Building on our conference in 2017 – ‘Decorating Dissidence: Modernism, Feminism and the Arts’ – this one-day symposium connected PhD/ECR students with academics, artists and curators who are working to expand definitions of the decorative in their fields. Keying in to East London’s radical history as a site where creativity, feminism, and activism meet, the event explores making place through art, craft and the decorative in modernism’s longue durée.

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We explored the links between historic and contemporary decorative/craft practices to reassess their value in the worlds of art, design and literature. The symposium looked at site-specific works and identity to explore how decorative craft-makers might engage with protest in the artworld and beyond…

The symposium asked questions such as: What does it mean to make artworks that challenge concepts of ‘place’? Can the decorative be political? How might craft disrupt the gallery and museum space? What might a feminist genealogy of decorative art and craft look like?

Talks on the day included: 

  • Enam Gbewonyo (artist/curator): Yarn, power and patriarchy: a painstaking exercise in unravelling the seams of oppression
  • Claire Mead (curator): Disruption and Collaboration: collectively queering the museum and archive through craft
  • Dr. Hope Wolf (Sussex): ‘Womb Life’: Portraits of Grace Pailthorpe and Reuben Mednikoff at Home
  • Priya Khanchandani (writer/curator): Decolonising Culture
  • Dr. Megha Rajguru (Brighton): ‘Constructing modernity: The Indian home in the Vistara exhibition’.
  • Professor Sanja Bahun (Essex): Lyubov Popova, Varvara Stepanova, and the Female Artist as Producer of Reality
  • Dr. Rosemary Shirley (Manchester): Festive Landscapes: Well-dressing and place in contemporary rural Derbyshire
  • Madi Acharya-Baskerville (artist): ‘Walking through the forest, Searching for the sea’: Finding, Collecting and Making
  • Dr. Louise Purbrick (Brighton): Rags and Resistance: everyday protests around the twentieth century
  • Kasia Jezowska (Oxford): ‘Too tentative.’ On the reception of Polish exhibitions at the Milan Triennali during the Cold War.

The day ended with a screening of “The Famous Women Dinner Service”: In Conversation with Contemporary Art, followed by a Q&A with Dr. Hana Leaper led by Jenni Råback.

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