Lines of Beauty: Propaganda, the Poster, and the Pictorial Trope

Georgina Williams recently completed her PhD at Winchester School of Art. Here she offers an account of the main research themes and issues.

Propaganda conceived for distribution via a medium such as the pictorial poster creates a body of artwork that can be productively examined from both aesthetic and political perspectives. When this artwork is primarily restricted to conflict propaganda from the second decade of the twentieth century, the temporal and contextual considerations assist in focussing the poster’s role as a functional object, not only within a propaganda campaign but also within the wider visual ecology of an era. These early years of the twentieth century – encompassing as they do the conflict of World War I – witnessed the emergence of the pictorial poster as a useful tool for the state to employ in the distribution of propagandist messaging. Allied with this is how propaganda as a concept was beginning to be considered in the context that we now understand, and both these considerations contribute to why this particular period of history is ripe for a productive analysis of this genre of artwork.

'Step into your Place' - Artist Unknown - 1915.
‘Step into your Place’ – Artist Unknown – 1915.

For the pictorial poster to operate as an effective means of propaganda distribution, however, the propagandist requires compositional elements that incorporate constructs considered to be capable of attracting the individual within the mass. If a particular construct is isolated and subsequently utilised in the artwork’s composition, its manifestation demonstrates the potential for its use as a mechanism by which the imagery can be unpacked. The concept of a propagandist promotion of an alternate reality worth striving for as a challenge to a current real – and the prospective movement from one to the other – can be figuratively as well as literally conveyed via an apposite construct’s employment as a pictorial trope. Taking these factors into consideration, therefore, the visual construct deemed to represent “movement” – and not only movement, but movement at its most beautiful, thereby forming a focus for the attraction of the viewer – is the serpentine curve that in 1745 William Hogarth scribed on a paint palette and titled ‘THE LINE OF BEAUTY’ (Hogarth, 1997 p6).

William Hogarth - 'The Line of Beauty' 1745 [Detail]
William Hogarth – ‘The Line of Beauty’ 1745 [Detail]
In concentrating on the poster within the wider genre of early twentieth century visual conflict propaganda, and by creating new associations with both aesthetic and metaphoric concepts pertaining to Hogarth’s chosen “line”, Lines of Beauty: Propaganda, the Poster, and the Pictorial Trope as a body of research attempts to articulate how each contributory element within the artwork’s construction ‘respectively influences the identity and the economies of the other’, thereby providing ‘a model by which to focus and rethink’ these relationships (Ostrow, 2005 p226). In this way, the line of beauty serves as both cause and effect of the process by which the relationships are reconsidered, generating the potential to provoke an innovative discourse as to the prospective impact of the whole upon the visual culture field.



Hogarth, W. (1997) The Analysis of Beauty edited by Paulson, R. London: Yale University Press.

Ostrow, S. (2005) ‘Rehearsing Revolution and Life: The Embodiment of Benjamin’s Artwork Essay at the End of the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ in Benjamin, A. (Ed.) Walter Benjamin and Art London: Continuum 226-247.

Comics Unmasked

Elham Soleimani’s PhD research is concerned with questions of the veil and the use of female figures in Persian illustrations. Her work centres upon her own practice of illustration, working towards counter-narratives of contemporary Iran. In this article she notes how a trip to the British Library’s ‘Comics Unmasked’ exhibition provided an opportunity to think further about the format and design of her work.

During the summer 2014, I attended an exhibition at the British Library called ‘Comics Unmasked’. This major exhibition at the British Library was a great collection of comic books created by some of the most talented British writers and amazing artists such as Neil Gaiman (Sandman), Alan Moore (Watchmen, V for Vendetta) Grant Morrison (Batman: Arkham Asylum) and Posy Simmonds (Tamara Drewe). However, there is a huge diversity of comics in this exhibition in terms of the creators, themes, content, size and styles and it was indeed fascinating how this show enables the viewers to trace the history of comics from their early days (almost over two centuries ago) to the digital era, highlighting their adaptability throughout the years.

For me, one of the main purposes of visiting this exhibition was to become more familiar with comics and also enhance my knowledge in this area, as my PhD practice has recently taken a new direction towards graphic novels. Although I have designed a number of books over the last few years, designing comics is a completely new and exciting, yet mysterious world to me. However, this exhibition was an excellent opportunity to take a quick journey through the history of comics and be inspired by many inspiring artists.


