A deconstructed poem

Three square tables lined up evenly against a wall are covered in notebooks, bits of paper, coffee cups
Our curated poems

A writing exercise with lecturer Petra McCarthy last week (19 Oct) shifted my thinking. It was fun too.

We were given a chart with lots of random and intriguing words and phrases. The task was to write a poem using at least 35 of them. You could add extra words or phrases, but no wore than 20 (“choose wisely!” read the instruction). I only added about half a dozen extra words, in in case you’re wondering.



This is my poem:

Jon Bon Jovi
won a Tony
for his Food Network adaptation
of Rock the Casbah.

It was crafted with painstaking precision.
It was a tradition for him to lower his voice, stop
and then begin to yodel.

Shovelling penne with vodka or another load of stew, this nervous longshoreman of the heathen laughed his way to Vermont.

“Please, cancel my subscription to the Food Network.
There’s too much oregano in my marinara and the snack of roast dough is a joke!”

“Hey, lose the attitude, love. So much of what we do changes route.”

We swept the leaves in Roanoke, VA.
Then crossed asbestos shovels in Vermont.
We’ll rendezvous with a dizzy and misshapen Jon Bon Jovi there.


I didn’t expect to enjoy doing this or to find it useful. But I learned how you can create mood very effectively by putting unexpected words together. My writing is often straightforward, lacks flair – and I’m a spelling and grammar pedant. I’m good at writing committee reports but not so good at writing creatively. Listening to my colleagues’ poems, I think mine was the closest to attempting a narrative, I’d tried to create a sort of storyline. Whereas others had been much more effective at evoking atmosphere, whether wistful or ominous!

I’ll need a bit more practice at this, perhaps I just need to throw more unexpected phrases into the mix.



Women and photography

Women and photography has been a feature in three very different events / exhibitions I’ve visited this week. They’ve showed different ways of curating photography, including mixing contemporary and older work together; one person shows and group shows; and showing photographs with other objects or artworks.

1. Cherie McNair, Director of Australian Centre for Photography

Photo: Destiny Deacon (2000)
McNair was invited over by Leeds Beckett University School of Art, Architecture & Design’s Inside/Out lecture series. As well as a fascinating potted history of Australian photography,  it was good to hear that the ACP has a commitment to promoting the work of indigenous photographers – as it should. But not to satisfy quotas or to tick boxes. McNair was clear that Aboriginal photographers are producing some of the strongest images in Australia.

An upcoming project featuring 13 artists from around the world will be unashamedly political, with artists using photojournalist approaches, addressing inequality and amplifying often unheard voices (including their own) with strong work.


2. Laura Swanson

img_5218A debut solo exhibition for US artist Swanson, who uses a range of media, but most often photography, to challenge how we look at different bodies, how we present ourselves and how this is changing. Swanson’s work often draws on her experience as a person of short stature and, being in control, her images challenge dominant representations. Her work ranges from serious to joyful, although it struck me that she has left the more lighthearted work behind.  Swanson’s recent series of photographs, Beauty, tackles complex issues of identity in the age of the selfie. So while many of the portraits have ridiculous facemasks and clownish make-up, they seemed confused and unhappy rather than having fun with their masks. Perhaps this reflects our true feelings behind manufactured images.

It was great to see work from a few of Swanson’s recent projects brought together, beautifully installed in the large gallery space. the dramatic series Uniforms made an arresting centrepiece (see featured image).

Swanson’s work held its own and complemented the work of Claude Cahun (1984-1954), shown in another gallery in the Centre. Cahun was another artist renowned for playing around with image and identity.

https://www2.le.ac.uk/hosted/attenborougharts/Gallery%20/gallery-1#Laura Swanson and Claude Cahun Public Preview

3. No Man’s Land

Woman in greatcoat stand on tank remains in blighted field
Mairi Chisholm, Irene ‘Winkie’ Gartside-Spaight in No Man’s Land c.1916 © National Library of Scotland
Impressions Gallery in Bradford is hosting an exhibition showing the perspective of women photographers on the First World War, along with contemporary work in response to the conflict.

