman Empire, many local traditions were incorporated into Christmas festivities, such as the British/Irish midwinter feast, or the German hanging decorations on the branches of a tree, traditions which we still celebrate to this day. Evans’ Christmas is Coming (2009) explores the origins of some of our wintertime festive traditions.
Although it incorporates ancient festivities, the midwinter celebration as an explicitly Christian festival, which would become known as Christmas, is a much newer tradition. People who follow a Christian faith believe that Jesus Christ was born in a stable in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago, with event celebrated on 25th December in many countries. Hence Bethlehem has been regarded as an important religious site since the founding of Christianity. However, it is also an important archaeological and historical site, with evidence of human habitation from as early as 2200 BCE. Studying such sites can give us clues as to how people in the Near and Middle East lived thousands of years ago. For more information about Bethlehem in ancient history, see Harvey’s The Church of the Nativity at Bethlehem (1910) and Kihlman’s The Star of Bethlehem and Babylonian Astrology (2017).
The subject of Christmas has been, and remains, a theme often covered in art. The traditional Christmas story has many iconic moments from which Western artists have drawn inspiration. According to the story, angels acted as messengers announcing the birth of the baby Jesus. Selby et al.’s The Angel Tree (2011) and Ward and Steed’s Angels: a Glorious Celebration of Angels in Art (2005) showcase representations of angels in art from ancient times to the modern day. Similarly, the arrival of the ‘Three Kings’ with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh has been reinterpreted by many artists, as detailed in Beer’s The Magi: Legend, Art and Cult (2014).
The theme of the Nativity is also often a subject in East European art. The Eastern Orthodox Church operates in some East European countries, Russia, and Greece, among others. People who follow Eastern Orthodox Christianity celebrate Christmas on 7th January, as their liturgical year follows the Julian calendar rather than the Western, Gregorian calendar. The Sackler has many books on art reflecting Eastern Orthodox traditions, some of which exemplify Christmas scenes. We have chosen to showcase books on the art of Byzantium and Greece, such as Bratziōtē et al.’s Icons Itinerant (1994), which shows art from Corfu, and Petsopoulos’ East Christian Art (1987).
Of course, Christmas is not the only religious festival to take place in December. In ancient Rome, Saturnalia was celebrated. As the name suggests, this festival honoured the Roman god Saturn, and took place on 17th – 23rd December. It involved gift-giving, partying, a public banquet, as well as a celebratory sacrifice. Saturnalia was also a time for the inversion of societal roles and social norms, with slaves being waited on by their masters over the festival period. Macrobius’ Saturnalia describes the festivities that took place at this time of year during the Roman era.
People of Jewish faith celebrate Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, around late November to late December. This festival commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire, during the reign of Antiochus in 175 BCE. According to the story, what little remaining oil there was in the sacked Temple miraculously kept the candles burning for eight days while the Temple was being restored. Viewed as a celebration of religious freedom, Jewish people mark this miracle by the gradual lighting of the Menorah. These religious artefacts can also have immense artistic value. Braunstein’s Luminous Art (2004) shows the collection of Menorahs in the Jewish Museum in New York.
More recently, Yuletide festivities have also included more secular forms of celebration, with the rise in popularity of figures such as Father Christmas, or the American Santa Claus, who is said to bring children gifts on the night before Christmas. Christmas celebrations around the world often include such a figure, such as the French Père Noël or the Dutch Sinterklaas. The name ‘Santa Claus’ is believed to have its origins in ‘St. Nicholas’, one of the figures who evolved over time into the jolly character we know today. St Nicholas was a 4th century bishop, and during the Middle Ages, children would receive gifts in his honour on the evening of 5th December, which may have contributed to our modern gift-giving traditions. Sinterklaas travels to the Netherlands each year from Spain via steam boat with his helpers, an event that is broadcast on national television. On the evening of 5th December, a sack of presents is delivered to well behaved children, and children are told that badly behaved children will be taken back to Spain in a sack. English’s The saint who would be Santa Claus (2012) discusses the contribution of stories about St. Nicholas to the origins of the modern Santa Claus figure.
Whatever you choose to celebrate, if anything, this December, we hope that you have a joyful and restful vacation, and return in the New Year with renewed vigour. Have fun browsing the book display, and Season’s Greetings from everyone here at the Sackler Library!
Graduate Library Trainee
“Stonehenge”. Science. 133 (3460): 1216–22.
“Stonehenge druids ‘mark wrong solstice'”. The Daily Telegraph.
Jazombek, M. A Global History of Architecture. Cambridge, Mass., MIT. Online Lecture Series. Last consulted 28/11/19.
“Sí an Bhrú /Newgrange”. logainm.ie.
O’Kelly, M. J. (1982). Newgrange: Archaeology, Art and Legend. London: Thames and Hudson.
“Ancient Burial Ground with 100 Tombs Found Near Biblical Bethlehem”. LiveScience.
