An essential stopover for scholars of Latin American art

Part of the founding vice-chancellor’s vision lives on at the University of Essex

September 3, 2015
University of Essex, fathers and children viewing artwork
Source: University Of Essex
Arte popular: works in the collection are used for learning as well as exhibition

One of Europe’s leading collections of Latin American art is shortly to be made far more accessible to students and the general public.

When the University of Essex was established in 1963, vice-chancellor Albert Sloman was determined that it should break the mould. One aspect of this was a commitment to the largely neglected field of Latin American studies and the creation of a Latin American Centre (now the Centre for Latin American and Caribbean Studies). Art history, along with government, sociology and literature, became one of the first departments in the School of Comparative Studies and, as such, was expected to develop teaching and research on Latin American themes.

Encouraged to innovate, Dawn Ades, now a professor emerita, rapidly established herself as a leading expert on the art of Latin America and, in 1989, curated a landmark exhibition, Art in Latin America: The Modern Era 1820-1980, at London’s Hayward Gallery. Four years later, a student called Charles Cosac donated Memória, a painting by Brazilian artist Siron Franco, to the university. This commemorates an environmental disaster that took place in Goiânia in 1987, when a company illegally disposed of radioactive material.

When the university decided to use this work as the basis for a larger collection of Latin American art, an Argentinian student was shocked to discover that it was proposing to launch with only a single Brazilian picture and so secured further donations from artists and collectors. Within six weeks, 48 works had been assembled as the core of what is now ESCALA, the Essex Collection of Art from Latin America. (The acronym conveniently means “scale”, “step” and “stopover” in both Spanish and Portuguese.)

The only specialist public collection in the UK, ESCALA currently consists of about 740 artworks – dating from 1600 to the present day, although about 95 per cent were produced after 1950 – and 4,000 archival items. (Essential back-up is provided by the Albert Sloman Library, whose 8,000 books on the art of Latin America make it the leading national collection.)

Simpatico

There are obviously reasons why Britain is a less sensitive place to study Latin America and its art than the former colonial powers of Spain and Portugal or the US. Close links with Essex’s Human Rights Centre and the university’s long radical tradition of solidarity with the region and rejection of American intervention have meant that many artworks in ESCALA address issues of land and indigenous rights, syncretic religion and mixing of populations.

It makes no distinction between high and low or popular and fine art, and so can be seen, according to director Joanne Harwood, as “more representative, broader and deeper” than the material held by the Tate.

For the catalogue to an anniversary exhibition, Connecting through Collecting: 20 Years of Art from Latin America at the University of Essex, academics and students from a range of disciplines got a chance to select and write about a favourite work.

These included a class photograph annotated with the fate of the students during Argentina’s “dirty war”; a cheeky sculpted Latin American version of Mickey Mouse; a video referencing government violence in Guatemala; and a painting of worshippers of Iemanjá, the Afro-Brazilian goddess of rivers and the sea.   

About 30 works from ESCALA will shortly be on permanent display around the campus, in the new reception area, the old and new library and around the park. From October, the rest will come out of the basement and acquire what the director calls “a visible storage space” (open to the public at least one day a week), which is also ideal for “object-based learning”.

Two or three new works are acquired each year, often on the basis of recommendations from MA students and sometimes researchers, which are submitted to a panel for approval. Others come from artists brought to Essex for a residency and exhibition. Meanwhile, students of art curation are involved in an annual exhibition that takes place in the campus gallery and since those running ESCALA are in touch with many artists, they can often connect them with students and staff.

For the future, Dr Harwood is keen that ESCALA remain what she describes as “a lab-style collection”, where every work can “earn its place” and “tell a story” relevant to teaching and (often interdisciplinary) research.

matthew.reisz@tesglobal.com


In numbers

740 pieces of artwork in the ESCALA collection


Campus news

King's College London
Hollywood star Nicole Kidman visited a university’s archive to research her upcoming stage role as British scientist Rosalind Franklin. The Academy Award-winning actress, who will play Dr Franklin in Anna Ziegler’s new play Photograph 51, opening later this month at the Noël Coward Theatre, viewed items at King’s College London relating to the discovery of DNA’s structure. Ms Kidman and the show’s cast were shown the Philips micro-camera used by Dr Franklin and Raymond Gosling to take Photograph 51 in 1952, a crucial image that confirmed the double helix structure of DNA proposed by Francis Crick and James Watson.

