Pedagogy and Practice: The Role and Influence of Immigrant Artist Teachers as Agents and Conduits of Cross-cultural Exchange: 1923-1973-2023

The rich and varied immigrant contribution to British visual culture is an ever- prescient focus of contemporaneous art historical discourse and exhibition culture, and the particular focus of exhibitions and research at the Ben Uri Research Unit ( ), incorporating

To mark the Association for Art History’s 50th anniversary this session invites submissions reflecting two 50-year periods – pre- and post- the foundation of the Association – across the twentieth / twenty-first centuries, examining the roles and wider impact of first- and second-generation immigrant and refugee artists as teachers, both pedagogues and practitioners, within the context of cross-cultural exchange.

The envelope is deliberately wide to encourage papers that reflect on both individuals, or groups – one such example is the ‘Hitler émigré’ generation, that made ‘forced journeys’ for reasons of ethnic, religious, cultural and political persecution, and had significant influence as both individuals and collective conduits of ‘Mitteleuropa’ at key teaching institutions, however, the overall contribution is far wider. This session seeks to unpack the agency, influence and legacy of such individuals and groups.

We are particularly keen to turn the spotlight on marginalised and under-represented groups and individuals, mapping, tracing and assessing their contributions beyond the traditional cannon. The session will comprise an equal number of papers for each 50-year period and as convenors we will lead a discussion that seeks to uncover synergies, differences and exceptions.

Session Convenors:

Sarah MacDougall, Ben Uri Research Unit

Rachel Dickson, Ben Uri Research Unit


Sarah MacDougall, Ben Uri Research Unit

Rachel Dickson, Ben Uri Research Unit

 Émigré Aesthetics: Two London Institutions as Sites of Mitteleuropean Cross-cultural Exchange

Following the rise of Nazism in central Europe and the cultural exodus that followed, numerous ‘Hitler émigrés’ were employed part-time as art teachers in Britain from 1933 onwards, both inside and outside the mainstream establishment. They encompassed three generations: those born, trained, and with established careers abroad, crucially able to forge a link with prewar continental artistic developments, and two younger generations (either born and trained abroad but yet to establish their careers, or born abroad but trained in Britain). This paper focuses on two London institutions as conduits and agents of Mitteleuropean cultural exchange. The first part examines the individual and collective impact of émigrés including Martin Bloch, Hans Coper, Susan Einzig, Tadek Beutlich and Frank Auerbach, and their challenge to the dominant contemporaneous art school traditions at Camberwell College of Art.

The second part focuses on Morley College for Working Men and Women, a progressive and liberal adult education institution, employing a significant number of émigré staff post-1933. Among its tutors were Germans, Nikolas Pevsner (British Painters from 17th-20th Centuries), Else and Hermann Nonnenmacher (Modelling and Pottery), Else Fraenkel (Portrait making in sculpture and drawing) and glass artist, Peter Dreiser; Austrians, Felix Braun (Modern Art) Gerhart Frankl (Drawing and Painting); Czechoslovaks, Francis Littna and Nicholas Egon (art history and theory) and French-born painter and art historian, Peter de Francia. Separately, its extensive public lecture programme included distinguished émigrés, Naum Gabo and Pevsner. Among the questions it poses is whether the presence of Anglo-Jewish principal, Eva Hubback, and barrister Norman Bentwich (College Council), contributed to a sympathetic environment for Jewish refugees?

Piers Baker, independent art historian

Maria Vilaincour Baker, independent art historian

‘A School of Life’: Leon Vilaincour at Chelsea School of Art (1950-88)

Leon Vilaincour (1923-2016) was born in Kraków, Poland, moving to England in 1939. Immediately before and after his wartime service he studied at the (then) Central School of Art and Crafts, before teaching painting, first at the Central School and the Sir John Cass School, before his main teaching role, at Chelsea School of Art from 1950 to 1988. As recorded in his obituary, ‘he experienced [Chelsea] as  “a school of life, like a form of the Academy of Athens” where he helped students to “find themselves”, rather than be swept away by fashionable conformity’. He continued to paint throughout this time, with three one-man shows between 1964 and 1983, and a further exhibition in 1992. His works are represented in national collections, including the Tate, though he remains little-known. As noted in a 1992 review, ‘there are no other paintings like them. Vilaincour has developed away from contemporary trends, while at the same time being entirely au courant with new developments – having taught at Chelsea for many years’.

