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Argentina 1976-2016: activism, memorialisation and complicity

Our recent week of events Argentina 1976-2016: Activism, Memorialisation and Complicity (7-10 March) created an opportunity for us to explore our holdings of art from Argentina. This week took the 40 year anniversary of the last military coup in Argentina as its starting point. The subsequent dictatorship (1976-1983) was an incredibly violent time in the country’s history resulting in killings, kidnapping, torture, illegal adoption of children and enforced disappearances.

We have a number of artworks in our collection which reflect on human rights, memory, accountability and justice in Argentina. We exhibited some artworks made during and after 1976. Our week of events on Argentina gave us the chance to further research our art from Argentina and we realised the important role art and artists played in challenging authoritarianism and its legacies in post-dictatorship Argentina.

Taking works by Fernando Traverso and Grupo Escombros as a starting point, art, activism and the city emerged as the first theme of the week. We invited speakers whose talks included ‘Art and Direct Action’ by Dr Gavin Grindon (University of Essex); ‘Return to the Street? Choices and Challengers in the study of Argentine protest art’ By Dr Holly Ryan (University of Sheffield) and ‘New affectivities on Stage, Contemporary Interventions in Argentina’s Aftermath of Violence’ by Dr Cecilia Sosa (CONICET, Argentina). This session allowed our audience to connect with recent research on Argentine art, activism and politics.

Our second theme, inspired by León Ferrari’s Never Again (1995) collages and Marisa Rueda’s They Also Pray (undated) sculpture, was complicity. The Catholic Church’s role in human rights abuses in Argentina is something that Rueda and Ferrari both directly challenged in their work and Ferrari also depicts key economic actors in his Never Again series. We collaborated with the Essex Transitional Justice Network on an afternoon of talks and a discussion panel. Professor Sabine Michalowski, Professor Sheldon Leader and Paula Fiorini presented and discussed on the theme of complicity and transitional justice, especially focusing on new research being done on economic complicity during the last Argentine dictatorship.

We closed the week with an ESCALA and School of Philosophy and Art History hosted seminar by Professor Vikki Bell (Goldsmiths, University of London) who discussed the work of Graciela Sacco and Marcelo Brodsky work in ‘Imagine this: Art as a Forum for Truth-Telling about the Violent Past.’ Those at the seminar were also given a chance to see a short film Professor Bell made of Brodsky remaking his work 1st year, 6th Division, 1967 (1996) for the Tate in 2014.

This event helped us bring together researchers and reconnect with our artists. It also led to meaningful collaborations for exchanging ideas across a number of disciplines. We would like to thank our artists, collaborators, students, colleagues and audiences for helping us with this week.

To see photographs of our exhibition see our Flickr page.

Loan of León Ferrari to Essex Centre for Curatorial Studies exhibition 'Work Space Pressure' until 11 June

We’ve lent León Ferrari’s Sin título (1986) to the exhibition Work Space Pressure at Art Exchange, University of Essex, Colchester. The exhibition is curated by postgraduate students from the Centre for Curatorial Studies here at Essex and runs until Saturday 11 June 2016. All of the artworks in the exhibition focus on the ‘concerns and tensions that evolve in office environments’ and ‘by confronting issues related to office environments Work Space Pressure explores the pleasures, discomforts, boredom and humour in modern working life.’ Other artists in the exhibition include Bea Fremderman, Clare Conway, Perce Jerrom, Karen Thompson, Phillip Rugo, Luke Nairn, Emma Hart, and Femke Herregraven.

We’ve worked closely with the postgraduate students since October through lecturing on their course ‘Managing Gallery and Exhibition projects’ to taking them through the, often complicated, loans process as part of their course. We help them to develop museological skills for their future employment in arts and heritage organizations.

Organizing an exhibition can be a stressful undertaking (we know!) and the students have done a brilliant job and have worked very hard to achieve, what we think, is well-conceived and coherent show. Congratulations to them!

You can find out more about their exhibition on the Art Exchange website here.

Image: Ferrari's work on display at Art Exchange.

Loan of two British Museum Maya casts to ESCALA

Image of two Maya casts.Since October we’ve been working with the British Museum to secure the loan of two casts of Maya lintels from the British Museum. The original casts were made by Lord Alfred Maudslay in the late 19th century during his travels in Latin America and were acquired by the British Museum in 1923 from the Victoria & Albert Museum. The two casts had been on display previously in the Albert Sloman Library here at Colchester campus since 1987, but it was agreed that they would be better placed for teaching and research in our new Space.

Securing an artwork loan can be a long and complicated process that can take months to finalise. We worked closely with Estates Management here on campus and the British Museum to ensure that all conditions of loan were met which included a number of site visits by the Museum and the Arts Council Security Advisors. This was pretty straightforward as our Teaching and Research Space was purpose-built for artworks, including a high level of security and stable environmental conditions.