In the show, we came across a very interesting unique comic book, which was created by Libyan-born Muslim Asia Alfasi, that demonstrates the influence of Japanese pop culture on the artist and also her memories of watching anime cartoons in Libya and reading and making manga in Britain. “Asia had grown up watching anime (animation in Japanese) adaptions on Libyan television, and later realized it was not Arab after all but Japanese. She vowed to learn how to make her own manga. She kept her vow by growing up into an award-winning graphic novelist.” (Gravett, 2014: 59).

Apart from the brilliant illustrations in ‘JinNarration’, the layout of this book is fascinating. The overlapping Illustrations in different sizes, the close-ups, movements and wording allow the reader to become completely engaged with the story.

However, the exhibit that made the greatest impression was a giant comic book called “She Lives” by Woodrow Phoenix. Here is the Vimeo link so you can watch a video of Woodrow turning the pages of this very big book:

All of the illustrations in this book are hand-drawn and are in black and white. The book took Phoenix nineteen months to complete. In interview with the British Library he notes:

It was surprisingly physical to work on drawings at that size. I was covering so much paper, I was doing a lot of bending and stretching and I would be exhausted at the end of every day. But I did really enjoy doing something that used all of my body rather than just a bit from my elbow to my fingers. (, 2014)

One of the most amazing aspects of this book is that the images tell the story, rather than any text, and yet it is still an incredibly powerful story that is communicated effectively without the presence of any text.

Despite the fact that in the last couple of months I have been designing and redesigning my book, I have been struggling over a few issues, namely the relationship between the text (story) and the images, and the theoretical part of my research. Moreover, the question of to what extent I can use ‘narrative art’ in this project has played on my mind. However, seeing this giant book, and discussing its particular layout and style with others, along with how the layout of comics in general enables the book to interact with the readers more effectively, I have begun to think further about the format of my own work. I found the following extract from the book ‘Comics Unmasked’ very inspiring and almost a solution for the issues that I am currently dealing with.

Instead of reducing a problem down to a simplified single image, comics can dig deeper to unpack the fuller story. Particularly rather than passive, comics incite readers to think for themselves by filling in the gaps between the panel and making their own interpretation of what the pictures and words are saying to them. Comics, according to Woodrow Phoenix, work as ‘empathy generator’. No wonder that such an engaging and empowering medium has been used by many groups as a tool for protest, as well as by the establishment to strengthen the status quo. (Gravett, 2014: 88).



Gravett, P. and Dunning, J (2014). To See ourselves. Comics Unmasked., (2014). Woodrow Phoenix turns the pages of She Lives at the British Library – Inspired by… blog. [online] Available at: [Accessed 7 Aug. 2014].

Soft Power: A Sense of India

Soumik Parida is currently studying ‘soft power’ in the context of India for his PhD research. To date there there is little significant research in this area. In the following account Parida outlines the main scope and themes of his work.


India is a cultural melting pot. It has a rich and illustrious history with many different people from the Greeks to the Moghuls and latterly the English, Portuguese and French influencing its traditions that were initially set by the Indo Aryans. India’s classical dances and songs have a strong presence on the world stage. India’s cuisine can be found in all major cities of the world. Yoga has become the new-age mantra for healthy living with millions of people practicing it every day. Bollywood’s (Hindi film industry) reach and effect on the pop culture is becoming more prominent, and some of the Indian film stars are even more popular than Hollywood stars. The country has various other soft attributes that it has contributed to the world, such as dance, food and Yoga. This work will explore the various soft attributes that contribute to communicating India as a soft power. A communication model is proposed that develops the idea of understanding how various people perceive India as a soft power and to overlay this with how these attributes are communicated to individuals. I want to understand India’s great assets locked away in “soft” cultural contexts and why these are not exploited fully.

While there are many positive soft power attributes of India as seen above, the vicarious attributes of India outshine its positive counterpart; at least in the CBI Rankings (2011) and Monocle soft power rankings (2012), where India has been constantly dropping in the ratings. The focus of this research is based on Ying Fan’s nation brand definition. According to Fan “A nation brand is the total sum of the perceptions in the minds of international stakeholders, which may comprise some of the following elements such as people, place, culture, language, history, food, fashion, famous faces (celebrities), global brands, and cinema”. So the focus of this study is to evaluate various cultural factors of India which influence the perception of people around the world”. Factors such as ‘India as a nation’, ‘India’s historical perspective’, ‘cultural perspective’, ‘Indian cuisine’, ‘spiritualism & yoga’ and ‘Bollywood’ will be analysed in detail.