Unsurprisingly this is a moving exhibition, particularly because it was such a revelation. I had no idea that there was a woman working as an official photographer in the war zone. Olive Edis was commissioned to show the contribution of women during the conflict.

I was particularly struck by Mairi Chisholm who, with her friend Elsie Knocker, set up first aid posts in Belgium mere yards from the trenches. Their snapshots, taken from albums which are displayed next to the reproduced photographs, show devastating scenes, the ruined buildings “as we found them” where they set up their makeshift first aid posts, but also friendship, bravery and some larking about. Mairi and Elsie became friends through a shared passion for motorcycling, incidentally.

Shot at Dawn
From the series Shot at Dawn by Chloe Dewe Matthews
I thought the contemporary work shown as part of the exhibition was varied in effectiveness. The selection from Chloe Dewe Matthews’ series Shot at Dawn was haunting and fitted well with the older photographs. These were large scale photographs of sites where soldiers had been shot for cowardice or desertion in WW1.  By showing those desolate places, Matthews had enabled their ghosts  to reach out to across the years.



Post script 3.11.17

Continuing this theme, I came upon a small but very effective exhibition of photographs at Leeds Beckett University last week. Propped on a table’ these were photographs showing Spaces of Sanctuary for women seeking sanctuary in the UK. There weren’t any people in the frame, but they were moving nonetheless. The simplicity of the idea and familiar looking scenes made a human connection. There were also postcards of each photograph to take away. A nice touch, but also a method of sharing information about the campaigns involved: White Ribbon Alliance and Leeds City of Sanctuary.

This display proved that you don’t need loads of space or resources to make an impact.




There’s no getting away from disability arts

With the aim of learning about a lot of things this year to develop a more rounded curatorial practice – or at least to know more about the field – I’m finding that disability issues are coming to the fore. Worried that I might be restricting my learning and not taking myself beyond my comfort zone, at first I planned to avoid focusing on disability issues and disability arts. But that was daft! What I learn will support projects I’ll work on and conversations I’ll have in future – about disabled people’s lives, equality and access and the part that art can play in this.  And about other equality and rights issues, socially engaged art, art and activism.

Going to see work by disabled artists (especially those I haven’t seen before); writing for Disability Arts Online; attending disability arts events and exploring disability-related themes and narratives in disabled and non-disabled artists’ work, are some of the activities that will enrich my practice.

So look out for some disability-related posts – amongst other topics – on this blog. It won’t be the only thing I focus on, but it will be one.

Where I’ve been:

Sausage Sandwich Bistro 13 October, which launched an exciting Leeds 2023 project by D4: Andrew Towse and Anne-Marie Atkinson’s collaborative partnership. D4 is one of Pyramid of Arts’ development groups.

UK Disability History Month event 21 Oct – this year’s theme is Disability and Art. That’s me modelling a T shirt to illustrate Barbara Lisicki’s talk on the history of DAN (Disabled People’s Direct Action Network) through its T-shirts.


Laura Swanson’s Uniforms (2015) with Beauty (2017) behind, at Attenborough Arts Centre
Exhibition of Laura Swanson’s work at Attenborough Arts Centre, Leicester, 23 October (Laura Swanson, 2017).

Had a really useful conversation about the nature of curating with Jade French of the University of Leeds School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies. Jade’s PhD thesis is: “Art as Advocacy. Exploring curatorial practice by learning disabled artists as a tool for self-advocacy.”


And finally, I had an article published by Disability Arts Online, which reflects on disabled people’s history in textile industries (Crawshaw, 2017) . Read it here.


