Jennifer is a Postgraduate Researcher in the Centre for Arts, Memory & Communities.
My doctoral research looks at women artists’ engagement with contemporary sculpture in the 1980s. The way this period of sculptural history has been institutionally written focuses largely on the New British Sculpture group of predominantly male artists. However, women were making similarly new and experimental sculptural forms during this era, though they were frequently marginalised by art’s key institutions. An examination of British exhibition histories and women-led curatorial interventions provides a methodological framework through which to explore these issues. The central aim of my work is to critique and interrupt the existing institutional narrative of art history of this era, which largely excludes the contributions of women to the development of contemporary British sculpture.
My PhD studentship is funded by Coventry University’s Centre for Arts, Memory and Communities.
How did you end up doing what you are currently doing?
To be honest, quite by accident! I took a while deciding whether/what to study at University and eventually, with the guidance of my lovely English A-Level teacher, I decided that Art History was the right course for me. She gave me my first copy of E.H Gombrich’s The Story of Art and I couldn’t help thinking “hey, where are all the women in this textbook!?”. Throughout my undergraduate degree, I was passionate about women artists and wrote most of my essays about them. I followed this with an MA in Curating and worked as a Curator for a while. At the end of a maternity cover contract I was struggling to find my next career step when the PhD studentship at Coventry came up. I hadn’t really thought about doing a PhD before, but it aligned so well with my interests and I was offered it during my interview.
What does a typical day at work look like for you?
On a day when I’m working from home, I make myself a big pot of coffee, kiss my partner goodbye and get set up in our spare bedroom/office. I’m in the third year of my PhD now so most days are spent hammering on my laptop keyboard trying to get a full first draft of my thesis together.
Other days I might be zooming off to various archives or to interview women involved in the arts. My most recent interview took place on the artist’s moored houseboat which was a fun location. I also teach part time at Coventry University so you might find me preparing PowerPoints or delivering lectures. The canon of art history is generally taught in a very male (and white and European) centric way, so I always aim to address this and include women and artists of colour in my lectures.
What or who inspires you in your work?
Both of my PhD supervisors are women, which shouldn’t be unusual but up until now I’ve mainly been taught by men at university. They both inspire and encourage me to achieve my best. Prior to this I hadn’t thought I’d want a job in academia – however, they’ve been great role models to make me think twice about whether I want to continue working in a research and/or teaching capacity.
Otherwise I’m inspired by art – particularly the works of Eva Hesse, who I wrote my undergraduate dissertation about. That was my first taste of research and I really enjoyed it. I recently co-supervised a third year’s dissertation on Hesse which was a nice career moment for me.
I love visiting galleries and museums and usually leave feeling inspired in some way.
Why do we need gender equality in research?
Role models are super important – “you can’t be what you can’t see”. It’s still often the case in art schools that even though most students are women, most of their lecturers are men. When I was working as a curator the team at my level were all women, while the Head of Art and the Keeper of Art were both men. This isn’t just a coincidence!
I often feel self-conscious of being a young woman in research – worried that I don’t look enough like a researcher, that people won’t recognise me as a subject specialist or take me seriously. That’s a very damaging way to think and it absolutely comes from not seeing people like myself represented in research.
What advice do you have for fellow researchers?
It’ll be tough, but you CAN do it. I’ve dealt with imposter syndrome a lot throughout my PhD. However, my mum often reminds me “you wouldn’t be here doing it if someone didn’t know that you’re able to”. A PhD requires a lot of dedication, obsessive attention to detail, time management and passion – if you can do all of those, you can do a PhD!
Now that I’m mostly in the writing stage, I find the Pomodoro technique very effective for getting work done, interspersed with short breaks. I also know I’m most productive in the mornings so will try to get a lot done then and keep the afternoons for emails, lesson planning and other admin tasks. It’s important to have a work/life balance too, so try and have some protected relaxing time as well as protected writing time.