Once the day arrived, Mark Conway, a British Museum handler and driver, along with Ian Taylor, from the Department of Africa, Oceania and the Americas, British Museum, came to Colchester campus to oversee and assist in the transport and installation. The two casts are made of resin which made transporting them quite easy! It took a few hours to place, clean, and install the casts in our Space with the help of Ed, a freelance technician we work with often.

The two casts look brilliant and we’re really excited to have them in our space.

American Networks: Radicals Under the Radar

Image of the artwork Terráqueos en marcha by Raquel FornerWe’ve been collaborating with colleagues in the Department of Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies (LiFTS) at The University of Essex on American Networks: Radicals under the Radar (1868-1968).

On 11-13 July, staff from LiFTS are hosting an international interdisciplinary conference which will be held in London. We’re pleased to be sharing details of the conference with you including a full list of speakers. We will be producing video pieces using our artworks to illustrate the project aims and themes. The first video introduces the project and is illustrated with ESCALA artworks and narrated by Dr Jak Peake lead investigator of American Networks and a lecturer in the Department of Literature, Film and Theatre Studies at the University of Essex.


International Inter-Disciplinary Conference

Location: 1-4 Suffolk Street, London SW1Y 4HG
Date: 11-13 July 2016
Keynote Speakers

Professor Winston James, University of California
Professor Rhonda Y. Williams, Case Western University

American Networks: Radicals Under the Radar aims to challenge dominant narratives of artistic and political collaboration by investigating networks in the Americas which are often submerged ‘under the radar’ of conventional scholarship and examines the hundred-year period preceding 1968.

Pan-American and transnational in focus, the conference aims to investigate literary and artistic movements which are poorly served by strict linguistic and national boundaries. Artistic and political movements are never predicated upon ‘great’ individuals in isolation, but are always reliant upon networks. Across the Americas, affiliations between artists and radical thinkers have led to paradigm shifts that have changed world history. Communists, Wobblies, revolutionaries, socialists, Fabianists, Pan-Africanists, Pan-Americanists, revolutionaries, anarchists, political exiles and Garveyites all played their role in shaping American literature, art and politics.

Whether such networks exist in tangible social enclaves—homes, bars, cafés, galleries, offices or neighbourhoods—or in virtual form—an edited book—they inevitably draw together collaborators from different cultural, national and linguistic backgrounds. In American studies, scholarship on some of the most significant artistic movements of the twentieth century, such as Modernism and the avant-garde—which often combine artistic and politically radical components—has often been dominated by national, US-centric and Anglocentric paradigms.

Modernism in the visual arts of the Americas is often seen as having been initiated by the 1913 Armory Show in New York, which traded on its association with Europeans exemplars like Duchamp and Matisse. In Americanist scholarship more broadly, Caribbean, Latin American and Southern contributors are often overlooked in favour of their Northern counterparts. American Networks interrogates received wisdom about discourse on American arts and writing and is attentive to cultural geographies which are Pan-American, transnational and intercultural in nature.

Other confirmed speakers

Dr William Booth (University College London, University of London)
Dr Michael Collins (University of Kent)
Assistant Professor Jesús Costantino (University of Notre Dame)
Dr Steve Cushion (Retired)
Ian Dudley (University of Essex)
Professor Maria Cristina Fumagalli (University of Essex)
Dr Nick Grant (University of East Anglia)
Professor Peter Hulme (University of Essex)
Dr Richard McGuire (University of Kent)
Dr Jak Peake (University of Essex)
Dr Owen Robinson (University of Essex)
Dr Jordan Savage (University of Essex)
Professor Bill Schwarz (Queen Mary, University of London)
Professor Tim Youngs (Nottingham Trent University) 

Basic registration fees are £55 for those in full-time employment and £40 concession for those who qualify as part-time employees, students, low-waged and retired.

Please contact the conference organiser Dr Jak Peake by email for any further information. 

Image: Raquel Forner, Terráqueos en marcha, 1977

Object-based learning

Students in a table with gloves on handling artworksSince opening the ESCALA Teaching and Research Space in November 2015 we have been able to formalise our approach to using the Collection for learning. Our ambition is that artworks are a fully integrated part of teaching across the University. We are seeking staff and students who want to challenge conventional ways of learning and lead through innovation. ESCALA contributes to the University’s vision of excellence in research and excellence in education through research-led teaching and teaching-led research using the Collection. Our Space and artworks contribute to knowledge exchange and help our students to make connections to improve their understanding of the world and inspire curiosity. In this blog post Sebastian Bustamante-Brauning outlines ESCALA’s learning provision and explains some of the features of ESCALA’s approach to Object-based Learning (OBL).