Crawshaw, G. (2017) ‘ ‘The Circle and The Square’ reveals a history of disabled people in the textile industries’, Disability Arts Online.  Available at: http://disabilityarts.online/magazine/opinion/the-circle-and-the-square/ (Accessed: 24 October 2017).

Laura Swanson (2017) [Exhibition]. Attenborough Arts Centre, Leicester. 9 September – 10 December 2017.

Pyramid of Arts (2017) Development Teams. Available at: http://pyramid-of-arts.org.uk/groups/development-teams/ (Accessed: 24 October 2017).

UK Disability History Month (2017) UKDHM 2017 Disability and Art. Available at: http://ukdhm.org/ (Accessed: 24 October 2017).





Liberating Culture / State Fair

Liberating CultureJust been reading Liberating Culture: Cross-cultural perspectives on museums, curation and heritage preservation by Christine Kreps (2003). It is excellent in showing that curation is not the preserve of Western museums but is an activity that indigenous communities carry out. In a number of examples Kreps shows how different indigenous populations collect, store, preserve and display objects. She makes a case for transforming professional museum practice, recognising that this is already happening with positive results for everyone involved.

I was interested in the idea of heirloom-type property, such as the pusaka of the Dayak people in Indonesia (Kreps, 2003, p.36, pp.50-56) as this was so recognisable in the heirlooms, which might or might not have high monetary value, handed down through families in many other cultures. I wondered what heirlooms I had of my own? Not many: grandma’s wedding ring (worn all the time); dad’s watch (doesn’t work); some old photos.  None of these are particularly well cared for, perhaps I’m not so good at curating after all!

Kreps writes about the importance of communities being in control of their cultural heritage in non-Western countries, but perhaps this could be broadened to include a range of communities, taking a bottom-up approach to keeping their culture alive.

“Of critical concern is how people in varying national and cultural contexts are gaining greater control over the protection and management of their cultural heritage.” (Kreps, 2003, p. 144)

I was reminded of other (albeit Western) examples of communities curating their culture and heritage, while keeping it relevant to the community and updating practices to reflect contemporary interests. State Fairs in the United States, as well as being a showcase of the best livestock and crops, have extensive art and craft displays. Prizes are given in many categories, taking in quilting and other needlecrafts, wood- and metalwork, fine arts and photography by all age groups and more specialised activities. Digital expertise, contemporary music and dance and other modern arts are recognised and celebrated. On the other hand, heirlooms and other personal mementoes, such as vintage toys, garments handed down through generations and old photographs, are also on display and in competition. These displays of personal items form a temporary museum during the life of the fair, and was a popular area of Kentucky’s State fair in august 2017 when I visited.

Texas State fair
Needlework entries at Texas State Fair
The Kentucky State Fair says that you can

“learn about the unique story each county has to tell through exhibits and items ranging from historic objects and crafts to local treasures” (Kentucky State Fair, 2017).

The Minnesota State Fair, in common with many other of these huge scale events, has the support of professional curators (Legge, 2017). This could be an example of what Kreps calls “hybridisation”! (2003, p. 153).

Of course I say this tongue in cheek, as I think it would be wrong to say that State Fairs have been marginalised or undervalued in the same ways as many indigenous people’s cultures. Of course, they stand in stark contrast to expressions of Native American culture.  But these examples show how diverse communities across the globe have similar aspirations for keeping their traditions and cultures alive and face similar challenges.  As Kreps argues, we must not think that indigenous peoples are any different in these respects.



Kentucky State Fair (2017) Pride of the Counties. Available at  http://www.kystatefair.org/prideOfTheCounties.html (Accessed: 10 October 2017)

Kreps, C. (2003) Liberating Culture: Cross-cultural perspectives on museums, curation, and heritage preservation. London: Routledge.

Legge, L. (2017) ‘Piles of pickles, quilts, woodcarvings are shown at the Fair. This guy wrangles it all.’  Twin Cities.com Pioneer Press, 26 August 2017. Available at  http://www.twincities.com/2017/08/26/minnesota-state-fair-creative-activities-quilts-building-who-wrangles-it/ (Accessed: 10 October 2017).