India is a complex set of nation states unified by Bollywood, deep spirituality, food and dance culture so a study in these areas would help to understand the impact that they have outside India’s borders. One could argue that none of the attributes discussed is mutually exclusive as Bollywood for instance can portray dance, food and spirituality in one go. At the same time yoga philosophy and practice also incorporates food principles via Ayurveda. Dance looks at spiritual aspects and history together with music that is often incorporated in Bollywood. The soft issues pervade Indian culture together with a passive acceptance of an often rigid caste system that rarely flares into riots such as those witnessed recently in Egypt. The study therefore needs to reconcile these opposites and the fluid interweaving of softness that comes across internationally and appears to exert such an influence on so many nations. Why does softness create such a popular nation and how does the hardness or vicariousness of the way people and women are treated create imbalances? The research intends to throw light on how a nation can use its soft power attributes to define its status and to move forward in the world. What are the complexities? What makes people stand up and take notice? How does a country change long held views?

I always wondered why a potentially prosperous country like India which has been called a cradle of civilization, and which gave the world Vedic mathematics, principles of non-violence, medicines and surgical expertise and was also a knowledge centre, slowly succumbed to invasion after invasion and finally lost its independence to the British empire. I believe, that India’s answer to success lies in its glorious past. Nevertheless, there has been limited academic research in the field of nation branding and soft power related to India. Little research has been carried out in understanding the role of Indian cinema, Indian cuisine, spiritualism and yoga, India’s historical and cultural heritage in the promotion of the nation. Which factors out of these are the most important ones? Do these factors change according to perceptions in different countries? For example will chicken tikka masala be a more prominent cultural ambassador of India in UK than Bollywood? What are the key factors that straddle most countries and what are the factors that are unique to certain countries?

This research intends to understand how interrelated factors can contribute to a country’s brand as a soft power nation. At the same time it is important to understand what factors are more important than others.

Research Methods Festival

Vanissa Wanick’s doctoral research investigates the design of advergames that could influence and embed cross-cultural consumer behaviour, analysing aspects of pervasive games, HCI and advertising, particularly through the comparison between UK and Brazil. In this post, she presents her recent experience at the first day of the Research Methods Festival and describes the best practices of research that are being used in different academic studies.


Arts, design and social sciences: how to innovate in research methods

This year’s Research Methods Festival (RMF14), organized by ESRC, had intriguing and variable sessions, including talks about Cross-National Research, Visual Methods and Big Data. I had the opportunity to go for the first day of the Festival with the aim to understand better the application of cross-cultural methods and other aspects that could be helpful for my methodology section in my research. Curiously, I had very good surprises, which I hope to share here with you.


Book from the RMF14 and St. Catherine’s College – Oxford (location of the Festival)
Book from the RMF14 and St. Catherine’s College – Oxford (location of the Festival)

Cross-National Research and the challenge of meaningful quantitative data and indicators

For Cross-National Research, the session offered presentations from international organizations, such as UNECE and European Commission. The discussion was mainly situated in quantitative data, international policy frameworks, monitoring tools and comparisons between countries. Basically, from the perspective of my research, the session was helpful in many ways, especially to understand how big international institutions collect their data and publish their reports. Most of the organizations gather data from institutes like World Bank, WHO, ILO and Gallup World View.

The day started with Vitalia Gaucaite, from UNECE, the main aspect presented by her was regarding frameworks like, for example the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and the concern to make data accessible to the public and to decision-makers. The biggest challenge for most of the presenters was related to data accessibility, data quality, “time lag” (when the data was collected) and the necessity to negotiate the methodology to be applied in their research.

Most of the talks were regarding issues of ageing, unemployment and poverty, which are worldwide issues. For example, Jane Scobie from HelpAge International presented the indicators utilized to build the report “Global Age Watch Index 2013”. In essence, this shows that for any Cross-National Research it’s necessary to have indicators to build comparisons. However, defining indicators is not enough. It’s also essential to understand people’s perceptions in each country. In addition, another important aspect highlighted by the presenters was the concept that the research will always depend on how you look at things. Basically everything could be considered as relative data and it will depend on how we, as researchers, interpret it.

