Global Britain: Decolonising Art’s Histories Day 1

Monday 21 June 2021, 9 - 5.30pm, GMT

Global Britain: Decolonising Art’s Histories
Association for Art History’s two-day Summer Symposium

Day 1, 21 June 2021 & Day 2, 22 September, online
22 September Programme and Speakers available here
21 June Programme and Speakers below or download full programme with abstracts (pdf)


The Association for Art History’s Summer Symposium is a two-day annual event that highlights current postgraduate and early career research. This year’s symposium will take place online over two days rather than the usual one day. The first day will take place at the end of June, the second day in early September.

Art holds a power to speak to the present moment. It is often the product of historical specificity, being rooted in the make-up of an individual, a society and the political environment. Yet an artwork from the sixteenth century, for example, can also speak to the thoughts, feelings and struggles of new generations and yield atemporal importance. Art can be celebrated, appropriated for activism, vandalised or destroyed in an effort to recognise and fight hierarchies, inequalities and marginalisation. It will be one year since Black Lives Matter activism prompted a group of protesters to topple a statue of slave-trader Edward Colston in Bristol. In recognition of this and many other acts that seek to de-stabalise visual histories of power and oppression, this year’s Summer Symposium will be dedicated to ‘Global Britain: Decolonising Art’s Histories’ (21st June 2021). This online symposium will showcase research dedicated to decolonising Britain in the past and present: centred on the role of artists and art historians in both structures of racism and anti-racist movements.

In 2020, the journal Art History published ‘Decolonizing Art History’, giving major intervention to several of the most pressing questions now being addressed by our discipline: What is the historical specificity of current calls to decolonise art history? How are they different from previous challenges to the discipline (such as postcolonialism, feminism, queer studies, Marxism)? What is your understanding of decolonising art history now? What does a decolonised art history look like? How should it be written/practiced? How might the decolonisation of art history impact upon your own area of research/practice? What would be produced from it? Might anything have to be jettisoned? Where should decolonisation in relation to art history happen? What strategies might different spaces for decolonisation demand? These questions and more rouse this call to engage with understanding the art objects which have shaped and continue to shape structures and systems of power in Britain.

Organised by the Association for Art History’s Doctoral and Early Career Research (DECR) Committee, this symposium seeks to further develop this debate by asking: how has culture shaped and been shaped by Britain’s colonial history, within the UK and across its empire? What is it about art specifically, with its experimental visual imagination and its speculative possibilities, that might contribute to the work of decolonising Britain? And what can the UK arts and higher education sector do to challenge entrenched structures?

Decolonisation has an expansive focus in its global reach and links to a multitude of wider issues and debates. The symposium aims to be one conversation among many others on decolonisation, with a specific focus on the globality of Britain from ‘within’. While also exploring the transnational reach of decolonisation, speakers will explore Britain’s historically multiracial society as well as the implications of its imperial past.

The symposium will split over two separates dates. Day 1 on 21st June 2021 will consist of a three DECR panels and a keynote. Day 2 on 22 Sept 2021 will respond to the important themes and conversations raised on Day 1 with a roundtable discussion with senior academics, and a curating workshop in collaboration with Mother Tongue, Glasgow, to celebrate the opening of the upcoming AfroScots Exhibition at Glasgow Museums.

Recordings of papers from Day 1 now available online below


PROGRAMME (Day 1)

Monday 21 June 2021, 9 – 5.30pm, GMT

9.15: Opening remarks by Gursimran Oberoi, Chair of the DECR Committee

9.30 – 11.00 Panel 1: The Subjectivity and Objectivity of Race and Gender 

Annabelle Gilmore, PhD Candidate, University of Birmingham
‘The Ties that Bind: Untangling Imperialism and Slavery Display at Charlecote Park’
Watch recording of paper 1 (approx 15 mins)

Izabella Gill-Brown, PhD Candidate, University of York
‘Decolonising Sculpture, Princess Gouramma of Coorg’s Enduring Bust’
Watch recording of paper 2 (approx 15 mins)

Azadeh Sarjoughian, PhD Candidate, University of Birmingham
‘Contemporary Art from the Middle East: The Assemblage of Geographical and Gendered Boundaries and the “Saatchi-Type” Things’
Watch recording of paper 3 (approx 15 mins)

11.00 – 11.30 Break

11.30 – 13.00 Panel 2: Environments, Mobility and Entanglements

Vera-Simone Schulz, Postdoctoral Researcher, Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz – Max-Planck-Institut ‘More Than “In the Mirror of the Familiar”: Artistic Dynamics and the Built Environment along the Swahili Coast
Watch recording of paper 4 (approx 15 mins)

Chloe Lee, Doctoral Candidate, Royal Holloway University of London
‘“Can you find your way back?”: Migration Stories in a School Drama Studio’
We did not have permission to record paper 5

