Ethical issues in using visual methods in participatory research

In November 2017, the Centre for Social Justice and Community Action and the Centre for Visual Arts and Culture, Durham University, UK held a workshop on Visual Methods on Participatory Research: ethical and practical issues on working with refugees and other groups. The workshop proved very popular,  attended by representatives from community organisations, national charities, local government, museums and postgraduates and academics from universities. Keynote speakers were Caroline Lenette (University of New South Wales, Australia)  and Caitlin Nunn (Durham University, UK) with a team of Syrian young people and an artist, who discussed ethical issues, including tensions arising with institutional ethical processes when using visual methods and challenges when using film and photographs. A choice of workshops covering different visual methods included performing family stories, digital storytelling with refugee women, the walking interview biographical method (WIBM), participatory video with young migrants and refugees and participatory drawing.

Report of workshop available here:



Visual Culture of the Classical World at Durham

CVAC awarded £470 toward the running of the second research conversation day on 23 June 2017, this year entitled ‘Visual Culture of the Classical World at Durham’.


The day-long workshop, also supported by the Department of Archaeology and the Centre for Classical Reception at Durham, took place at St. Mary’s College. It was attended by 45 people including the speakers, and the audience included undergraduates, graduate students, alumni and staff, including a number from the library services.  Twelve scholars from four departments of Durham (see programme, below) presented short talks on their research, with the aim of enhancing awareness of each other’s work and comparing approaches to various kinds of visual culture.  The funding was spent on catering costs, covering a coffees and teas and lunch for all attendees.


The last day of the academic year, the day was a busy one for many, and a date earlier or just outside of term might suit the next research conversation day, if the event is to become a regular one in the calendar of CVAC. The day was well-received, especially by undergraduates who commented to the organiser on their enjoyment.  The event was certainly successful in its aims of increasing awareness of the work of scholars on themes pertaining to the Classical world and fostering greater cooperation between departments, although that sort of impact is soft and slow, requiring more events of this nature.  Additionally, the event created an opportunity to advertise CVAC to people inside and outside the university.  The organisation of the papers was roughly chronological, leading from studies of the visual culture of the ancient world to the reception of Classical visual culture and the visual culture of Classical reception in the modern era.  A final discussion touched on a gap: reception in the present day, in digital media (films and gaming, for example).


Programme of speakers

  • Catherine Draycott (Archaeology): Art and landscapes of empire in Achaemenid Anatolia
  • Eris Williams Reed (Classics and Ancient History): The environment as visual culture: examples from the Roman Near East


    1. Peter Heslin (Classics and Ancient History) – Public and private art in the Roman World
  • Anna Leone (Archaeology): Statues and urban decorum in late antique North Africa
  • Rebecca Usherwood (Classics and Ancient History): Scratching the surface


    1. Dame Rosemary Cramp (Archaeology): A late Roman or Medieval relief?
  • Edmund Thomas (Classics and Ancient History) – Rethinking the “Baroque”, ancient and modern
  • Marc Schachter (MLAC) – The illustrated Ass: Apuleius’ Metamorphoses from manuscript to print


    1. Stefano Cracolici (MLAC) – Aeneid 1819: a landscape avant-garde
    2. Tom Stammers (History) – Augustus and Cinna in the Bowes Museum: painting, politics and theatre at the fall of Napoleon
    3. Seren Nolan (Classics and Ancient History) – The Roman matrona in eighteenth-century visual culture
  • Richard Hingley (Archaeology): Building Roman Britain; urbanism, militarism, industry and barbarity in Victorian imagery


CM Draycott

October 2017

The Centre for Visual Arts and Culture Celebrated Refugee Week 2017 with a public screening of award-winning documentary ‘They Will Have To Kill Us First’ at The Gala Cinema on Wednesday 21st June, followed by panel discussion.

To celebrate Refugee Week 2017, an annual nationwide celebration of the contribution of refugees to the UK, The Centre for Visual Arts and Culture hosted a public screening of award-winning documentary ‘They Will Have To Kill Us First’ by director Johanna Schwartz at the Gala cinema in Durham.

The screening was followed by a panel discussion led by CVAC doctoral student Nelli Stavropoulou and discussants Dr Elisabeth Kirtsoglou (Durham University, Anthropology Department) and Dr Francisco-J. Hernández Adrián (Durham University, School of Modern Languages & Cultures).

