Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Using the arts for change on International Women’s Day

With every generation comes difficult and contested times that shape history. In the United States, where we are experiencing one of the most divided society in decades, the sentiment feels omnipresent and pervasive. For women and those of nonconforming gender, the issues at stake are even more expansive than the gun laws, environmental concerns, or tax reforms that are on the minds of our citizens.

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Women artists in conversation: Narcissister

Narcissister is a Brooklyn based artist whose work includes performance, dance and activism as essential elements. She continues the tradition of second wave feminist artists, such as Adrian Piper, Lorraine O’Grady, Carolee Schneemann, etc., who challenged the status quo in their examination of gender roles, sexuality and equal rights. Narcissister wears a trademark vintage mask in most works, obscuring her identity and provoking the viewer to think of the artist as an “everywoman” rather than about an individual experience.

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Poaching with Piers Plowman

When an army of Kentish insurgents gathered south of London on 12 June 1381, the firebrand priest John Ball is said to have addressed them with a subversive proverb: “When Adam delved and Eve span, where was then the gentleman?” On the following day, the rebels flooded into London, orchestrating spectacles of political violence. They razed the sumptuous Savoy Palace of John of Gaunt, King Richard II’s despised uncle, and beheaded both the treasurer of England and the archbishop of Canterbury.

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The Islamic monuments of Spain: four centuries ago and today

Spanish historians and antiquarians in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries revised the medieval reception of Islamic monuments in the Peninsula as architectural wonders and exotic trophies. They endeavoured to re-appropriate these hybrid architectures by integrating them into a more homogeneous cultural memory focused on Spain’s Roman and Christian past.

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Jacopo Galimberti on 1950s and 1960s art collectives in Western Europe

The phenomenon of collective art practice in the continental Western Europe of the late 1950s and of the 1960s is rarely discussed. Jacopo Galimberti looks at a comparative perspective, engaging with a cultural history of art deeply concerned with political ideas and geopolitical conflicts in his book Individuals Against Individualism. He focuses on artists and activists, and their attempts to depict and embody forms of egalitarianism opposing the Eastern bloc authoritarianism as much as the Free world’s ethos.

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Finding ‘the weird’ in psychedelic art

The concepts of altered states and psychedelia creep in to a great deal of visual art. According to Lewis-Williams, some early forms of Palaeolithic rock art may have been shamanic in origin, and represent forms seen during visionary states. 18th Century works such as Fuseli’s The Nightmare (1781) depicted the ‘old hag’ phenomenon, a type of hypnagogic hallucination that is experienced on the threshold of sleep, during which a person feels as though a daemon or other supernatural entity is suffocating them.

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Why visit Vermeer?

An exhibition of paintings by Johannes Vermeer caused a frenzy in Washington DC in 1995. The National Gallery of Art was booked to capacity, and there were lines of hopeful visitors queued around the block, despite sub-zero conditions outside. Vermeer has just returned to Washington, and the gallery staff expects a full house, but have things changed now? Why would you bother to go to a museum to see great art? With the tap of a finger, you can see masterpieces up close on your screen; you can get nearer than any museum attendant would ever allow.

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Illustrating Streptococcus pneumoniae

According to the WHO, Streptococcus pneumoniae (also known as pneumococcus) is the fourth most frequent microbial cause of fatal infection. These bacteria commonly colonize the upper respiratory tract and are the most common cause of bacterial pneumonia and meningitis. Although much is known about pneumococcal biology and the diseases it causes, there are still many questions about the molecular biology and cellular processes of the bacterium.

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A twenty-first century reinterpretation of dreams?

But, on this occasion, it is also thanks to a certain Donald Woods Winnicott—perhaps most of all—that this commemorative moment in history takes place. Winnicott, as President of the British Psychoanalytic Society, was instrumental in raising awareness and funds in the 1960s for getting this same statue by Nemon cast and put up in North London for the first time.

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Banned, burned, and now rebuilding: Comics collections in libraries

Comics is both a medium—although some would say it’s an art form—as well as the texts produced in that medium. Publication formats and production modes differ: for instance, comics can be short-form or long-form, serialized or stand-alone, single panel or sequential panels, and released as hardcovers, trade paperbacks, floppies, ‘zines, or in various digital formats. […]

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The coinage of the Roman Emperor Nerva (AD 96-98)

On 18 September, in AD 96, the 65 year-old senator, Nerva, became emperor of Rome (Figure 1). His predecessor, Domitian, was assassinated in the culmination of a palace conspiracy; there is no evidence that Nerva had anything to do with the plot.

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A photographer at work: Martin Parr behind the scenes

Martin Parr is one of Britain’s best-known contemporary photographers, with a broad international following, and President of Magnum, the world-famous photo agency. His social documentary style of photography turns a wry and sometimes satirical lens on British life and social rituals, lightened by humour and affection. Parr turned his lens on life at the University of Oxford, capturing the day-to-day life of the colleges and University at work and play.

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What can the Zombie Apocalypse teach us about ourselves? [Video]

Like war stories, like disaster films, like any kind of narrative that revolts and scares yet also delights us, the Zombie Apocalypse offers a laboratory for observing human emotion and experience. Its excess opens up a multitude of responses that don’t get explored in the course of our everyday lives, although these same choices lurk underneath the surface of all our lives.

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Andy Warhol’s comfort food for the apocalypse

Birthdays are complicated. They are cause for celebration but also remind us that we are closer to death. Such duality would not have been lost on Andy Warhol (1928-1987), an artist who strove throughout his career to find images that could house such contradictory notions.

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The mysterious painting methods of Vermeer

Johannes Vermeer’s luminous paintings are loved and admired around the world, yet it is not fully understood exactly what painting methods he used. Experts over the years have been confounded as to how he captured light in such a way. The image below discusses seven of his masterpieces, and reveals the few traces Vermeer has left behind in an intriguing detective story.

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