Quantitative data studies and interpretations

Finally, the session ended with Isabelle Maquet-Engsted, from the European Commission with an exciting talk about poverty and challenges of quantitative data. Again, it was mentioned that the perception of poverty could be different across cultures. For example, some countries think that poverty is related to jobless, while other countries believe that it is related to the materially deprived. In essence, the session of Cross-National Research was very helpful in order to understand the impacts of quantitative data and the variables that we should take in account.


Social media and censorship

Notes from Gary King presentation
Notes from Gary King presentation

Still during the day, I had the opportunity to watch the exciting talk from Gary King, about “Reverse Engineering of Chinese Censorship”. Gary introduced a very good background about the use of social media in research, especially regarding the popular Big Data. However the main issue was overlooking the context of the data. After building a program that could analyse this database, it was possible to understand how censorship works in China and what kind of information is not allowed in the country. It was also possible to detect the events that were censored and why. From the research perspective, Gary presented two approaches that he took with his team: observational study and experimental + participant approach. This methodology was very insightful in order to demonstrate the integration of two methods utilizing social media in one country. For this, it was necessary to have a big team with people that could not only understand Chinese as a language, but also as a culture.


Using visual methods in research

Notes from Visual Methods Research session
Notes from Visual Methods Research session

Lastly, the day ended with Visual Research Methods , which surprised me (in a good way). Visual methods are a new and expanding are of study in research methods, which could also include participatory approaches through visual resources as, for example, photos. Yes! Photos are a moment in time. They could be photo incitation, photographic journalist, annotated photographs and so on. Also, there are other methods that could be included in this category, such as cartoons (scaffolding responses), concept maps, visual organization, animation (as a learning journey), building things with LEGO (model identity) and more. I keep thinking that we could add games into that list too! Also, it’s important to understand that there are at least three types of visual data to be utilized: researcher created, researcher generated and researcher found. Briefly, visual methods can help to start conversations with people and should include confidence, understanding and warrant, making the participant interested and engaged into the study.

Finally, digital arts and social sciences at the same place

And what about adding digital arts and social sciences? That’s a talk that I’ve missed, because it was at the same time of Cross-National Research. However, I had the opportunity to enter into the website of MIDAS and find more about their project. In essence, MIDAS is an interdisciplinary methodology that combines body (physical interactions), digital resources and methods (practices and applications from social sciences). If you are interested, read this paper that explains how they mixed the methods in order to promote the best approach into research.  If you are intrigued, just look at the tweet below. Imagine what we can do!

To conclude, my experience at the RMF14 was fantastic. The lesson that I can take from it it’s that we can and we should innovate as researchers in our studies. It’s possible to be creative and use everything we have now. Why not? There is a lot of work to do. But the best thing is that it was good to see that there is a lot of potential in research through the integration of arts and design into social sciences studies. Time to be creative!



Margolis, E., & Pauwels, L. (Eds.). (2011). The Sage handbook of visual research methods. Sage.

Wall, Kate, Elaine Hall, and Pamela Woolner. “Visual methodology: previously, now and in the future.” International Journal of Research & Method in Education35.3 (2012): 223-226.

King, G., Pan, J., & Roberts, M. E. (2013). How censorship in China allows government criticism but silences collective expression. American Political Science Review107(02), 326-343.

Xambó, A., Jewitt, C. and Price, S. (2014) Towards an integrated methodological framework for understanding embodiment in HCI. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computer Systems. ACM.

Price, S., Jewitt, C., & Brown, B. (Eds.). (2013). The SAGE handbook of digital technology research. Sage.



Visual In-Sights

Jason Kass’ doctoral research is jointly supervised in the schools of art and psychology at the University of Southampton. His research concerns an exploration of aesthetic experience, artistic volition, and spectatorship, approached through an understanding of visual cognition. In this post he reports upon his attendance at the Visual In-Sights conference held in Newcastle over the summer.

At the end of June I attended and presented a paper at the Visual In-Sights Conference at the University of Newcastle . The conference brought together a range of individuals who research the visual and/or work with visual materials and methods. The conference organisers described their goal to “to host an inclusive, cross-sectoral engagement event which create[d] spaces for academic, practical and exhibitive work within the framework of a conference programme”.

