Global Britain: Decolonising Art’s Histories Day 2

Wednesday 22 September 2021, 1:30-3pm, 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
22 September Programme and Speakers below
21 June Programme and Speakers view here

Watch a recording of the Day 2 roundtable discussion online

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.


Wednesday 22 September 2021, 1:30-3pm, GMT

Watch a recording of the Day 2 roundtable discussion online 

A roundtable discussion on the theme of decolonisation will be chaired by Paul Goodwin (independent curator and Professor at UAL) and speakers Dr Heba Abd el Gawad (postdoctoral project on Egyptian archaeology), Chao Tayiana Maina (Founder of African Digital Heritage and Co-Founder of the Museum of British Colonialism), Alice Procter (material culture historian and Uncomfortable Art Tours founder), and Dr Francesco Ventrella (University of Sussex). This session will explore conversations around decolonising: curation, museums, teaching, research, practice, academia and activism.

Due to unforeseen circumstances the workshop element of the Summer Symposium is currently postponed.  We endeavour to create an exciting and thorough second day to the symposium through a roundtable session, and look forward to sharing workshop activities at later DECR and AAH events.


Paul Goodwin is a curator, researcher and educator based in London. His multidisciplinary research and curatorial practice revolves around exploring the creative potential of both cities and exhibitions as sites of aesthetic, socio-cultural and political intervention. He is the Co-Lead Investigator (with Prof Ming Tiampo, Carleton University, Canada) of the Trans-Atlantic Platform funded international research project: Worlding Public Cultures: The Arts and Social Innovation as well as co-founder of the Transnational and Transcultural Arts and Culture Exchange network (TRACE).Goodwin’s current and future curatorial projects include: W.E.B. DuBois: Charting Black Lives(House of Illustration, London, UK, 2019),We Will Walk: Art and Resistance from the American South(Turner Contemporary, Margate, UK, 2020) and Untitled: Art on the Conditions of Our Time, Chapter 2(Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge, UK, 2021). Goodwin is a professor and Director of TrAIN Research Centre (Transnational Art, Identity & Nation) at University of the Arts London where he also teaches on the MA Fine Art programme at Chelsea College of Arts.

Heba Abd el Gawad is the project researcher for the AHRC funded project: ‘Egypt’s Dispersed Heritage: Views from Egypt’ at the Institute of Archaeology, University College of London aimed at amplifying the voice, visibility, and validity of modern Egyptian communities in UK museums. She has previously led various curatorial roles in the UK including co-curating Two Temple Place’s 2016 Beyond Beauty: Transforming the Body in Ancient Egypt exhibition, project curator of the British Museum’s Asyut Project, and more recently has guest curated Listen to her! Turning up the Volume on Egypt’s Ordinary Women exhibition at the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology.

Chao Tayiana Maina is a Kenyan digital heritage specialist and digital humanities scholar working at the intersection of culture and technology. She holds the role of Digital Heritage Specialist at African Digital Heritage/Museum of British Colonialism. A recipient of the Google Anita Borg scholarship for women in technology, she is the founder of African Digital Heritage, a co-founder of the Museum of British Colonialism and a co-founder of the Open Restitution Africa project.

Alice Procter is an art historian, writer, and educator. In 2017, she started the Uncomfortable Art Tours, unauthorised guided tours of British museums, exploring how major institutions came into being against a backdrop of imperialism. She is the author of The Whole Picture: the colonial story of the art in our museums and why we need to talk about it (Cassell 2020). Her work concentrates on the intersections of postcolonial art practice, the curation of historical trauma, and narratives of national identity.

Francesco Ventrella is Senior Lecturer in Art History at the University of Sussex. His research interrogates art writing and historiography from a feminist, queer and decolonial perspective. Francesco has also written on modern and contemporary art and visual culture, feelings and the body. Francesco is the co-editor, with Meaghan Clarke, of a special issue of Visual Resources on the topic of Women and the Culture of Connoisseurship (2017), and with Giovanna Zapperi he has recently published the volume Feminism and Art in Postwar Italy: The Legacy of Carla Lonzi (Bloomsbury, 2020).

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.