Miller, J. F. (2010). Roman Festivals. In “The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome”. Oxford: OUP.
“Santa Claus: The real man behind the myth”. NBC News.
Asmussen, H. (1955). Weihnachten; farbige Buchmalerei aus der Zeit der Ottonen. Hamburg: F. Wittig.
Bacci, M. (2017). The mystic cave: a history of the Nativity church at Bethlehem. Brno: Masaryk University; Roma: Viella
Beckwith, J. (1966). The adoration of the Magi in whalebone. London: H.M.Stationery Off.
Beckwith, J. (1970). Early Christian and Byzantine Art. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Beer, M. (2014). The Magi: legend, art and cult. Cologne: Museum Schnütgen.
Boucher, B. et al. (2012). Bartolo di Fredi: the Adoration of the Magi, a masterpiece reconstructed. Charlottesville, Va.: University of Virginia Art Museum.
Bratziōtē, P. et al. (1994). Icons Itinerant: Corfu, 14th-18th century: June-September 1994, Church of Saint George in the Old Fortress, Corfu. Athens: Ministry of Culture, Directorate of Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Antiquities.
Braunstein, S.L. (2004). Luminous art: Hanukkah menorahs of the Jewish Museum. New York: Jewish Museum; New Haven; London: Yale University Press.
Braunstein, S. L. (2005). Five centuries of Hanukkah lamps from the Jewish Museum: a catalogue raisonné. New Haven, Conn.; London: Yale University Press.
Chippindale, C. (1983). Stonehenge Complete. London: Thames and Hudson.
Demus, O. (1970). Byzantine Art and the West. London: Weidenfield and Nicolson.
Ebon, M. (1975). Saint Nicholas: Life and Legend. New York: Harper & Row.
English, A. C. (2012). The saint who would be Santa Claus: the true life and trials of Nicholas of Myra. Waco, Tex.: Baylor University Press.
Evans, A. J. Christmas and ancestor worship in the Black Mountain.
Evans, M. (2009). Christmas is coming: the origins of our Christmas traditions and some of the stories and legends which surround them. Brighton: Pen Press.
Hamilton, R. W. (1939). A guide to Bethlehem. Jerusalem: Azriel Press.
Harvey, W. et al. (1910). The Church of the Nativity at Bethlehem. London: published on behalf of the Fund by B. T. Batsford.
Hodne, L. (2012). The virginity of the Virgin: a study in Marian iconography. Roma: Scienze e Lettere.
Kaster, R. A. (2011). Macrobius: Saturnalia. Cambridge, Mass.; London: Harvard University Press.
Kihlman, D. (2017). The star of Bethlehem and Babylonian Astrology: astronomy and revelation 12 reveal what the magi saw. Trollhättan, Sweden: Kihlman.
Lawson-Jones, M. (2011). Why was the partridge in the pear tree?: The history of Christmas carols. Stroud: History.
Johnson, A. (2008). Solving Stonehenge: the new key to an ancient enigma. London: Thames & Hudson.
Matthews, J. (1998). The winter solstice: the sacred traditions of Christmas. London: Thorsons.
Miles, C. A. (1912). Christmas in Ritual and Tradition: Christian and Pagan. London; Leipzig: T. Fisher Unwin.
Northrup, M. (1966). The Christmas story from the Gospels of Matthew & Luke. Greenwich, Conn.: Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Petsopoulos, Y. (1987). East Christian Art. London: Axia.
Prendergast, K. (2017). Houses of the gods: neolithic monuments and astronomy at the Brú na Bóinne in Ireland and beyond. Saarbrücken: LAP LAMBERT Academic Publishing.
Rice, D. T. (1959). The Art of Byzantium. London: Thames and Hudson.
Rockland, M. S. (1976). The Hanukkah Book. New York: Schocken Books.
Selby, L. H. et al. (2011). The angel tree: celebrating Christmas at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: the Loretta Hines Howard collection of eighteenth-century Neapolitan crèche figures. New York, NY: Metropolitan Museum of Art: Abrams.
Scarre, C. (2007). The Megalithic Monuments of Britain and Ireland. London: Thames and Hudson.
Snyder, P. V. (1977). The Christmas tree book: the history of the Christmas tree and antique Christmas tree ornaments. Harmondsworth; New York: Penguin Books.
Tolkien, J. R. R. (2004). Letters from Father Christmas. London: HarperCollins.
Tyndale, W. (1996). A medieval Christmas. London: Frances Lincoln in association with the British Library.
Vasilakē, M. et al. (2000). Mother of God: representations of the Virgin in Byzantine art. Milano: Skira; New York: Distributed in North America and Latin America by Abbeville.
Verdon, T. and Ross, F. (2005). Mary in Western art. New York: in association with Hudson Mills Press.
Ward, L. and Steeds, W. (2005). Angels: a glorious celebration of angels in art. London: Carlton.
Vikan, G. (2003). Sacred Images and Sacred Power in Byzantium. Aldershot: Ashgate Variorum.