From the start, I was particularly interested in this conference for a number of reasons. On the one hand, as a researcher working across disciplines I was keen to present my research in a forum that took into account the difficulties that arise when attempting to breakdown disciplinary boundaries. And as a practice-based researcher I was equally enthusiastic to belong to a space that was inclusive of both traditional academic research outputs alongside the exhibition of practical research outputs.

The conference met its goals in many respects and gathered a truly varied group of presenters. The presentations were divided thematically and grouped into sessions as diverse as Art and Aesthetics, Embodying the Visual, Visualising Identities, Visual Cultures and Geopolitics, and Landscapes of the Visual. My paper titled Abstracting concepts from sets of instances: the case of serial works of art, was included in the Art and Aesthetics session.

Jason Kass, ‘Untitled (The Unique Particular)’, C-print, 2013.

The paper applied theories from visual cognition to an understanding of spectatorship of serial artworks. The work forms part of my PhD thesis and is supported by a practice-led project that responds to an aspect of Roland Barthes’ essay Camera Lucida, in which he describes the experience of remembering his mother through photography. The project is informed by mechanisms of visual memory and face recognition, particularly the model of ‘stability from variation’ whereby essential information is abstracted from discreet but related instances to produce stable concepts. The work generated to date has considered the relationship between exemplars and prototypes and the potential role of averaging in the formation of robust mental representations. Using personal family photographs as a starting point, my practice-based research examines the tension between instances and concepts both in relation to pictorial modes of address and the more private desire to come to terms with the limits of remembering those loved and lost.

In addition to the oral presentation, I had the opportunity to exhibit practical research outputs within the conference space. The available resources did not conform to the traditional white cube model as researchers were each given two, bright-blue pin-up boards in the entrance lobby to one of the Universities venues. This brought up issues that I have dealt with in the past regarding the status of images and artefacts resulting from the research process and to what extent they might be considered and treated as artworks. If anything, my experience at the conference only exacerbated these issues rather than offering any sense of resolution. This is an area that I hope to explore in more detail moving forward as I believe it remains ambiguous within practice-based research in the arts.

One of the highlights of the conference was the exciting plenary speakers. David Campbell spoke candidly about “the changing function of photojournalism in the new media economy” and offered a range of insights in relation to the proliferation of images in contemporary visual culture. Marcus Banks, Professor of Visual Anthropology at Oxford, presented a case for the “banality of crime scene photography”. Both speakers touched upon the changing parameters of visual storytelling in a post-digital environment and current tensions around the authenticity of the image. I found it interesting to hear that many of the same concerns around the status of the image in an art context are shared by researchers working in other areas of visual research.



Dissection Drawing

Lisa Temple-Cox’s doctoral research centres around a practice of drawing,  focused upon issues of the body after death. In this post she reports upon a ‘dissection drawing event’ she attended organised by BIOMAB (Biological and Medical Art in Belgium) and in collaboration with ARS International and the University of Antwerp’s Faculty of Medicine. This annual event brings together independent artists, medical and anatomical arts students and their tutors, and surgical students from Antwerp University.

The opportunity to draw from life, as it were, in the dissection theatre is now extremely rare. Gone are the days when the study of anatomy in arts included working from bodies that were not only unclothed, but exposed beneath the skin. Jacques Gamelin’s series of expressive anatomical drawings of écorchés, published in  his 1779 Nouveau Receuil d’Ostéologie et de Myologie, were subtitled ‘dessiné après nature’: as opposed, I assume, from working from casts or sculptures – the notable écorché of an executed smuggler in the pose of ‘the dying Gaul’ (nicknamed ‘Smugglerius ‘ by generations of 18-19C art students at the Royal Acadamy) comes to mind.

The event took place over two days. The first day was at the veterinary school of the University of Ghent, which offered the opportunity, via dissection of a number of donated animals, to learn about the differences between animal and human anatomy We saw, among other organs, a dog’s five-lobed liver – that organ which Galen used, erroneously, to describe a human liver, basing his work on human anatomy through animal dissections. (His work dominated Western medicine for over a thousand years until challenged by that ‘greatest single contributor to the medical sciences’, Andreas Vesalius, of whom more later).