Out of fashion

I’m having second thoughts about focusing my first essay on curating fashion or garments. I’d need more time to do an important part of the research (and the part that possibly interests me most) which would involve surveying / interviewing people who have donated or lent items of clothing.

Also, the field has probably been done to death, with specific courses on fashion curation, including an MA at the London College of Fashion (University of the Arts London, 2017), and associations and societies galore e.g. The Costume Society, divisions of regional and national Museum Associations.

The brief for the essay includes having a local slant as well as showing an understanding of historical contexts of curation. Fashion curating is interesting as it is a relatively recent discipline:

“For many years garments were only acquired if they were made of significant textiles, as fashion had a low status within the decorative arts.”

“The history of dress figured nowhere in the hierarchy of arts when the Museum was founded. It was not until well into the 20th century that the discipline of dress studies became firmly established and not until 1957 that the first curator for fashion was appointed.”  (Victoria & Albert Museum, 2017)

“The Gallery of Costume was founded in 1947 when Manchester acquired the large private collection of costume which Drs Willet and Phillis Cunnington had amassed during the 1930s, and which concentrate d on middling and ordinary dress.” Manchester Art Gallery 2017).

“Lotherton Hall has been displaying fashion since its early days of being a museum in 1968, showing fine examples of both historic and more contemporary fashions. In the late 1960s it was decided to build on the collection by acquiring more contemporary British designs and fashions.” (Leeds City Council, 2014).

As well as Lotherton Hall, there are several costume archives / collections and museums in Yorkshire e.g.

York Museums Trust https://www.yorkmuseumstrust.org.uk/collections/search/?CL[0]=Costume%20and%20Textiles

M&S Company Archive https://marksintime.marksandspencer.com/home

Yorkshire Fashion Archive, University of Leeds http://www.yorkshirefashionarchive.org/

While the subject speaks to my textiles background and interest, I don’t feel I’ve got enough time to put my own stamp on it. No worries, I’ll work on other ideas…



Leeds City Council (2014) Lotherton Hall set to become home of new Fashion Galleries. Available at http://www.leeds.gov.uk/news/Pages/Lotherton-Hall-set-to-become-home-of-new-Fashion-Galleries-.aspx (Accessed: 9 October 2017).

Manchester Art Gallery (2017) Costume. Available at  http://manchesterartgallery.org/collections/our-collections/costume/ (Accessed: 9 October 2017).

University of the Arts London (2017) MA Fashion Curation. Available at http://www.arts.ac.uk/fashion/courses/postgraduate/ma-fashion-curation/ (Accessed: 9 October 2017).

Victoria & Albert Museum (2017) Furniture, Textiles and Fashion Department. Available at http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/f/furniture,-textiles-and-fashion/ (Accessed: 9 October 2017).

New North and South

The last couple of weeks we’ve been learning about the origins of curating, collecting and museums. I’m interested in how modern museums, galleries and other arts organisations are critically questioning or rejecting their eurocentric legacy and focus.  Many are committed to presenting a diverse range of work that challenges or casts new light on collections, and to showing new work created from a range of experiences and perspectives.

The New North and South is a network of 11 arts organisations in the North of England and South Asia (Whitworth Art Gallery, 2017). The Tetley in Leeds is part of the network.

There are some wonderful exhibitions over in Manchester too, as the Whitworth and Manchester Art Gallery are members of the network. I had time to pop into the latter after protesting outside the Tory party conference last week with Disabled People Against Cuts! How handy that the gallery was so close, it was great to be inspired by many of the works. Some highlights for me:

Waqas Khan

Beautiful, immersive, mind-boggling drawings made up of millions of tiny dots and pen strokes. In a dimly-lit room you have to get up close to see the patterns created, particularly in smaller works (Waqas Khan, 2017). Then I found myself drawn in even closer, wanting to see every separate mark and to really appreciate Khan’s dedication and technique. For the artist there is a meditative and spiritual foundation to his work. I certainly thought that these drawings reflected the wonder of nature and science, evoking microscopic forms as well as the vastness of the universe. Phew!