I am very pleased to be working for ESCALA in my role as Assistant Director. One key area I will be working on is the development of our Object-based Learning (OBL) provision here at the Colchester Campus. Opening our Teaching and Research Space in November 2015 was transformative for ESCALA. Students and staff now have the chance to see and interact with artworks in the Collection in a way that was physically impossible before. Our mission for providing unparalleled access to art from Latin America is being realised following the opening of our Space.

OBL is an active form of learning in which the object takes centre stage. For those unfamiliar with OBL here are some of the key features of this approach: (1) Through direct exposure to artworks, learners draw on their existing experience and make connections and develop new knowledge (2). OBL has underpinned ESCALA’s education strategy since 2012 and is a key area of research for ESCALA. Our former Frontrunner and intern Gisselle Girón developed our early sessions using the work of the Chilean artist Cecilia Vicuña. Gisselle toured these artworks around classrooms and gave students the chance to bring their own ideas to improve their understanding of Vicuña’s life and work. Gisselle, alongside Jasmine Magaña (another of our interns) were also able to expand our work in this area by successfully collaborating with colleagues in the Language and Linguistics department and Learning and Development here at the University of Essex.

Using objects for learning can improve understanding of a range of subjects in many different disciplines (3). Furthermore, OBL can help to develop communication skills, teamwork, research skills and observational skills (4). The senses can be an important trigger in learning environments which can help in knowledge production and retaining information (5). The University of Essex is a proudly international university and ESCALA, as its largest Collection with an international focus and network, is part of this international profile. OBL is a key strategy for understanding a diverse set of cultural values and beliefs. Research into OBL in Higher Education Institutions has focused on internationalism and the strengths of using objects to engender a truly global understanding of the world we live in, especially when considering perspectives outside of European canons of thought (6). ESCALA’s original aims were to bring underrepresented art from Latin America to students in the UK and hence our collecting forms a challenge to dominant modes understanding Latin America being driven by and emanating from Europe only. The scope of our Collection allows students and staff ponder many and varied histories and themes emanating from our artworks. Our students, many of whom are international students, each bring unique experiences and perspectives to our Collection and each add valuable insights to how we understand and use the Collection in a truly interdisciplinary sense. Students continue to make profound connections as our strapline ‘Connecting through Collecting’ underlies. Through our OBL sessions students are placed at the centre of their own learning.

There are a number of ways that students and staff can get involved in OBL learning sessions. We encourage staff to get in contact if they are interested in trying out OBL in their classes. ESCALA can provide research and planning on how to incorporate artworks in teaching. Over the years we have accumulated a wide range of resources on our artworks, many of which are contained in the ESCALA Documentation Centre and additionally in the Albert Sloman Library. We have staff who can help deliver OBL sessions in our Space. Due to space restrictions we can accommodate sessions with a maximum of 12 students. Otherwise larger sessions can be organised in other seminar rooms in the Constable Building. We often say that, even if don’t you think your subject matter might immediately relate to art, it is likely that we have an artwork which can serve to illustrate a theme or subject or serve to prompt discussion and ideas. Please do get in touch either by emailing escala[at] or sbusta[at] if you would like to discuss OBL further.


1. ESCALA has largely drawn on the expertise of UCL Museums that have pioneered practice and research into OBL and we are grateful to the guidance and inspiration they have given us over the years.
2. Chatterjee, Hannan and Thomson have drawn on Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle in their discussions of OBL. See Chatterjee, Hannan and Thomson “Engaging the Senses: Object-Based Learning in Higher Education” in Chatterjee and Hannan (ed.) Engaging the Senses Object –Based Learning in Higher Education (2015)
3. UCL’s work has shown the range of ways in which objects have been used in their context. See Chatterjee and Hannan (ed.) Engaging the Senses Object –Based Learning in Higher Education (2015)
4. For a discussion of development of skills and museum visits in particular ‘critical thinking skills’ and ‘social responsibility’ see Stan Altman “Student Development through Arts and Cultural Partnerships,” 191-207, in ibid.
5. Judy Willcocks “The Power of Concrete Experience: Museum Collections, Touch and Meaning Making in Art and Design Pedagogy” in ibid, 54
6. On the internationalisation of University curricula and moves away from Anglo-centric perspectives see Pam Meecham “Talking about Things” in Chatterjee and Hannan (ed.) Engaging the Senses Object –Based Learning in Higher Education (2015), 80.


Chatterjee, Helen J. and Hannan, Leonie (ed.) Engaging the Senses Object –Based Learning in Higher Education (2015) Ashgate (Surrey).

Image: Students from the Schoool of Philosophy and Art History handling ESCALA objects.