Karen McLean in conversation with Dr. Emily Zobel Marshall

On Thursday 10th June, 6-7pm, Block 336 hosted a virtual ‘in conversation’ event between artist Karen McLean and Dr. Emily Zobel Marshall, researcher and Reader at Leeds Beckett University. This event will took place in conjunction with McLean’s exhibition BLUE POWER | Ar’n’t I a Woman! (20th May – 12th June 2021). The discussion between Mclean and Marshall will focus specifically on Ar’n’t I a Woman! and the 3D models of Anansi, the West African trickster spider that has become symbolic of the struggles of enslaved Africans, included in the installation. Ar’n’t I a Woman!, platforms the lost histories of enslaved Black women and speaks about their bodies as sites of oppression and resistance. A corridor of hand-sewn hessian sacks is presented, featuring striking, graphic depictions of the uterus repeated across its surface. McLean’s work speaks about the radical as well as everyday acts of resistance.

Karen McLean’s multidisciplinary practice is informed by her experience of growing up in post-Independence Trinidad during the 1960s. Working across a variety of material including moving image, sound and installations that incorporate evocative and symbolic materials such as sugar, soap, wood, and hessian sacks, McLean explores themes of displacement, identity, capitalism and ethics, home and globalisation, with a particular focus on colonialist legacies and their ongoing traumas.

Solo exhibitions include BLUE POWER at Ort Gallery, Birmingham (2018), The Precariat at Lewisham Art House, London (2017), three at BPN Architects, Birmingham (2014) and Trove at Edible Eastside, Birmingham (2012).  Group exhibitions include MOTHERSHIP at The Sawmills, London (2016), Goldsmiths MFA show (2015), Independence Exhibition at Hackney Museum, London (2012), Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival at Medulla Art Gallery, Trinidad (2012), Trinidad & Tobago Cultural Village (2012), British Summertime 2 at The New Art Gallery Walsall and MAC, Birmingham (2011) and Folkestone Triennial Fringe (2011). McLean’s work is also featured in Gill Perry’s book Playing at Home: The House in Contemporary Art, published by Reaktion Books Ltd in 2013.

Dr. Emily Zobel Marshall is a Reader in Postcolonial Literature at the School of Cultural Studies at Leeds Beckett University. Her research specialisms are Caribbean literature and Caribbean carnival cultures. She is an expert on the trickster figure in the folklore, oral cultures and literature of the African Diaspora and has published widely in these fields. She has also established a Caribbean Carnival Cultures research platform and network that aims to bring the critical, creative, academic and artistic aspects of carnival into dialogue with one another. 

She has organised international conferences on the literature and cultures of the African diaspora and is also a regular contributor to BBC radio discussions on racial politics and Caribbean culture. Her books focus on the role of the trickster in Caribbean and African American cultures; her first book, Anansi’s Journey: A Story of Jamaican Cultural Resistance (2012) was published by the University of the West Indies Press and her second book, American Trickster: Trauma Tradition and Brer Rabbit, was published by Rowman and Littlefield in 2019. 

Emily has had poems published in the Peepal Tree Press Inscribe Anthology (2019), Magma (‘The Loss’, Issue 75, 2019), Smoke Magazine (Issue 67, 2020) and The Caribbean Writer (Vol 32, 2020). She is Vice Chair of the David Oluwale Memorial Association, a charity committed to fighting racism and homelessness, and a Creative Associate of the Geraldine Connor Foundation.