Ziadé, R. (2017). Chrétiens d’Orient: 2000 ans d’histoire. Paris: Gallimard.
We welcome suggestions for future blog contributions from our readers. Please contact Clare Hills-Nova (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Chantal van den Berg (email@example.com) if you would like propose a topic.
The theme for the 2019 Disability History Month festivities in the United Kingdom is ‘Disability: Leadership, Resistance and Culture‘. To explore some important questions opened up by this focus, this reflection proposes three encouragements to further teaching and student research in disability history: displays of books held by the Bodleian Libraries at both the Sackler Library and the Continuing Education Library throughout Disability History Month (22 November to 22 December 2019); a presentation for the Disability History Workshop (Friday 22 November 2019, 9:00-13:00 in the History Faculty — all members of the University are welcome to attend the workshop and join us for lunch [please sign up here]); and an Oxford Reading Lists Online (‘ORLO’) site collating digital links to scholarship and media about how disability history is evidenced through design, visual cultures and historic environments.
As a historian of nineteenth- to twenty-first century design, it would be hubristic to extend my suggestions for prospective researchers in disability history much beyond in this period. That said, it is important to celebrate, as the 2013 BBC podcast series ‘Disability: A New History’ by Peter White advised by Professor David Turner of Swansea University eloquently did, the burgeoning field of historians assessing the documentation of medieval and early modern charitable institutions through the lens of disability history. Isabel Holowaty, Bodleian History Librarian, is collaborating with History Faculty colleagues in these earlier periods to develop a Disability History research guide (‘LibGuide’) addressing a wider chronological scope.
Enabling Histories of Design for Disability
Culture operates as both leadership and resistance. This discussion delves first into advocacy by disability activists witnessed in oral histories and archives. A brief stroll through some of the wealth of historical scholarship about designed objects and environments for disability ensues which hopes to facilitate new research.
Primary Sources: Advocacy
Three eighteenth- and nineteenth-century voices helped to identify the core thematics of this meditation: William Hay MP (1695-1755), Thérèse-Adèle Husson (1803-31) and Hyppolite van Landeghem (fl.1860s). Parliamentarian for Glyndebourne and Christ Church man, William Hay contested problematic Enlightenment equations of moral virtue with physical health and beauty in his 1754 essay ‘On Deformity’. Despite his use of the uncomfortable contemporary terminology of ‘deformity’, referencing an earlier essay by Francis Bacon (1561-1626), Hay embraced his own bodily difference as an ‘advantage’, as he perceived it, because his spinal condition and stature activated his aptitude for education and sensibility. Author of numerous children’s novels, Thérèse-Adèle Husson underlined the importance of attending to and capturing the perspectives of creative self-advocates. The hand-written manuscript of Husson’s extraordinary autobiography, Reflections: The Life and Writings of a Young Blind Woman in Post-Revolutionary France, was sent to the Director of the Quinze-Vingts Hospital for the Blind, Paris in 1825, remaining neglected until recuperated by Professor Zina Weygand of the Conservatoire Nationale des Arts et Métiers Paris in 2004 (Une jeune aveugle dans la France du XIXe siècle). Husson’s testimony of living with disability amidst a climate of social turmoil and resistance was translated by Weygand and Catherine Kudlick of San Francisco State University and is available as an e-book here. The polemical Victorian rhetoric of Hyppolite van Landeghem’s 1864 treatise on ‘Exile Schools’ has perhaps led to the neglect of the text’s evocation of the tensions between disempowering charity, isolation and community in designed environments for disability, a theme writ large in its ungainly title: Charity Mis-applied. When Restored to Society, after Having Been Immured for Several Years in Exile Schools, the Blind and the Deaf and Dumb Are Found to Be Incapable of Self-support. Why? The Question Considered and Answered.
These themes of advocacy, practice and representation also resonate in the archival traces of twentieth-century civil rights activists who played a vital role in securing the legislative requirements and commercial incentives that underpin design for disability. The commitment of Edward V Roberts (1939-95) to secure equity of intellectual and physical access to education and work was achieved through both civil disobedience and municipal council motions that implemented disabled-student university accommodation, ‘curb cuts’ throughout the road network and the formation of the first Center for Independent Living (Berkeley, California), all documented in the archives of the University of California at Berkeley. In the United Kingdom, Paddy Masefield OBE (1943-2012) is just one of many advocates documented in the National Disability Arts Collection and Archive (NDACA) at Buckinghamshire New University. His energy in advising government and cultural institutions generated ground-breaking apprenticeship and employment initiatives, as well as the foundation of influential and remunerative annual prizes to promote creativity for disability. The Masefield Award promotes ‘outstanding communication through art by a disabled person’.