University of Winchester
Labelling an idea a “conspiracy theory” does not actually make people less likely to believe it, according to new research. Michael Wood, a lecturer in psychology at the University of Winchester, questioned nearly 1,000 participants and discovered that the apparently derogatory term had no impact on a claim’s believability. “I believe some of the negative connotations of the term might be balanced out by the view that conspiracy theories are interesting and generally worth thinking about,” he said.

University of Nottingham
Humans’ urge to collaborate could be fuelling corporate corruption, an economist has speculated. Ori Weisel, of the University of Nottingham, made his claim based on an experiment in which two people can maximise their profits by lying about the number shown on a die. “Collaborative settings, not just greed, can provide fertile ground for corruption, as typified by recent scandals in the football and banking worlds,” he said. The findings are reported in the journal PNAS.

Soas, University of London
The intrepid academic believed to have inspired the Indiana Jones character once worked at a UK university, it has been confirmed. William Montgomery McGovern’s incognito travels to the remote Tibetan city of Lhasa and his daring exploits during the Second World War are widely regarded as the model for the archaeologist played by Harrison Ford. The sleeve of his 1924 book Lhasa in Disguise, found at Soas, University of London, lists Dr McGovern as a “former lecturer in Chinese and Japanese at the School of Oriental Studies, University of London”. Soas’ records confirm that he joined in 1919, almost two years after the school’s foundation.

Lancaster University
An international team of researchers has highlighted the disastrous impact of deforestation in one of the most comprehensive surveys of tropical biodiversity ever undertaken. Scientists from Lancaster University are among those who have carried out a detailed analysis, recently published in Ecology Letters, of nearly 2,000 species of plants, birds, beetles, ants and bees found across more than 300 sites in the Brazilian Amazon. They hope that their evidence can help to combat further species loss.

University of Edinburgh
A record number of companies have been formed at the University of Edinburgh in the past 12 months. The institution said that it had supported the formation of 44 start-up and three spin-off firms during 2014-15, a total that surpasses the previous best of 40 in 2009-10. Investment in university-founded companies also hit a record high, with £237 million invested in the past year, the institution said.

University of Birmingham
A university concert has showcased some remarkable handmade instruments. Haisheng Li, from the Guangxi Arts Institute in China, is a master of the bamboo flute and the xun, a clay-based instrument played in China for more than 7,000 years. He has also patented an instrument that allows performers to drink tea or coffee while playing, and helped to invent a lian pu (face mask) xun. Professor Li displayed his virtuosity on this, as well as more than 10 other Chinese and Western instruments, at a concert hosted by the University of Birmingham on 21 August.

London School of Marketing
Growth in international student enrolments has led to a 75 per cent increase in turnover at a private London business school. The London School of Marketing, whose degrees are accredited by Anglia Ruskin University, said that its annual turnover is now more than £14 million, with its operating surplus running at almost 30 per cent. The school, which has more than 8,000 mainly non-UK students, said that its success was partially attributable to its greater use of “blended learning”, which had allowed more students to study its qualifications in their home country.

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Related articles

Related universities

POSTSCRIPT:

 Print headline: An essential stopover for Latin American art scholars

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

question marks PhD study

Selecting the right doctorate is crucial for success. Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O'Gorman share top 10 tips on how to pick a PhD

Pencil lying on open diary

Requesting a log of daily activity means that trust between the institution and the scholar has broken down, says Toby Miller

India, UK, flag

Sir Keith Burnett reflects on what he learned about international students while in India with the UK prime minister

Application for graduate job
Universities producing the most employable graduates have been ranked by companies around the world in the Global University Employability Ranking 2016
Construction workers erecting barriers

Directly linking non-EU recruitment to award levels in teaching assessment has also been under consideration, sources suggest