Amy Melia, PhD Candidate, Liverpool John Moores University
‘Decolonising Institutions, Decolonising Urbanism: “Experimental Institutionality” and Contemporary Art’s Urban Marxism’
Watch recording of paper 6 (approx 15 mins)

Ankita Srivastava, M.Phil Researcher, Jawaharlal Nehru University
The Neoclassical Import in Sardhana: The patronage of the “Lunatic” heir of Begum Samru
Watch recording of paper 7 (approx 15 mins)

13.00 – 14.30 Lunch Break

14.30 – 16.00 Panel 3: Decolonising Curation

Hardeep Dhindsa, PhD Candidate, King’s College London
‘(Mis)Labelling the Other: Cultural Erasure in Non-Western Object Museum Labels’
Watch recording of paper 8 (approx 15 mins)

Matthew Jones, PhD Candidate, University of Sussex
‘Curating the Slave Trade after Colston: Toppling as a Decolonial Strategy’
Watch recording of paper 9 (approx 15 mins)

Eloisa Rodrigues, PhD Candidate, University of Leicester
‘The story of a Brazilian painting acquired by the Tate in 1945: a reflection on museums’ acquisitions’
Watch recording of paper 10 (approx 15 mins)

16.00 – 16.30 Break

16.30 – 17.30 Keynote, ‘Whose Histories?’ by susan pui san lok, Professor of Contemporary Art and Director, UAL Decolonising Arts Institute

Keynote Abstract

‘Whose histories?’ is a visual and performative paper in three parts: approaching questions of the decolonial and decolonisation via several subjectively situated beginnings; revisiting reflections on ‘Decolonising Art History’, partly by way of introducing the UAL Decolonising Arts Institute, and partly to signal the shifting tensions and challenges that bear on or are produced by a multiple practice and positionalities as an artist-writer-researcher-academic; and finally, turning to her recent and current projects, A COVEN A GROVE A STAND (2019) and seven x seven (2021), by way of returning to the question, ‘Whose histories?’

susan pui san lok is an artist and writer based in London. Her practice ranges across moving image, installation, sound, performance and text. Solo exhibitions include: seven x seven, Glasgow International Festival (2021); A COVEN A GROVE A STAND, Firstsite (2019); RoCH Fans and Legends, QUAD (2015) and CFCCA (2016); and Faster, Higher, MAI/Montreal Arts Interculturels (2014), Winchester Discovery Centre (2012) and BFI Southbank Gallery (2008). International exhibitions include: Rewinding Internationalism, Van Abbemuseum (2022, forthcoming); Diaspora Pavilion, Wolverhampton Art Gallery (2018); Diaspora Pavilion, 57th Venice Biennale (2017); and the 1st Asia Biennial and 5th Guangzhou Triennial (2015-2016). Artist books, multiples and limited editions include: seven x seven (2021); RoCH Fans & Legends (2017); RoCH Fan (2015); Making Ways (2012); Faster, Higher (2009); Golden (Notes) (2007); and NEWS (2005). Other recent publications include: ‘Vong Phaophanit and Claire Oboussier: Three Decades, Four Moments’ in ‘Remapping British Art: Three Moments of Modernism’, a special issue of Art History edited by S. Boyce and D. Price (2021); ‘Decolonizing Art History’, a special issue of Art History edited by C. Grant and D. Price (2020); ‘between the voice between the words between the work between us’ in ‘Voice as Form’, a special issue of Oxford Art Journal edited by P. Corey and W. Teo (2020); and ‘We Will Be’ in The Place Is Here, edited by N. Aikens and E. Robles (2020, Sternberg Press). She was a Co-Investigator on the Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded project, Black Artists and Modernism, led by Professor Sonia Boyce (2015-18, University of the Arts London in partnership with Middlesex University), and is currently Professor in Contemporary Art and Director of the Decolonising Arts Institute at UAL.


The Doctoral and Early Career Research Committee organising this event recognise the importance of the theme of this year’s symposium. This event is open to all and proposals will be invited from individuals engaged with art’s histories and visual cultures and practice in the broadest sense. We are keen to encourage those who might not usually submit a proposal and those who are working to make visible untold histories and new narratives around previously accepted ideas.

Permission will be sought to film papers/lectures and upload footage captions to The Association for Art History’s YouTube channel, to ensure a lasting and openly accessible digital legacy as part of an effort to decolonise the discipline.

This year’s event is generously supported by the Paul Mellon Centre Event Support Grant. The submission of abstracts is open to current doctoral and early career researchers and practitioners within 5 years of receiving their doctorate.

The 2021 Summer Symposium is organised by Gursimran Oberoi (Association for Art History DECR Committee Chair), Susannah Kingwill, Sarah French and Sammi Scott (DECR Committee Members).

Image: Imperial Federation Map of the World Showing the Extent of the British Empire in 1886.