The documentary explores the occupation of most of the north Mali by Islamic extremist groups in 2012 and their subsequent banning of all forms of music; radio stations were destroyed, instruments burned and Mali’s musicians faced persecution, torture, even death.

Overnight, Mali’s musicians were forced into exile, where a large percentage remains until this day. However, music is “the beating heart of Malian culture”, a form of self-expression and communication, which following the music bans becomes an act of resistance and collective solidarity.

The film’s narrative landscape follows the paths of four key characters who have fled in search of safety. Through a rigorous, visually enticing montage we witness their journeys and new lives across refugee camps, bombarded cities leading into the first public concert in Timbuktu since the music ban- an act of resistance and a space for celebration. The film’s commissioned soundtrack from some of Mali’s most daring artists, accompanied their stories and hopes for the future.

According to the film’s director, ‘They Will Have To Kill Us First’ aims to offer an insight into the current situation in Mali as portrayed through personal testimonials: “I am so proud to bring these musician’s stories to the world. They’ve been through hell and survived to sing about it. Though the conflict in Mali is still far from over, with extremist attacks continuing in the north and south to this day, I have no doubt that these musicians will continue to stand up and fight for their right to sing.”

Production still of Director, Joanna Schwartz

The post-screening discussion engaged the audience in insightful provocations by both discussants who reflected on the visual language of the film, the tensions between documentary storytelling and visual aesthetics, as well as addressed the methodological challenges of visually representing experiences of forced displacement in relation to ethics of storytelling.

This screening was part of CVAC’s annual events programme including conferences, public talks and exhibitions among other, that explores and engages with different elements of visual culture.

For future events organized by the Centre for Visual Arts and Culture please visit the centre’s website:

Nelli Stavropoulou, July 2017

An Interdisciplinary Workshop on ‘Violence and Knowledge of the Senses’ in engagement with The Spectral Wound

ON 6th of December 2016, an interdisciplinary cohort of colleagues from different universities: Durham [Nayanika Mookherjee, Elisabeth Kirtsoglou, Paolo Fortis, Alex Flynn, Bob Simpson, Bob Layton, Michael Carrithers, Ben Hildred, Anthony Rizk, Felix Ringel (All from Anthropology), Divya Tolia-Kelly (Geography)], Newcastle (Anselma Gallinat, Political Science), Lancaster (Brian Black, Religious Studies), University College London (Prof. Christopher Pinney – an eminent visual anthropologist Johns Hopkins University (Prof. Veena Das – known by all for her work on Anthropology of violence came together for this workshop on Violence and Knowledge of the Senses in engagement with The Spectral Wound. Prof. Veena Das was part of Anthropology’s 70/50 Anniverssary celebrations at Durham.

Other colleagues who were interested n the workshop but could not participate due to prior commitments: Admir Jugo, Claudia Merli, Steve Lyon, Tom Widger (Anthropology), Ernesto Schwartz-Sydney Calkin (Geography), Geoffrey Scarre (Philosophy), Clare McGlynn (Law), Nicole Westmarland, (CRIVA/ASS), Justin Willis, Chery Leonardi (History), Jutta Bakonyi (SGIA), Abir Hamdar (Arabic studies) and Jennifer Terry (English).

In The Spectral Wound (Mookherjee 2015), the photographer Naibuddin Ahmed’s famous ‘that hair photograph’ of the birangona (meaning brave women, a term ascribed by the newly formed Bangladeshi government in 1971 to women who had been raped during the Bangladesh war of 1971) brings to the forth how violent events like wartime sexual violence is sensed beyond an interior and exterior experience. Felt as a bhoyonkor (horrific) sublime figure, the birangona in this photograph stands in as a ruptured being who can be subconsciously internalised and imagined as one marked only by the horror of the violence of rape. It is this inherent relationship between an event of violence and the knowledge of what the senses make of this violent encounter which informed this interdisciplinary workshop. Two keynotes were given by Profs Christopher Pinney (UCL) and Prof. Veena Das (Johns Hopkins University) along these lines. I also wanted to include and was in touch with the Durham Sexual Violence Group in this workshop. They were not available in the end due to maternity leaves.