Recent Scholarship: Histories of Design for Disability
Famous designers and powerful cultural institutions have engaged with design for disability in multiple ways. A vodcast of the keynote lecture for the Annual Design History Conference convened at the Department for Continuing Education in 2014, ‘How Disabled Design Changed the History of Modernism’ by Professor David Serlin of the University of San Diego, captures perspectives and case studies from disability history which remain rarely considered within most University curricula. How often does Kenneth and Phyllis Laurent’s 1948 commission for an accessible Usonian-hemicycle house from Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) figure in modern architectural histories?
Objects and Exhibitions
Displays of collections of work by disabled practitioners have promoted both empowerment and stigma. Art produced by mental health patients collected by the art historian and psychiatrist Hans Prinzhorn (1886-1933) at the University of Heidelberg was both admired in Surrealist circles and denigrated in the 1938 Nazi Degenerate Art exhibition. In her Learning from madness: Brazilian modernism and global contemporary art, Kaira M. Cabañas of the University of Florida has revealed how in this interwar period the psychiatrists Osório César (1895-1979) and Nise da Silveira (1905-99) and the art critic Mário Pedrosa (1900-81) also championed the generative relationships between their disciplines collaborating and exhibiting the artwork of mental health patients in Brazil. The exhibition ‘Design for Independent Living’ at the Museum of Modern Art in 1988 brought innovative design for disability emerging in Scandinavia, the United States and the United Kingdom to a wider audience. The MoMA 2012 exhibition ‘Century of the Child: Growing by Design, 1900-2000’ celebrated pedagogic toys at the heart of the special education systems devised by Friedrich Fröebel (1782-1952) and Maria Montessori (1870-1952). As the researchers and Royal College of Art student participants interviewed by Chris Ledgard for his 2015 BBC podcast ‘The Art of Walking Into Doors’ suggested, the complex relationships between dyslexia, dyspraxia and acuity in three-dimensional design are only just revealing themselves. In 2018, ‘Access + Ability’ organized by Cara McCarty and Rochelle Steiner and then ‘The Senses: Design Beyond Vision’ organized by Ellen Lupton and Andrea Lipps at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York demonstrated these innovative design strategies and debates have now entered the digital age.
The Sackler Library book display also includes exhibition catalogues which show the vibrant presence of makers and museum audiences with disabilitity across the globe. The braille-embossed cover of the bi-lingual catalogue for the 1969 Sculpture for the Blind exhibition held at the South African National Gallery, Cape Town and the 1983 Please touch: animal sculpture exhibition at the British Museum exemplify how curatorial and museum interpretation teams have been engaging with under-represented communities for many years. The affirmation of the word ‘Unlimited’ used in the title of exhibitions both at the Edinburgh City Art Centre in 1981 and at the Southbank Centre in 2012 signals institutional activism. Richard Sandell’s, Jocelyn Dodd’s and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson’s thoughtful 2010 anthology, Re-presenting disability: activism and agency in the museum, considers strategies for enhancing such cultural leadership through museum interpretation strategies and collections. The quiet activism of the 2018 ‘Museum Benches’ project devised by the designer Shannon Finnegan critiques the limited accessibility actually afforded in cultural institutions, reminding us much still remains to be done. Digital app projects such as ‘LOLA’, conceived by Seth Truman and the non-profit technology firm Tech Kids Unlimited, engage with and for autistic children. In the ‘House of Memories’, National Museums Liverpool are raising awareness and creating collaborative networks between people living with dementia, care professionals and museums, demonstrating the direct social impact of culture so easily under-recognized and under-funded in the ongoing age of austerity.
As a canon of histories of design for disability emerges, scholarly research has constellated around the themes of symbolic representation, universal design and sensorial history. In her Designing disability: symbols, space and society, Elizabeth Guffey of Purchase College, State University of New York has examined the graphic design and historical agency of the ‘International Symbol of Access’. Aimi Hamraie of Vanderbilt University in Nashville assessed the theoretical and practical complexities of attempting to build according to ‘Universal Design’ principles (Building access: Universal Design and the politics of disability). Graham Pullin of the University of Dundee (Design meets disability) explored a set of design case studies for sensoriality, mobility and communication. In their Culture – theory – disability, Anne Waldschmidt, Hanjo Berressem and Moritz Ingwersen of the University of Cologne brought together the methodological challenge of calibrating social and cultural models of disability across the senses. Bess Williamson of the Art Institute of Chicago focused on how innovation in everyday industrial design was spurred on by accessibility activism in post-war America (Accessible America: a history of disability and design). Further book chapters and journal articles linked into my ORLO list afford thought-provoking case studies of design typologies from invalid and wheel chairs, hearing aids, ‘talking book’ shellac record discs, ‘disabled’ GI Joe and Barbie dolls and therapeutic amateur craft.