Figure 1

The morning being taken up by the dog dissection  (fig1) – donated, after it’s natural demise, by its owner who is a member of staff at the school – in the afternoon students were given the chance to work either from fresh specimens or to explore the on-site museum. While it was difficult to choose between the lab and the museum, I was very interested in the displays of animal teratology that the latter contained. It was in the museum that I came across this cephalothoracopagus calf skeleton (fig2): a fascinating comparative object against which to consider a similar (human) teratological specimen I’d drawn in the Mutter Museum on a previous research trip.

Figure 2
Figure 2


Figure 3
Figure 3

An additional and unexpected benefit of this trip was that it coincided with an incredible exhibition at the Museum voor Shone Kunsten Gent: “Gericault: Images of Life and Death”. The exhibition began with a copy of ‘The Raft of the Medusa’ painted around 1860 by Pierre-Désiré Guillemet and Étienne-Antoine-Eugène Ronjat – the original not being permitted to leave the Louvre – and included a huge number of Gericault’s sketches and paintings, as well as supporting images by his contemporaries and influences, historical political information, sculptures, paintings, and contemporary artworks. I was especially excited to see – in the flesh, so to speak – his preparatory studies for the Raft, including the oil sketches popularly known as ‘the morgue paintings’: a happy coincidence given the reason for my visit, and that they form part of my visual research. The exhibition further included a number of death masks, moulages, anatomical atlases and plates – including some of Gamelin’s écorché drawings – and a life-sized, full colour print from Jacques-Fabien D’Agoty’s ‘Myology Complete’ showing the muscles and nerves. Most striking, however, was Gericault’s own death mask. Starkly lit and gaunt in the extreme, the skull could be discerned, even through the medium of plaster, under the taut and fragile skin of his face: echoing his own studies of severed heads, here was the artist, anatomised. It produced, in me, neither horror nor disgust – a philosophical distinction much discussed in his day – but, like the anatomical plates, and the dissection drawing event that was the primary purpose of my visit, inspired a kind of fascination that bypassed the grotesqueness of suffering and entered the realm of the Pieta. (fig 3)

Figure 4
Figure 4

The second drawing day took place in the dissection lab at the University of Antwerp, where a range of body parts – both preserved in formaldehyde, and fresh – were laid out for students to work from. During this session the surgeon, Francis Van Glabbeek, continued a dissection on the left arm of the cadaver, (fig 4) an elderly woman who had died naturally and generously donated her remains to the school, while one of his surgical students dissected the throat. Throughout these processes they described what they were doing and explained the anatomy, pausing at regular intervals to allow for students to make notes and sketches. During our visit some footage was filmed as part of an upcoming  documentary charting the life of Vesalius, who was born in Brussels in 1514, and whose anatomical atlas – De Humani Corporis Fabrica (1543)  – changed the study of human anatomy in ways that continue to be felt. In conversation with Van Glabeek – whose interest in the history of western medicine includes a personal  collection of some very rare tomes, the Fabrica included – I was informed that Vesalius’s treatise known as the Epistola Docens was, in his opinion, the first PhD as we know them today. He explained that it was not, as was usual at the time, a doctorate gained by the repeating of knowledge already known, but a document which sets out a problem and methodically shows the steps taken in order to solve it and arrive at a conclusion – a pertinent and timely reminder of the scholarship and enquiry that underpinned the work of all the participants of this event.

Figure 5
Figure 5

Aside from conversations over the course of these two days, many of which have opened up new or additional lines of enquiry, I found the event useful on several levels, creative and philosophical. In this opportunity to see beneath the skin – enter the hidden world of the body – there is something both beautiful and disturbing. It is a transgressive act, the cutting and incising: simultaneously revealing and destroying. I was moved and fascinated by the carefully exposed surfaces of the bones of the arm, with the wing of skin and sinew folding away from it – like an elegant shawl, or Isadora Duncan’s scarves with their movement arrested mid-dance. (fig 5) I was as drawn to the stripped arm this year as I was to the careful cutting of the hand last year (A process that I felt compelled to watch and draw even as I experienced an unpleasant sympathetic sensation in the tendons of my own hands.) This year additionally provided a pair of legs: already part-anatomised, the only skin left on the spindly limbs were the toes, strangely wrinkled and folded flat against each other. I drew these too, but thankfully my own toes did not respond. (fig 6)

Figure 6
Figure 6

For more information:

Illustrations from the works of Andreas Vesalius by J. B. deC. M. Saunders and Charles D. O’Malley. Dover Publications, New York 1973

Gericault: Images of Life and Death Exhibition Catalogue, edited by Gregor Wedekind and Max Hollein. Hirmer Verlag, Munich 2014

Sleeping Bride

Najla Binhalail reflects on her work, Sleeping Bride, which was shown as part of the Practices of Research exhibition.