This interdisciplinary workshop explored the inherent relationship between an event of violence and the knowledge of what the senses make of this violent encounter. Instead of understanding violence on its own and only as a physical manifestation, the workshop seeks to ask what is violence and what constitutes it? Is it determined by the knowledge of the senses or can it exist beyond the senses? By senses we refer to visual, embodied, sensual, fragmented, experiential non-literary ways of ‘knowing’ violence. What is the role of mediation, circulation, encoding in this understanding of violence and the senses? How is the nation imbricated between the violence and the knowledge of its senses? What is the significance of historical political-economic contextualizations, power and powerlessness, hierarchies and exclusions in these instances of making sense of violence? Overall the workshop sought to suggest new ways of interrogating violence through the knowledge of its senses by showcasing the ethnography of Spectral Wound in conversation with interdisciplinary scholarship present in Durham across departments.

Prof. Pinney in his keynote discussed Ariella Azoulay and brought to light the relationship between vision and flawed citizenship by discussing Palestinian photographs. Prof. Michael Carrithers sought to address resonance and presence through the Jewish Museum in Berlin. Dr Divya Tolia Kelly identified the disruptive character of performance art and made the powerful argument how the more we see the less we feel. Dr Alex Flynn expanded on the significatory potential of images in art exhibitions in Brazil. Dr. Elisabeth Kirtsoglou on embodiment and performed the Spectral Wound by crisscrossing two ethnographies. Dr Anselma Gallinat expanded on the visuality of Public memory work in East Germany. Dr Brian Black in talking through the epic Mahabharata and its aesthetic dimension expanded on initimate and spectacular violence and showed how violence is carried out through dialogue. Prof Veena Das gave a keynote on thinking as conceptual experience and how violent experiences are conceptualised.

All the presentations made complex contributions to the theorisation of visuality and violence. Hence the visual contribution to CVAC is multiple through the following intended outcomes:

  •  To start a network on Violence and Knowledge of the Senses including visual senses
  •  To showcase the various interdisciplinary research existing on this theme in Durham University including visualities.


    •  To foster academic and non-academic engagement with the Spectral Wound and its visual debates.
  •  In due course consider publishing a Special issue of a Journal/edited book which would include a visual component.
  •  I branded the event as a CVAC event.


Overall I am immensely grateful to CVAC for their support for food and tea and coffee for the workshop participants.


Dr Nayanika Mookherjee, February 2017

Museums Masterclass with Jo Quinton-Tulloch

masterclassOn the evening of the 31st of January CVAC hosted the Director of the National Media Museum, Jo Quinton-Tulloch to give a talk about the museum, its history and its future. The talk provided an insight into the museum’s intriguing and varied collections of photography, film, television and media producing technologies. As well as highlighting the museum’s aims to strengthen and support the local community through public outreach activities.


The National Media Museum (NMM) in Bradford is relatively new opening in 1983 as the ‘National Museum of Photography, Film and Television’. It was later rebranded as the ‘NMM’ in 2006 and is due to be re-named once again on the 28th of February this year. The museum aims to present the technical applications of the science of light and sound to the public and is therefore a central institution in the Science Museums Group. It is a space which according to Quinton-Tulloch allows the visitor to “explore process and product of these technologies”.  There has also been a renewed focus in recent years to incorporate and accommodate for the increased usage and popularity of digital technology.


The talk began with an overview of the history of the NMM and its collections with specific examples of key objects and their producers as well as the challenges that museums face. The talk was then followed by a workshop on Wednesday morning with museum professionals from Durham along with heritage students and CVAC members in attendance. In the workshop Quinton-Tulloch outlined her own biography and how she was able to achieve such a prestigious position by working her way up through her work with the Science Museum in London. This biography was particularly inspiring for the current heritage masters students who have just started their career paths in the heritage and museums sector.


The main focus of the workshop was how museums can collaborate successfully with universities and according to Quinton-Tulloch there are three main ways this collaboration can be achieved effectively. Firstly, through the collections, knowledge and expertise of a particular museum which can benefit students via training, lectures, placements and teaching opportunities. Secondly, through collaborative research with students that have aligned research interests and lastly, in public engagement. Museums can provide a platform for the dissemination and communication of current information and research to the public. This role in public outreach can facilitate dialogue between academics and the public and was thus viewed as a top priority. Quinton-Tulloch reinforced this point by stressing how being a good communicator is key in the museums profession. Communicating to the public by having a scientist within the museum able to answer visitor questions as a ‘Researcher in Residence’ was also viewed as highly beneficial.