Visual Culture and Representation
A vast spectrum of representational positions from empathetic portraiture to horror film stereotyping or graphic-novel fantasy can be investigated through visual culture. Art History has delved deep into the analysis of the portraits of court ‘jesters’ by Diego Rodriguez de Silva Velazquez (1599-1660) and mental health by Théodore Géricault (1791-1824). The pathetic fallacy expressed by Vincent Van Gogh (1853-90) in his nature studies undertaken whilst a patient at the St Paul Asylum in Saint Rémy have become part of our cultural mythology. The perceived porous boundary between creativity and physical-cognitive diversity has dominated the choice of subjects for biographical films about artists, from iconic subjects such as Van Gogh, Edvard Munch (1863-1944), Camille Claudel (1865-1943) and Henri de Toulouse Lautrec (1864-1901) to the ‘discovery’ of Séraphine Louis of Senlis (1864-1942) and Christy Brown (1932-81). The intersectionality of design and film histories has enhanced the analysis of the 1932 film ‘Freaks’ directed by Tod Browning (1880-1962). Banned by the British Board of Film Certification ‘because it exploited for commercial reasons the [sic] deformed people that it claimed to dignify’ the film, as been argued by Angela Smith, can be read as enacting resistant counter-narratives within the interwar eugenicist context of its production.
Disability history inhabits a plethora of historic environments. In her Medicine by design: the architect and the modern hospital Annemarie Adams of McGill University argued for the agency of hospitals’ architectural design in shaping modern medical treatments, sociability and technologies. Clare Hickman (Therapeutic landscapes) of the University of Chester established landscape design as a historical therapeutic practice within medical institutions. Leslie Topp of Birkbeck College University of London demonstrated the foundational place of Viennese sanatoria in histories of design for cognitive diversity (Freedom and the cage: modern architecture and psychiatry in Central Europe, 1890-1914). Robin Jackson’s Discovering Camphill focussed on how the special needs educational environments of the transnational Camphill Movement originated in Aberdeen in the 1930s. Claire Edington (Beyond the asylum) of UC San Diego opened up colonial and global perspectives in her analysis of mental illness in French Colonial Vietnam. Design cultures of place impacts upon well-being, often subjugating and isolating, at times creating a sense of belonging and community.
Postgraduate research: MSt in the History of Design Dissertations and Conference Papers
Sustaining the leitmotif of design for disability across the syllabus for the MSt in the History of Design has facilitated exciting postgraduate research. Student essays have uncovered business histories of glass-eye manufacture in Germany (Liz Dotzauer MSt HoD 2013) and prosthetics in Britain (Richard Hefford-Hobbs MSt HoD 2019) during the First World War as well as the identity politics of visual cultures around running blades and Paralympians in the twenty-first century (Bry Leighton MSt HoD 2017). The Design History Society awarded Karen Price (MSt HoD 2017) a student grant to research her dissertation, which investigated archives and collections in the Orkney and Shetland Islands to assess the mental health amidst conflict evidenced through exhibitions of Second World War Servicemen’s toy craft [https://www.designhistorysociety.org/blog/view/report-dhs-student-travel-award-by-karen-price]. This project (and all MSt in the History of Design dissertations) are available in the Continuing Education Bodleian Library. Karen presented this research at an academic conference at University of Edinburgh in 2017. Whither next?….
Our abilities, physical and cognitive, are infinitely diverse and variable across our lifetimes. In attending to how the design of the material world and its cultural representation activates or hinders the expression of these abilities, these meditations have hoped to engage more scholars in continuing to forge the history of design for disability.
My thanks to Bodleian Libraries colleagues, Angela Carritt, Grace Brown, Clare Hills-Nova, Erin McNulty and Chantal van den Berg for their help in orchestrating both physical and virtual resources and to Jeannie Scott in the History Faculty for inviting me to join the Disability History Work Group.
Further resources (textual, visual, audio)History of Disability, Oxford Reading Lists Online (Please note: E-texts referenced in this blog and in the 'ORLO' reading list may be accessed by members of the University only. Hard copy versions of texts may also be found by searching SOLO.)
Extended Reading ListIntroductions to Disability History and Modern Visual/Material/Spatial Cultures
Boys, J., (ed.) (2017). Disability, Space, Architecture: A Reader. London: Routledge.
Boys, J., (2014). Doing Disability Differently: An alternative handbook on architecture, disability and designing for everyday life. London: Routledge.
Fraser, B., 2018. Cognitive disability aesthetics : visual culture, disability representations, and the (in)visibility of cognitive difference.
Guffey, E., (2017). Designing disability: Symbols, space and society. London: Bloomsbury.
Hamraie, A. (2017). Building Access: Universal Design and the Politics of Disability. University of Minnesota Press.
Humphries, S.; Gordon, P., (eds.) (1992). Out of Sight: The Experience of Disability 1900-1950. Northcote House.
Kitchin, R., (2000). Disability, space and society, Sheffield: Geographical Association.
Kuppers, P., (2019). Disability Arts and Culture : methods and approaches. Bristol: Intellect.
Kuppers, P., (2014). Studying disability arts and culture : an introduction. Basingstoke : Palgrave Macmillan.