Most research workers engaged in the world of fashion often tend to display their clothing projects at galleries through the traditional method of using mannequins. Whatever the size and shape of the mannequins, the garments remain the same. My creation of “Sleeping Bride” was born at an unexpected moment of time – it was based on the materials that were available as well as on the place that was being offered to me at the L4 Gallery in Hartley Library (University of Southampton), as part of the Practices of Research exhibition, February 2014.

My research subject is traditional bridal costumes in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and their implications for contemporary fashion. From my perspective, “Sleeping Bride” offers a visual expression of the thousands of words of my thesis, which includes an exploration of the wedding tradition, bridal costume and culture of the KSA during the last century.

Some visitors told me how they came to have a visual understanding  of the meaning of my presentation before reading the text, which gave brief information about the practice of my research.“Sleeping Bride” expressed a deep meaning concerning the status of the bride in the culture of Saudi society, and elicited from the visitors a varied emotional response based on their previous impressions and background knowledge of the KSA.

In my opinion, as a Saudi Muslim woman and the creator of the display, the presence of the bride’s clothing in the small locked glass cases, allowing viewing but no touching, except by the owner of the display, mirrors the status of the bride as untouchable, except by her close family, and as a jewel to be protected and honoured in Saudi Islamic culture.

The secret of the attraction and beauty of “Sleeping Bride” lies not in how much of her body appears on the surface, but in her modesty and how much is hidden beneath her clothing. This emphasizes her privacy, security, and stability. Further, in Islam, marriage is God’s chosen way of building humanity on earth; her sleep suggests and represents her big dream of settling down, being a wife and mother within the family, and thus fulfilling her life as a Muslim. “Sleeping Bride” also illuminates how women in the KSA were surrounded by the restrictions and traditions in which they believed and lived during the time expressed by the clothing on display.

I was amazed that my idea of the “Sleeping Bride” attracted such a large number of responses and lead some with whom I talked to appreciate and admire my views of the meaning underlying my presentation. This idea reveals a variety of views and different impressions, particularly for those who are specialists in the study of fashion theory, culture and design.

The art of looking for the genius, the thrill and excitement of the display, the mission of bringing to birth new ideas and emotions, the idea of delivering visually different impressions and multi-dimensional experiences, all these fulfil the purpose and aim of bringing about a visually and intellectually challenging exhibition for the visitors. There will, of course, be other points of view. Everyone who reads this article will have his or her own opinions, thoughts, and experiences. I welcome further comments on “Sleeping Bride” from any reader especially those whose views may differ from my own.

If you would like to comment on this article, or any other material published on this site, please visit the WSA Postgraduate Research Facebook Page.

The Grey Institute

This is the most dangerous place in the place …
Paul Grey

The Grey Institute is a practice-based research centre founded by Jane Birkin and Rima Chahrour, with kind support (explicit and implicit) from the Winchester School of Art PhD students, professors,  doctors and medical team. This project manifests as a re-institutionalisation force, facilitating and reconfiguring a fluid circulation of creative spheres towards an effective practice-based research function. Working inside and outside the institution, the Grey Institute turns the institution inside out. It operates as a productive entity charged with playful contradictions and dynamics of various processes of creation across the wider social and political dimensions of art, science  and theory. The centre shelters a range of entities in the form of reading groups and creative clusters, intersecting with and feeding off each other. These entities present different modes of intensive and radical artistic research in the form of social networks, sub-projects, support groups and personal professional development opportunities.

The Grey Institute produces a wide variety of courses, conferences, seminars and development programmes open to the public (see what’s on offer). Clinical and art practice, critical and clinical, is provided by the PhD Clinic. This is a free service offering diagnosis and innovative treatments and above all encouraging self-help and alternative therapies, within a more intellectual and less bourgeois setting than those normally offered through the National Health Services or private clinics.  The PhD Clinic is the number one pop-up one stop shop for all minor and major procedures. No job is too small.  The clinic is practically equipped with improved technology, increasing and accelerating the frequency of research methodologies. The self-help ethos championed by the clinic is augmented by the Institute’s Contemplation Space.