After a long discussion on museum public outreach activities there was an extended exchange about the governance systems and politics within museums. This topic garnered much interest and it is hoped that this may be re-visited at a later stage.


Towards the end of the session the issue of presenting controversial scientific topics within the museum was brought up during open questions. It was interesting to discover that the NMM very rarely takes a particular stance on a controversial topic and tries to remain impartial. The museum achieves this by presenting the arguments from both sides of the scientific community, except for certain occasions when the majority of the scientific community are in favour of a particular stance.


Felicity McDowall February 2017



Extractive Seeing: On the visual culture of oil with Professor Janet Stewart

technical museum vienna.jpgTuesday 7 March 2017, 6:00pm in 405 Business School, Durham University

This paper is part of a larger research project, Curating Europe’s Oil, which sets out to investigate the role that archives (of different kinds) and museums have in constructing and potentially deconstructing existing narratives about fossil fuels that make possible particular behaviours and responses, while closing down or erasing others. It considers the role that oil plays in twenty-first century cultural memory in Europe, investigating how Europe’s oil history is being archived, narrated and displayed in key cultural institutions, showing how an understanding of the processes through which the experience of ‘living with oil’ in Europe has been catalogued, controlled and challenged are invaluable in imagining new narratives of possible energy futures. This paper explores one aspect of the larger project, arguing that a particular way of seeing, linked to the 20th century’s dependence on fossil fuels, in general, and oil, in particular, comes to dominate in the construction of the visual record of Europe’s oil dependencies, and in the way in which that visual record is interpreted. The paper introduces the concept of ‘extractive seeing’, and employs it to frame an investigation of the visual culture of oil in Austria, a country not often immediately associated with Europe’s oil history.

Professor Janet Stewart is the Head of School in the School of Modern Languages and Cultures at Durham University.

Contact for more information about this event.

Special Japanese exhibition successfully held at the Oriental Museum with CVAC funding.

the-shogun-warrierA CVAC-sponsored exhibition, The Shogun’s Cultured Warriors, was held at the Oriental Museum, from 7th June 2016 to 27th November 2016.  The samurai were the military class of Japan who developed from provincial warriors into the ruling elite. They were a powerful force in Japan for more than six centuries and so had a profound effect on military and political life. High ranking warriors were also expected to develop their literary skills and they played an active role as patrons of the arts. The exhibition explored the role of the samurai class as patrons and producers of the arts. It also examined the legacy of samurai culture which remains a potent source of inspiration in Japan – and the west – today.

The exhibition was seen by 12,769 visitors to the museum galleries.

The exhibition was created to support the conference: ‘400th Anniversary of the Death of the first Tokugawa Shogun: The Life and Legacy of Tokugawa Ieyasu’ (7th-8th June, 2016), which was being hosted by the School of Modern Languages and Cultures.  The creation of the Tokugawa shogunate (1603-1868) was one of the key turning points in Japanese history, and 2016 marked 400 years since the death of its founder, the first shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu. To mark this important anniversary, the conference brought together experts on Japanese history, religion, and material culture to commemorate, explain, and explore Ieyasu’s career and legacy.

Rebekah Clements, January 2017


Behind the Scenes at the Museum: Masterclass with Jo Quinton-Tulloch

1st February 2017, 09:30 to 11:00, Pennington Room, Grey College

CVAC are delighted to welcome Jo Quinton-Tulloch to Durham to give our Annual Behind the Scenes at the Museum Masterclass. She is the Director of the National Media Museum in Bradford.

The National Media Museum is a relatively young museum – just over 30 years old. Its origin stems from the Science Museum, London, but it has grown over time by incorporating a number of other collections, originally developed by other bodies and individuals, at different times and for different purposes. This has resulted in a collection of some of the best, most significant and historically important visual material to be found anywhere in the world, spanning a range of cultural, scientific and aesthetic disciplines.

The masterclass will begin to consider musuems and the value of collaborations.