Masefield, P., 2006. Strength : broadsides from disability on the arts, Stoke on Trent: Trentham Books.
Pullin, G., (2011). Design meets Disability. MIT Press.
Siebers, T., 2010. Disability aesthetics. Ann Arbor : University of Michigan Press.
Waldschmidt, A., Berressem, H. & Ingwersen, M., 2017. Culture - theory - disability : encounters between disability studies and cultural studies, Bielefeld.
Kleege, G., (2018). More than meets the eye : what blindness brings to art. New York: Oxford University Press.
Lindgren, K.A.; DeLuca, D.; Napoli, D.J., (2008). Signs and voices : deaf culture, identity, language, and arts. Washington, D.C. : Gallaudet University Press.
Mirzoeff, N., (1995). Silent poetry: deafness, sign, and visual culture in modern France. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press.
Shaw, C.L., (2017). Deaf in the USSR : marginality, community, and Soviet identity, 1917-1991, Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Designed Environments for Disability
Adams, A., (2008). Medicine by design : the architect and the modern hospital, 1893-1943, Minneapolis ; London: University of Minnesota Press.
Barlett, P.; Weight, D., (eds.). Outside the walls of the asylum: The history of care in the community 1750-2000. Athlone Press.
Cook, G.C., (2004). Victorian incurables : a history of the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability, Putney, Spennymoor: Memoir Club.
Dale, P.; Melling, J., (2006). Mental illness and learning disability since 1850 : finding a place for mental disorder in the United Kingdom. London : Routledge.
Edington, C., (2019). Beyond the Asylum: Mental Illness in French Colonial Vietnam. New York: Cornell University Press.
Hickman, C., (2013). Therapeutic landscapes : a history of English hospital gardens since 1800, Manchester ; New York: Manchester University Press.
Jackson, R., (ed.) (2011). Discovering Camphill: new perspectives, research and developments. Floris Books.
Melling, J.; Forsythe, B., (1999). Insanity, institutions, and society, 1800-1914 : a social history of madness in comparative perspective, London: Routledge.
Topp, L.; Moran, J.; Andrews, J., (eds.) (2006). Madness, Architecture and the Built Environment: Psychiatric Spaces in Historical Context. London: Routledge.
Tupling, K. ; De Lange, A., 2018. Worship and disability : a kingdom for all. Cambridge: Grove Books.
Disability and Exhibitions
Anon, 2012. Unlimited : extraordinary new work by deaf and disabled artists, London: Southbank Centre.
Biggs, B. & Williamson, A., (2014). Art of the lived experiment. Liverpool: The Bluecoat.
Bordin, G. ; Polo D'Ambrosio, L. ; Hyams, J., (2010). Medicine in art, Los Angeles: J P Getty Museum.
Borensztein, L. & MacGregor, J.M., (2004). One is Adam, one is Superman : the outsider artists of Creative Growth. Published in conjunction with the exhibition "Leon Borensztein and his friends: portraits of artists with disabilities," organized by the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, San Francisco: Chronicle Books.
Brown, C., (1954). My left foot. London: Secker & Warburg.
Coles, P., (1984). Please touch : an evaluation of the 'Please touch' exhibition at the British Museum 31st March to 8th May 1983, Dunfermline: Committee of Inquiry into the Arts and Disabled People.
Crawshaw, G., 2016. Shoddy : disability rights, textiles, recycling, history and fightback, Leeds: Gill Crawshaw.
Delin, A., Wright, S. & Prest, M., 2001. Adorn, equip : a national touring exhibition originated by The City Gallery, Leicester. Leicester: The City Gallery.
Eccles, T. & Jenkins, B., 1991. Attitude : [a project ability exhibition]. Glasgow: Project Ability.
Edinburgh City Art Centre, (1981). Artists unlimited : selected works by disabled artists & craftsmen. Edinburgh: City Art Centre.
Hayward Gallery, (1996). Beyond reason : art and psychosis : works from the Prinzhorn Collection, London: Hayward Gallery.
Jones, S. & Ritchie, E., 2007. The Studio Project : opening art practice. published in conjunction with the Different spaces exhibition, Studio Voltaire, London 22nd June - 8th July 2007 London : Intoart Projects.
McCarty, C., (1988). Designs for independent living : the Museum of Modern Art, New York, April 16-June 7, 1988., New York: The Museum.
Nolan, G., (1997). Designing exhibitions to include people with disabilities : a practical guide, Edinburgh: NMS Publishing.
Pearson, A. & Hughes, K., (1983). Please touch : animal sculpture ; catalogue of an exhibition at the British Museum, 31 March - 8 May 1983, London: British Museum.
Sandell, R., Dodd, J. & Garland-Thomson, R., 2010. Re-presenting disability : activism and agency in the museum, London: Routledge.
Shea, J., (1993). Defiance : art confronting disability, Stoke-on-Trent: City Museum & Art Gallery.
South African National Gallery, (1969). Sculpture for the blind, 1969 = Beeldhoukuns vir Blindes, Cape Town: s.n.
