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Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

IAS Fellow's Public Lecture - The Reversed Canvas in Colonial Art: the emergence of western painting and ‘Coming into Hiding’ of colonial peoples

12th February 2015, 17:30 to 18:30, Sir James Knott Hall, Trevelyan College, Professor Richard Read, University of Western Australia

Painting is as old as humankind, but the triumph of Western easel painting over rival media between the fifteenth and seventeenth-centuries entailed the development of special technologies for wide-ranging cultural purposes. The motif of the reversed painting, most famously depicted on the lefthand side of Velázquez’s Las Meninas (1656), was a means of drawing attention to the significance of painting as a new technology, for it shows a painting in the process of construction in the presence of powerful monarchs. In charting the migration of Western painting practices to European colonies from the eighteenth-century onwards, this lecture explores the many ways in which this peculiarly rich pictorial motif registers and determines differences between civilized and indigenous values.

In doing this it reflects Edmund Burke’s view that in the age of alien encounter geography is a better measure of human development than history. As colonies gained greater autonomy and independence, paintings of backs of paintings expressed either nostalgia for European precedents or pictorial innovation promoting new national goals. The tension between these counter-tendencies became acute when decolonised, indigenous artists adopted the motif to expose the subordination of indigenous minorities in post-colonial societies. In the work of several artists the appearance of coloured faces behind white canvases enacts what Malcolm Ball has called a ‘coming into hiding’ of occluded social groups. In completing his book on The Reversed Painting in Western Art, Professor Read attempts a new way of using painting to explore the cultural history, tensions and nuances of emergent global cultures.

Lecture is open to all and free to attend.

Details about Professor Richard Read

Directions to Trevelyan College

Map - Trevelyan College is denoted as building No: 9

Contact enquiries.ias@durham.ac.uk for more information about this event.