South Asian Design

Some of the best of contemporary design and craft, alongside objects from Manchester Art Gallery’s collection spanning the last three centuries, were shown in South Asian Design (2017). The screens by Adeela Suleman pictured at the top of this post, entitled After All It’s Always Somebody Else Who Dies (2010), being a good example.

The bright shining steel and flocks of sparrows look so attractive and innocent, but the birds serve as symbols for the countless victims of gangland and politically motivated killings in Karachi, where Suleman is based.

I found this powerful message was underscored by the delicacy of the design and indeed by other items in this gallery, which included several gorgeous garments.



Hetain Patel

I enjoyed both moving image works by Patel that were on show in Manchester (Hetain Patel, 2017), but Don’t Look At The Finger (still image above) was so complex and unexpected, it made a strong impression. Hard to categorise, it’s a mash up of cultural references, styles and unspoken languages that adds up to something highly intriguing. It invites a myriad of questions: Where and when is this set? Who are these people? How has this ritual developed? It grabbed my attention at first with some effective use of sign language, but the staging, choreography and particularly the costumes had me hooked. I was even more impressed after I’d watched the series of behind-the-scenes interviews with Patel and the main collaborators.



Thinking about the curation of these exhibits:

  • Individual artists were assigned different exhibition or installation titles and listings. They were part of an overall project, the New North and South, but were not grouped as one exhibition. Each therefore was given space and attention and, I feel, made more of an impact.
  • Old and contemporary items were shown together in the design exhibition. This showed the vibrancy of all designs and clearly illustrated design traditions, whether these were upheld or subverted by contemporary designers.
  • It was really helpful to be able to view behind-the-scenes filmed interviews – they added to my understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of the work.
  • The installations and exhibitions were in different parts of the gallery. So it felt like a takeover was going on and it was great that these works filled much of the gallery. However, it was easy to lose track of where everything was and perhaps not see it all.



Hetain Patel (2017) [Exhibition]. Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester. 30 September 2017 – 4 February 2018.

South Asian Design (2017) [Exhibition]. Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester. 19 May 2017 – 27 May 2018.

Suleman, A. (2010) After All It’s Always Somebody Else Who Dies [Installation]. In South Asian Design (2017) [Exhibition]. Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester. 19 May 2017 – 27 May 2018.

Waqas Khan (2017) [Exhibition]. Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester. 30 September 2017 – 25 February 2018.

Whitworth Art Gallery (2017) New North and South. Available at  http://www.whitworth.manchester.ac.uk/whats-on/events/newnorthandsouth/about-the-programme/ (Accessed: 8 October 2017).


Full Scale: Art’s Use in the Real World

Full Scale (2017) is an exhibition that addresses whether art can do some good in the world, and it does this by bringing together very different projects from around the globe. This was another rewarding exhibition at Gallery II on the edge of the University of Bradford (India’s Gateway: Textiles and Threads, 2016 and Bad Practice: a centre for collective action, 2017 were other good, recent exhibitions).

Still image from video. Two visualisations of the sound of gun shots hang from celing tracks in a bare concrete room. Subtitle states: The shot that killed Nawara is on the left.
Rubber Coated Steel (still from video) by Lawrence Abu Hamdan

I was particularly drawn to see Lawrence Abu Hamdan’s video Rubber Coated Steel (2016). This was, for me, at the sharp end of usefulness. Abu Hamdan’s visualisation of the shots fired by Israeli soldiers that killed two Palestinian teenagers, showed that live ammunition rather than rubber bullets had been fired. In the video the visualisations are brought forward like paper targets on ceiling tracks, against a transcript of a hearing on the case, with only the background sound of the tracking mechanism.