Goodley, D. & Moore, M., (2002). Disability arts against exclusion : people with learning difficulties and their performing arts, Kidderminster: BILD.
Keidan, L., Mitchell, C.J. & Vason, M., 2012. Access all areas : live art and disability. London: Live Art Development Agency.
Kuppers, P., (2003). Disability and contemporary performance : bodies on edge, New York ; London: Routledge.
Kuppers, P., (2013). Disability culture and community performance : find a strange and twisted shape. Basingstoke, Hampshire : Palgrave Macmillan.
Alaniz, J. & Halverson, P.D., 2014. Death, disability, and the superhero : the silver age and beyond. Jackson, Mississippi : University Press of Mississippi.
Ellis, K., (2015). Disability and popular culture : focusing passion, creating community and expressing defiance, Burlington.
Foss, C.; Gray, J.W.; Whalen, Z., (2016). Disability in comic books and graphic narratives, Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire.
Raabe-Webber, T.; Plant, A., (2016). The incorrigibles : perspectives on disability visual arts in the 20th and 21st centuries, Birmingham: mac Birmingham.
Visual Culture and Cognitive/Mental Health
Blackshaw, G. & Topp, L., 2009. Madness and modernity : mental illness and the visual arts in Vienna 1900, Farnham: Lund Humphries.
Cabañas, K.M., (2019). Learning from madness : Brazilian modernism and global contemporary art, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Cross, S., 2010. Mediating madness : mental distress and cultural representation. Basingstoke : Palgrave Macmillan.
Davies, F. & González, L., (2013). Madness, women and the power of art. Oxford : Inter-Disciplinary Press.
Groom, G.L., 2016. Van Gogh's Bedrooms. Chicago : Art Institute of Chicago.
Lapper, A. & Feldman, G., (2006). My life in my hands, London: Pocket.
MacGregor, J.M., (1989). The discovery of the art of the insane, Princeton ; Guildford: Princeton University Press.
Miller, E., (2008). The girl who spoke with pictures : autism through art, London: Jessica Kingsley.
Mullins, E. & Gogh, V. van, 2015. Van Gogh : the asylum year, London: Unicorn Press.
Nuss, P. et al., 2005. Journey into the heart of bipolarity : an artistic point of view. Montrouge, France : John Libbey Eurotext Publishing.
Prinzhorn, H.; Black, C., (2011). The art of insanity : an analysis of ten schizophrenic artists, Washington, D.C.?: Solar.
Schildkraut, J.J. & Otero, A., 1996. Depression and the spiritual in modern art : homage to Miró. Chichester: John Wiley.
Shoham, S.G., (2002). Art, crime, & madness : Gesualdo, Caravaggio, Genet, Van Gogh, Artaud, Brighton: Sussex Academic Press.
Snell, R., (2017). Portraits of the insane : Théodore Géricault and the subject of psychotherapy, London: Karnac.
Tromans, N., 2011. Richard Dadd : the artist and the asylum, London: Tate Publishing.
Bodammer, E. & Schillmeier, M.W.J., (2010). Disability in German literature, film, and theater, Rochester, NY: Camden House.
Fraser, B., (2016). Cultures of representation: disability in world cinema contexts. E-book
Fraser, B., (2013). Disability Studies and Spanish Culture: Films, Novels, the Comic and the Public Exhibition, Liverpool University Press.
Kaes, A., (2009). Shell shock cinema: Weimar culture and the wounds of war. New York, NY.: Princeton University Press
Siddique, S.; Raphael, R., (2016). Transnational horror cinema : bodies of excess and the global grotesque.
Smith, A.M., (2011). Hideous progeny : disability, eugenics, and classic horror cinema, New York: Columbia University Press.
Niestorowicz, E.A., (2017). The world in the mind and sculpture of deafblind people, Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
Disability after Conflict
Alberti, S.J.M.M;, Tonks, H.; Midgley, J., (2014). War, art and surgery: the work of Henry Tonks & Julia Midgley. London : Royal College of Surgeons of England.
Anderson J., (2011). War, disability and rehabilitation in Britain: Soul of a Nation. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Bourke, J., (1996). Dismembering the male: men's bodies, Britain and the Great War. Chicago, IL.: University of Chicago Press.
Hutchinson, R., (2011). The silent weaver : the extraordinary life and work of Angus MacPhee, Edinburgh: Birlinn.
Ott, K., (ed.). (2002). Artificial Parts, Practical Lives: Modern Histories of Prosthetics. London: New York University Press.
Reznick, J., (2004). Healing the nation: soldiers and the culture of caregiving in Britain during the Great War. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Serlin, D., (2004). Replaceable You: Engineering the Body in Postwar America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Scruton, J., (1998). Stoke Mandeville Road to the Paralympics: fifty years of history. Brill: Peterhouse.
Taliaferro, W., (ed.). (1944). Medicine and the war. Chicago, Ill.: The University of Chicago Press.
