Differencing the Canon Digital Styleee

wikinailsArt history has largely been written by white western men about white western men. And even though feminists started to correct this in the 1970s, today its not just what you say, but how you say it that’s important. Wikipedia, for example, is now one of the world’s largest knowledge repositories. Millions of people use it everyday. However, there aren’t enough female Wikipedia editors and partly as a result of this, there aren’t enough Wikipedia articles about women. For me at least, being an art historian isn’t just about looking back, it’s about looking forwards as well and thinking about writing art history the right way, for the future. My concern since arriving in Hong Kong has been that if Wikipedia doesn’t contain articles about Hong Kong’s women artists, we not only risk perpetuating the same exclusive narratives, but we are providing inadequate information for future generations.

Therefore on Saturday 8th March I hosted a Wikipedia edit-a-thon at the School of Creative Media. Our collective aim was to write as many articles as we could on Hong Kong’s women artists. Over 20 people attended and at the latest count, more than 12 new profiles on local women artists had been added to the online resource. Participants ranged from SCM professors to school teachers and HR consultants – we even had two-year-old beginner feminist in our midst. We were lucky to have several local representatives from Wikimedia on hand to support beginners – thank you Rover, Alexander and Venus! And come Sunday morning we were featured in the South China Morning Post! There have of course been other feminist edit-a-thons and I’m excited to be part of a wider network of people addressing such archival blindspots. I’ll be reporting back on a range of these types of activities and what they mean for art history at the Association of Art Historians annual conference in April.

The edit-a-thon also signals the start of a new larger body of work I am producing which looks at how art history can and should be taught in the future. I’m quite the Cathy Davidson disciple and I increasingly operate a hybrid or flipped classroom where students come prepared to take part in art history, not just hear about it. Although I think there’s still a place in the world for art history lectures – where would I be now if Griselda Pollock hadn’t knocked my mock-croc boots off with her intellect and charm in the 1990s – I don’t think it’s the most effective way to stretch and engage students in an multi-media world. My amazing Research Associate Vennesa Yung and I will therefore shortly be launching Arts Future Classroom, a project crowd-sourcing ‘unlectures’ for the arts supported by grants from the City University of Hong Kong and the UK Association of Art Historians. We’ll be inviting people to share all the content, tools, advice and resources for teaching art history in experimental ways thus generating a open teaching library where you can browse and borrow dynamic classes that don’t rely on the lecture format. More soon!

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