This reflects the reputation he had of being an “artist’s artist”, more appreciated by his Chelsea colleagues – including better-known figures like Norman Blamey R.A., Patrick Caulfield R.A., Prunella Clough, and Brian Young – and by his students, than in the outside world. This talk will outline his career and legacy, with comments and anecdotes from colleagues and students, illustrated with a selection of his paintings, which draw on themes from his Polish and wider European heritage among many others.

Ana-Maria Milcic, Ben Uri Research Unit/Courtauld Institute of Art

Irene Iacono, Ben Uri Research Unit

Dissent: Ehrenberg and Okpu-Egbe’s Dialogue with Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed

This paper will examine the artistic and pedagogical practices of two émigré artists to the UK, Felipe Ehrenberg (b. Mexico) and Adjani Okpu-Egbe (b. Cameroon). It juxtaposes their artistic and educational practices with the work of Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educator, particularly his educational theories on the pedagogy of the oppressed, where the student is a co-creator of content, an approach which generates collaborative learning and resists traditional, imperialistic educational frameworks. This angle underscores Ehrenberg and Okpu-Egbe’s adoption of an anti-establishment stance in art and teaching. Ehrenberg fled to England to escape the repercussions of supporting the 1968 student protests in Mexico. In England, he co-managed the Beau Geste Press, an early 1970s UK-based avant-garde independent publisher rooted in transnational collaboration. Returning to Mexico, Ehrenberg challenged educational norms with courses promoting group creativity among students in rural regions. 

The paper shows how Beau Geste Press embodies collaborative, anti-elitist publishing, turning publications into shared transnational endeavours rather than a text with a singular authoritative voice for students to replicate uncritically. Similarly, Adjani Okpu-Egbe’s work, deeply rooted in socio-political activism and anticolonial sentiment, mirrors Freire’s concepts of ‘conscientization’ and resistance against oppression. Born in 1979 in Ambazonia, Cameroon, Okpu-Egbe’s artistic journey is marked by his direct engagement with the effects of colonialism and ongoing struggles for autonomy in his homeland. His role as a co-founder of the Ambazonian Prisoners of Conscience Support Network exemplifies his role as a conduit of cross-cultural exchange, challenging imperialistic narratives and advocating for social justice.

Zsuzsanna Zsuró, Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary

Creativity in Refuge: Arts Educational Practices of the 2010 Hungarian Dissident Culture in the UK

Emigration within the Hungarian population has remained continuous since the 1800s. Accordingly, the social and political conditions of current governments were always strongly influential on such tendencies. An exemplary consequential movement reflected in the expatriate actions of a whole generation since 2010, due to non-democratic legislations and a lingering economic crisis. The current far-right Orbán regime, therefore, made migration once again a dominant experience between Hungary and especially the UK. Cultural workers, as part of an immigrant community, often find their place in arts education, becoming members of the cultural scenes of cities around the UK. By focusing on educational practices of significant first-generation immigrant Hungarians, the presentation unfolds the interaction between Hungarian and British cultural spheres throughout the last thirteen years.

How does the educational work of immigrant cultural professionals integrate, interrelate, or coexist with an already diverse British culture? Can they, do they, or should they engage with their cultural heritage while simultaneously being declared as “undesirables” by the dominant culture of their home country? This paper will present case studies of mid- and senior-career Hungarian immigrant cultural educators, such as Renáta Hegyi (CSM) and György Beck (UCL) and untangle notions of belonging, knowledge-sharing, and cultural synergy in the context of Hungarian immigrants to the UK.

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