Wheatcroft, S., (2013). Worth saving : disabled children during the Second World War. Manchester : Manchester University Press.
We welcome suggestions for future blog contributions from our readers.
Please contact Clare Hills-Nova (firstname.lastname@example.org) and/or Chantal van den Berg (email@example.com) if you would like propose a topic.
Studying Black and Visual Culture: An Ever-Evolving Addendum
A Book Display at the Sackler Library
Building on the Sackler’s 2018 Black History Month Book Display, we would like to extend the possibilities of study further, offering additional sources and consideration. (Please see Further reading at the end of this blog post.) As Ben Gable noted, Black History Month in the United Kingdom has its origins in the work of Dr. Carter G. Woodson, a renowned African American historian. In 1926, Woodson proposed a week-long concentration on African American contributions to history and culture and established the Journal of Negro History to ensure critical scholarship and awareness of the African Diaspora. With an increasing interest in Black Studies, in 1976 the United States extended the week to a month-long focus, encouraging other countries to consider the opportunity to engage and address the history of the African Diaspora that has shaped global consciousness. At the forefront of the campaigns against institutional racism in the UK and the apartheid regimes in Southern Africa, Ghanaian political refugee Akyaaba Addai-Sebo worked with others to adapt the idea with a special focus on inspiring black youth. Black History month in the UK was established in 1987 with the intention of extending a broader global awareness.
To that end, we would like to offer an addendum to the excellent resources aleady assembled by the Sackler, calling out a wide array of writers and artists who continue to define and challenge our understanding of the African Diaspora. We are especially keen to emphasise the global character of this diaspora even while singling out titles from the literature published for English-speaking audiences. The primary setting of the slave trade, the Atlantic Ocean featured prominently in the creation of a diasporic Black consciousness. Books such as Slave Portraiture in the Atlantic and Characters of Blood: Black Heroism in the Transatlantic Imagination reflect this history, continuing an intellectual tradition that privileges the idea of movement over that of national identity. Moving into the present, Okwui Enwezor and Chika Okeke-Agulu’s Contemporary African Art Since 1980 reflects the growing ascendency of the African continent on the global art market, while Postcolonial Modernism: Art and Decolonization in Twentieth-Century Nigeria offers a case study that decenters the modernist canon beyond its Anglo-European axis. Indeed, the historic lacunae of the western art canon continues to be addressed by recent monographs and exhibition catalogues such as Richard Powell’s Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist and Jeffreen Hayes’s Augusta Savage: Renaissance Woman, demonstrating the ways that these influential figures shaped transatlantic modernism.
Similarly, the formation of a Black visual culture in Britain is indebted to centuries of migrations across the British Empire and later the Commonwealth of Nations. Victorian Jamaica and An Eye for the Tropics: Tourism, Photography and Framing the Caribbean Picturesque examine the conflicts as well as the innovations that resulted from British ways of seeing being forcibly imported into the colonial Caribbean. In contrast, Black Britain: A Photographic History documents the lives of those who emigrated to the ‘motherland’ in the aftermath of the Second World War, as British territories across Africa and the Caribbean gained independence. The 1980s and 1990s witnessed the emergence of a new generation of Black British citizens who were born and raised in the UK. Frustrated with persistent racism and emboldened by the ideology of Black Power, they fought back. Artists like Eddie Chambers, author of Black Artists in British Art: A History Since the 1950s to the Present, embraced the separatist tactics championed by the Black Arts Movement in the US. In Britain, however, the term ‘Blackness’ had wider applications than in the United States, often accommodating strategic coalitions between artists of both African and Asian descent. The essays included in Shades of Black: Assembling Black Art in 1980s Britain are testament to a time when the very notion of ‘Blackness’ was dissected as part of the formation of an emerging postcolonial consciousness. Contemporary practitioners engage in a critical race theory as demonstrated by Huey Copeland in Bound to Appear, in which he considers how contemporary practitioners reframe strategies of representation and how blackness might be imagined and felt long after the end of the “peculiar institution” of slavery.
The artists involved in these foundational debates are only now receiving the recognition they deserve. Our display reflects this by including the recently published monograph on the Lubaina Himid CBE, who in 2017 was the first black woman artist to win the Turner Prize. We also include a monograph on Frank Bowling OBE RA, the British Guyanese painter who arrived in London in 1953 and whose tremendous achievements were celebrated last summer with a retrospective at Tate Britain.
We hope that this display will inspire staff and students alike, highlighting both the achievements of individual black artists and the influence of the African diaspora on Western culture more widely. Furthermore, we hope that it illuminates some of the ways in which race plays a part in the subject areas covered by the Sackler’s collections. The display will run until the end of the month, but the bibliography will remain accessible on this blog post.
Dr. Amy M. Mooney
Terra Foundation Visiting Professor of American Art
Department of the History of Art
Oxford University firstname.lastname@example.org