To book a place, please email

Behind the Scenes at the Museum with Jo Quinton-Tulloch. 31st January 2017 at 18:00, Kenworthy Hall, St. Mary’s College. Durham


The National Media Museum is a relatively young museum – just over 30 years old. Its origin stems from the Science Museum, London, but it has grown over time by incorporating a number of other collections, originally developed by other bodies and individuals, at different times and for different purposes. This has resulted in a collection of some of the best, most significant and historically important visual material to be found anywhere in the world, spanning a range of cultural, scientific and aesthetic disciplines.

The talk will (briefly!) explore the museum’s core collections of Photography, Film and Television, then touch on some of the challenges faced by the Museum sector, using the recent experiences of the National Media Museum as a case study.

Jo Quinton-Tulloch is the Director of the National Media Museum in Bradford.

No need to book – all welcome.


CVAC Cohort 2 trip to National Museum of Scotland

On Friday 9th of December the Centre for Visual Arts and Culture organized a field trip for the second cohort of Durham Leverhulme doctoral scholars to visit the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.  Situated between Edinburgh Castle to the west and Arthur’s Seat to the east the museum operates a commanding position. Displaying extensive and varied collections including natural history, arts and fashion, design and technology, history and archaeology. It was therefore an exciting opportunity to see how materials, concepts and ideas from varied disciplines incorporating both the arts and sciences are visually presented in one venue.

The museum in its current form resulted from the joining of the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland (NMAS) with the pre-existing building, the Royal Scottish Museum (RSM), which was built in 1866. This rather adventurous nationalistic project began during the 1980s when debates over renaming collections snowballed into a decision to combine the two museums focusing on national identity. This decision was underpinned by the current resurgence in Scottish identity and nationalism. Consequently, in 1985 the two museums were incorporated as ‘National Museum of Scotland’ (NMS). To accommodate NMAS, a new building adjoined to the RSM needed to be created and after an architectural competition, it was clear that Scottish history and identity was at the forefront of the architectural ambitions for the new building. This was realised in Benson and Forsyth’s wining design which utilized local Clashach and Corsehill sandstone to create a façade that was reminiscent of castle architecture, with the circular tower at the north-west of the building mirroring Edinburgh Castle’s half-moon battery. This ambitious project is still ongoing but the new building has been open to the public since 1998.

Upon arrival at the museum the cohort was met by Stephen Allen (Head of Learning and Programmes) who provided an overview of the complex history of the museum and its continuing active role in local arts and culture. After, this fascinating insight into how NMS became Britain’s most visited tourist attraction outside of London, the cohort was able to explore the diverse galleries, starting with the Victorian atrium of the older building. This wonderful open space is utilized to introduce the visitor to different aspects of the museum’s collections with a variety of different artefacts on display from a sperm whale skull to a Buddhist statue.

From this point the cohort split up to investigate the different exhibits and styles of display used. From the art gallery style of display focused on ‘Design for Living’ to the extensive use of taxidermy of extant species alongside the fossil skeletons of extinct species in the ‘Animal World’ gallery.

One of the most captivating and busy areas was the science and ‘Explore’ gallery where the extensive use of interactives ensured that all age groups were actively engaged with the exhibits.

Whilst, the galleries focusing on Scottish history were situated chronologically, starting with early prehistory and history in the basement all the way up to modern day. The location of prehistory in the basement was underpinned by architectural aims to simulate a space similar to an archaeological excavation. This design decision conflates archaeology with prehistory and creates a space where it is difficult to install interactives. Consequently to aid interpretation of the artefacts, the space is laid out thematically and utilizes contemporary sculpture to emphasize these themes.

The most prominent sculptures are the twelve bronze statues created by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi which contain prehistoric jewellery and greet the visitor as they enter the gallery of ‘Early People’. These statues provide the artefacts they contain with human agency without providing a false impression of personhood that is usually created when reconstructions are used.

After the cohort had gained an impression of the museum they met up to critically discuss their opinions about the displays and how they are presented. During these discussions it was clear that in certain galleries there were some issues of representation where the narrative focuses on one particular group to the exclusion of other prominent perspectives. The varying themes encountered in the different galleries were also discussed and it was apparent that everyone had enjoyed their museum experience for a variety of different reasons. The National Museum of Scotland, although highly ambitious, has succeeded in creating a space that can be enjoyed by a diverse range of audiences.

Felicity McDowall December 2016