Gabriella Nugent

Gabriella Nugent


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Personal profile

Academic Background

I am an art historian and curator, specialising in global modern and contemporary art. I am currently a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in the Department of Art History and World Art Studies at the University of East Anglia. I write on modern and contemporary artists who inhabit multiple worlds as a result of colonial and postcolonial entanglements. This research has most often focused on the nexus between Africa and Europe and occassionally Latin America. 

Funded by the Leverhulme Trust, my current book project, titled Unmade: The Politics of Difference in Contemporary Art, asks: in our current moment of decolonisation, when museums, galleries and universities are actively seeking to foreground African artists, to what extent do these approaches reinscribe an established sense of difference? I trace this idea of difference to the globalisation of the artworld in the 1990s and its expansion beyond a Eurocentric matrix. African artists at this time were often expected to perform a sense of “Africanness” in their work premised on Western notions of the continent and its people. I discuss a generation of artists from South Africa, Ghana and Nigeria working in sculpture and sculptural installation who started to exhibit internationally from this decade onwards fully aware of these expectations. I examine the ways in which the selected artists deploy materials and their associations to dismantle expectations of difference and the identities imposed upon them both locally and globally. I demonstrate that there is much to be learned from artists who have had to grapple with impositions of difference long before the discipline’s attempt to decolonise. 

My first monograph, Colonial Legacies: Contemporary Lens-Based Art and the Democratic Republic of Congo (Leuven University Press, 2021), examines a generation of contemporary artists born or based in the Congo whose lens-based art attends to the afterlives and mutations of Belgian colonialism in postcolonial Congo. My research on this subject has also been published in African Arts and Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art.

After completing my PhD in History of Art at University College London in 2020, I was awarded Sharjah Art Foundation’s FOCAL POINT Publishing Grant 2020 and a Research Continuity Fellowship (2021) from the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art. The research enabled by these grants contributes to the growing field of global modernism through a transnational lens, firstly by examining the significance of the Mexican muralists to the Egyptian artist Inji Efflatoun in the 1950s and secondly through a consideration of artists from British colonies in Africa who studied at London's Slade School of Fine Art between 1945 and 1965. My study on Efflatoun and the artist's adoption of the language and philosophy of Mexican muralism and simultaneous challenge to the muralists' masculinist vision of the world was published as a book, Inji Efflatoun and the Mexican Muralists: Imaging Women and Work between Egypt and Mexico (Sharjah Art Foundation, 2022). Based on my research in the Slade archives, I published an image-led article in Burlington Contemporary on the way the categories of art history obfuscate artistic contemporaries and an essay in MoMA's online journal post: notes on art in a global context on the Tanzanian-born artist Sam Ntiro and the role of geographical distance and memory in his practice. 

In addition to my scholarship, I have curated several exhibitions, including the two-part show Hand to your ear (2021–2022) at London’s Emalin gallery and HacerNoche: Promised Land (2022), an artist-led festival with over 10 participating institutions and public spaces and headlined by 17 new commissions by leading local and international artists, in Oaxaca, Mexico. 

I have taught at undergraduate and postgraduate level at University College London, the Slade School of Fine Art and the School of Oriental and African Studies. I am Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.