Feminism Professor delivers inaugural at Loughborough

Report by Agostinho Pinnock, doctoral student, Loughborough University

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Professor of Feminism, Art and Theory, Hilary Robinson (far right), after delivering her inaugural professorial lecture, smiles with students from the Centre for Doctoral Training: Feminism, Sexual Politics and Visual Culture. They are (from left, foreground): Sophia Kier-Byfield and Marlous Van Boldrik; Mikaela Assolent (Second row, from left) and Tom Nys; and, Daniel Fountain (in back).

Professor of Art, Feminism and Theory, Hilary Robinson, who is also Director of the Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT): Feminism, Sexual Politics and Visual Culture, delivered her inaugural professorial lecture Wednesday 28 November at the Loughborough Design School. Entitled “Radical Pedagogies for Changing Times: or: Why I Like Adelaide Labille-Guiard’s Self-Portrait”, Robinson’s talk used the work of the eighteenth-century French artist as her focus.

Several members of the University, including Vice Chancellor Robert Allison, colleagues from the School of Arts, English and Drama, and students from the CDT attended the lecture. Professor Robinson’s husband, Dr. Mehmet Ali Dikerdem, and members of her own PhD cohort were also at the event. She used the occasion to acknowledge her intellectual heroine, renowned feminist scholar and art historian Griselda Pollock.

Robinson’s incisive analysis of the radical and complex history of women’s art and teaching in the academy begun with pictures from her own family album as context. Underscoring the importance of feminist scholarship in helping to complicate contemporary uses of art history, she said photographic technology had enabled her to “see more clearly through the power of representation.”

Robinson praised Labille-Guiard’s revolutionary work as feminist. She said: “using different methods to analyse and explore the Self-Portrait, I want to demonstrate in practice how feminism cannot be reduced to a single academic method or theory, but rather, that a feminist position is a live and dynamic set of politics with many methods and theories at its disposal.”

Professor Robinson indicated that female artists like Labille-Guiard were expected to paint appropriate ‘female’ subjects – a reality she actively subverted, through her Self-Portrait. Robinson said that such women were often vilified for operating outside of the expectations of ‘female art’. According to Professor Robinson women artists strategically used self-portraiture to overcome criticisms that their works were not original.

Robinson also used a series of investigative approaches to explore the genealogy of women’s knowledge. She called the various religious images of maternal pedagogy in European art history subversive. Robinson illustrated their connections to Labille-Guiard’s now seemingly innocent Self-Portrait, saying the elements within the work conveyed a much more complex meaning. 

Robinson concluded by questioning the implications of the painting for current women artists. She said Labille-Guiard’s Self-Portrait powerfully demonstrated ‘student-centred’ learning, underlining the need to engage more skilled women artists and racialised peoples in art production.  The latter are still marginalised in contemporary art, Robinson emphasised.

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