The institute believes that prosperity depends on enterprise and therefore it is imperative that the views of directors are heard. The Grey Institute exerts its influence in all matters private and public, by taking a position in the media (both nationally and locally); through practice-led and written responses to consultation documents; and through the production of research and policy papers, performances and  and objects. The main mission of  the Institute is to contribute to the achievement of a deeper understanding of the results from different missions. New requirements are constantly considered as part of the development of the Institute. To this end, and with best practice in mind, the institute has an open door policy and actively encourages contribution and support. Help us help you.

Paul Grey

To find out more visit:

Between Propaganda and Cultural Diplomacy

 Nina Pancheva-Kirkova’s doctoral research centres around a practice in painting,  focused upon issues of nostalgia towards Socialist Realism. In this post she reports upon a paper she gave at the Euroacademia conference,  Re(inventing) Eastern Europe.

As part of my practice based research on contemporary fine art in Bulgaria and its relations to our totalitarian past, I had the opportunity to take part in two of the conferences organized by Euroacademia, an experience which proved to be valuable for the development of my research project as it allowed me to share my work with other researchers, to receive helpful feedback and to obtain up-to-date information directly relevant to my work.

I presented my paper, ‘Between Propaganda and Cultural Diplomacy: Nostalgia towards Socialist Realism in Post-Communist Bulgaria‘, as part of the panel ‘Art as Cultural Diplomacy’ at the international conference Re(inventing) Eastern Europe held in Prague last November. In addition to the version of my paper available on the Euroacademia website, a longer, revised version will be published as a contribution to the book “Art as Cultural Diplomacy: European Perspectives” (ed. by Cassandra Sciortino, Cambridge Scholars Press). The book is due out in the summer, 2014.

Introducing aspects of my current practice based research, the paper focused on institutional and personal examples of nostalgic attitudes towards the totalitarian past, examined in relation to the functions of fine art as propaganda. I argued that nostalgia towards Socialist Realism is one of the impediments, which hinder fine art to function as cultural diplomacy; it maintains a sense of an illusory entity, which connects the post-communist artworld of the country to the monologue of the grand recit of communism. In my paper nostalgia was scrutinized with examples of strategies of display of Socialist Realist monuments and paintings, strategies that provoke images to be “read” as myths instead of being critically discussed, as well as in attempts to be institutionalized by private museums of communism. Critical views on nostalgia were explored in the works of the contemporary artists Nedko Solakov and Luben Kostov in attempt an alternative of the nostalgic notion of the past to be provided, supported by Tzvetan Todorov’s concept of fine art developed in his book “The Limits of Art”. The latter was discussed as an alternative both to the metanarratives of communism and the fragmentation of the post-communist artworld in Bulgaria. Discussing examples of debates on Socialist Realism and its status in post-communism, my paper sought to explore ways fine art to function as cultural diplomacy, ways that derive by an open dialogue on Socialist Realism beyond the political and by provoking free exchange of ideas.


Practices of Research


Image-Text-Object: Practices of Research
10 February – 16 March 2014
L4 Gallery, Southampton
Download Artists’ Statements [PDF]

The exhibition, Image-Text-Object: Practices of Research, was held at the L4 Gallery space in Hartley Library (University of Southampton). The exhibition presented the work of 16 PhD students and two members of staff from Winchester School of Art (WSA). Taken together the works offered a series of images, texts and objects, helping to think about different ways of seeing, thinking, writing and making. The School is dedicated to the exploration of diverse practices and creative research methods. Studio-based researchers in art and design work alongside those engaged in humanities and social science research, covering areas of art history, critical theory and curatorial practice, as well as the management and marketing of advertising, design, media, fashion, textiles and luxury branding. All researchers at the School are engaged in the critical making of new knowledge: each moving in and out of complex and disciplined modes of activity. Whether it is reading, writing, looking, making, coding, speaking, recording, and much else besides, each are forms of imaginative and critical engagement, developed and extended within the context of a collaborative and inter-disciplinary research community.

See also: Re: Making