Monthly Archives: February 2015

This Academic Life – Feb 2015

It’s the end of another month, and time for a brief update on the more ‘traditional’ academic activities I’ve been up to – that is to say, the activities which will lead to academic publications, presentations and public engagement. Drawing on the research I carried out in Paris over December 2014-January 2015, I’ve been drafting the introduction to my book on Zobel. So I’ve been doing lots of writing (or rather typing), trying to synthesize the information I’ve gathered. The key challenge is to emphasise what kinds of new insights my research can provide into Joseph Zobel’s literature and career.

Another strand of my AHRC project involves ‘public engagement and impact’, and I’m currently concentrating on ways to bring my research to audiences who are not academics. I’m preparing for a visit to Paris in March, and to Martinique in April, and am in contact with colleagues in museums, libraries and schools. This will help me to play my part in improving the  public understanding of Zobel in Martinique and France more generally.

So when I’m not drafting my introduction, I’m sending and receiving lots of emails to co-ordinate activities with my French contacts in Paris and Martinique, and I’m excited to see how this strand of my work will develop.

Willard Wigan: Through the Eye of a Needle

think small to think big

 think small to think big

 think small to think big

think small to think big

think small to think big

As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, Joseph Zobel was a keen artist and sculptor who was inspired by global culture from the Caribbean, Africa, Europe and even Asia – he was trained in the Japanese art of Ikebana flower arrangement.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to a fantastic exhibition by Willard Wigan at the Library of Birmingham. Like Zobel, Willard considers his art international and hopes that it will be accessible to everyone. He makes the most amazing microscopic art – so small that it fits in the eye of a needle! To do this, he has found a way to slow his body down so he can work to the rhythm of his body’s heartbeat to make his microscopic incisions.

Willard was there on the day, and kept us amused with stories of his childhood in Wolverhampton and the development of his career. Several of his pieces are nods to his Caribbean roots, including Usain Bolt in his traditional ‘thunderbolt’ pose, and an absolutely beautiful hummingbird feeding on flower nectar.

Willard reminded us that nothing in our world is too small to matter.

This made me think of how many references there are to ‘petit pays’ (literally meaning ‘small country’) in Francophone music – and not just from the Caribbean. A beautiful song by Cap Verdean singer Cesária Evora, called Petit Pays, which has a French chorus, is now my earworm.

Inspirational stuff!


In January, I blogged about TED talks – you can see Willard’s TED talk, including images of his art, here:

Martinique and World War 1

DSCF3329On Saturday 31st January, I attended an AHRC-funded event on Britain’s Black Community and the Great War, held at the Library of Birmingham.

The Library of Birmingham opened in 2013 and is one of the city’s flagship buildings and a really important community space.


This photo shows the library shortly before it was completed – the white boards at the bottom of the building have now been removed.


It was fantastic to meet a range of speakers from community groups in the Midlands area and to learn more about figures such as footballer Walter Tull, who fought and died in the First World War. I discussed my work on Zobel, and the event has spurred me on to think about the French Caribbean and WW1, particularly in the light of the WW1 Centenary. I’ve created a new page with more information.