A four wheeled metal trolley has a sign reading Bradford Markets on the front. On top is a bird cage filled with colourful objects and decorated with flags.
Wur Bradford’s Market Shrine

Other projects in the exhibition, from Russia to the Netherlands and from Cuba back to Wur Bradford‘s ongoing projects in the city’s markets (Wur Bradford, 2017), were all very well selected. Whether sharing the criteria of Arte Util / Useful Art (Bruguera, 2013), developing peer-led art education, setting up an open space where people connect or securing low cost student housing, the work opens up the discussion about art and activism, art and community development, political art. The lines between art and activism, artists and activists are blurred. The exhibition is characterised by constant questioning of these roles, of the work and of the contexts that artists are working within. Which is as it should be – Full Scale doesn’t give the answers, but puts a range of ideas on the table for us to think and talk about.

There are a number of events, including curators tours, as part of Full Scale, which runs to 8th December.



Abu Hamdan, L. (2016). Rubber Coated Steel [HD Video].

Bad Practice: a centre for collective action (2017). [Exhibition]. Gallery II, Bradford. 24 March – 1 June 2017.

Bruguera, T. (2013). Arte Util criteria. Available at: http://www.arte-util.org/tools/structure/ (Accessed: 2 October 2017).

Full Scale: Art’s Use in the Real World (2017) [Exhibition]. Gallery II, Bradford. 22 September – 8 December 2017.

India’s Gateway: Textiles and Threads (2016) [Exhibition]. Gallery II, Bradford. 24 March – 2 June 2016.

Wur Bradford (2017). What is Wur Bradford? Available at: https://wurbradford.wordpress.com/what-is-wur-bradford/ (Accessed: 2 October 2017).

M&S Company Archive

Our MA group visited the Marks & Spencer Company archive on the first week of taught sessions. Like many archives, a lot of people I’ve mentioned it to have never heard of it. But the archives are open to the public and there’s a good sized, beautifully presented,  exhibition of fashion, marketing material, packaging and other goods through the M&S ages. This is just the sort of thing many people like to look back on and remember – indeed, the archive has done some brilliant reminiscence work with people with dementia, using items from the collection. I particularly liked the uniforms worn by sales assistants across the 20th century, which started out looking like the staff were in service or nursing, moving on to synthetic overalls of the 1970s.

Archivists at M&S gave us an overview of the collection, and some general info about archives which, while perhaps basic, was helpful to an inexperienced researcher like me: archives are not libraries! you can’t just turn up and browse; know what you’re looking for – do some research in advance and check the protocol for the archive you’re visiting.

E8C445FF-4F22-49DC-9FAF-EB5A3A17B64DFinally, a bit of object handling, packing away a range of swimwear from the last quarter of the 20th century. This brought into focus one of the essences of archiving and indeed curating, as objects magically change their status and take on new meanings. The functional and used / worn swimming costume becomes an item of historic, social, aesthetic and technical interest. From rubbing up alongside other clothes in a chest of drawers at home, once in the archive preservation is paramount, and the item is treated accordingly, padded and wrapped in acid-free tissue paper and stored in sturdy archive boxes or tyvek (breathable yet protective) wrappings at a low temperature.

According to the M&S archivists, this treatment amazes some of the people who donate items because few people take such care of their clothes at home. It would be interesting to talk to some of the people who donate to find out why they do it and what value they think their items will have in a collection.

I’ve been to this archive a few times and I’ve been struck with the contrast between my memories and impressions of M&S clothes while growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, to how they strike me now. Seeing the garments now, they look completely of their time and so typical of the fashions then. But growing up, I wouldn’t be seen dead in St Michael’s brand fashions, because they weren’t seen as fashions at all. Rather they seemed somehow diluted versions of current trends, filtered through the sensible tastes of adults.