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Member Spotlight: Hilary Robinson

posted by CAA — Jul 08, 2024

For over forty years, Dr. Hilary Robinson, CAA’s recipient of the 2024 Distinguished Feminist Award, has been devoted to advancing feminist art history, feminist art education, feminist art theory, and feminist art criticism. Trained as a painter, she received a BA in Fine Art from the Newcastle University. She went on to earn an MA in Cultural Theory from the Royal College of Art in London, where her research resulted in a thesis entitled “The Subtle Abyss: Body-Image and Sexuality in Contemporary Feminist Art.” Robinson’s groundbreaking doctoral dissertation, “Becoming Beauty: The Implications of the Writings of Luce Irigaray for Feminist Art Practices, teased out the aesthetic theory embedded in the work of the Belgian feminist philosopher. “Becoming Beauty” offers highly original readings of selected artworks by Louise Bourgeois as well as contemporary British artists. Her doctoral thesis was subsequently published as the well-regarded monograph, Reading Art, Reading Irigaray: The Politics of Art by Women (2006).  

As an exemplary scholar and feminist thinker who is also a committed activist, Robinson realized early the critical importance of documenting to not only revolutionize feminist art history but also to institutionalize it, which contributes to the establishment of its value within academia. Through meticulous archival research, she has played an instrumental role in the collation and editing of a range of groundbreaking and accessible anthologies that have become required reading in university courses while also reaching a wider readership, thus contributing to feminist art history’s public and global impact. Visibly Female: Feminist Art Today (1987) focused primarily on documents from the 1980s. It was followed in 2001 by the first edition of Feminism-Art-Theory: An Anthology 1968–2000, which gathered a much more comprehensive range of ninety-nine previously published texts. Robinson radically revised the second edition in 2015 and demonstrated her commitment to representing feminist art’s diversity.  

In 2019, with her co-editor Dr. Maria Elena Buszek, Robinson published the invaluable Companion to Feminist Art, which collected scholarly essays by thirty contributors whom Robinson and Buszek warmly referred to as companionistas. The volume also included Robinson’s own essay on feminism, art, and activism. The collection offered an overview of contemporary feminist art’s multiple ways of making and thinking across the globe. Companion to Feminist Art demonstrates feminist scholarship and international collaboration at their finest. 

A highly prolific scholar, curator, and editor, Robinson’s multifaceted work advocating for an expansive view of feminist art practices and feminist art education was internationally and formally recognized when in 2005 she was appointed Dean of the College of Fine Arts and Professor of Art Theory and Criticism at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. She returned to England in 2012 to become the Dean of the School of Art and Design and Professor of Visual Culture at Middlesex University. In 2017, Professor Robinson joined Loughborough University’s School of Arts, English, and Drama as Professor of Feminism, Art, and Theory. In 2018, Professor Robinson established the Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT): Feminism, Sexual Politics, and Visual Culture at Loughborough. 

Currently, Robinson is the UK Principal Investigator for Feminist Art Making Histories (FAMH, 2021–24). This three-year-long oral history and digital humanities project, funded by the Irish Research Council and the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), aims to unearth hidden stories of feminist art since the 1970s. As a collaboration between Loughborough and the Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Dún Laoghaire, the project involves recording, curating, and archiving fifty years’ worth of oral histories and digitized records of feminist artists in the UK and Ireland.  

Dr. Robinson’s service to the field has been nothing short of extraordinary. An active participant in College Art Association conferences, she was a member of CAA’s Committee for Women in the Arts from 2000 to 2005 and a member of the CAA’s jury of the Distinguished Feminist Award from 2015 to 2017. She served on the editorial boards of Art Journal (2012–16) and, critically, throughout its history, of n.paradoxa: international feminist art journal—a biannual academic journal published in the UK from 1996–2017. 

With her groundbreaking research, outstanding record of publication, unwavering dedication to inclusive feminist art activism, education, administration, and professional service, Robinson has not only enriched our understanding of art’s relationship with gender and power but has also championed the voices of marginalized artists and expanded conventional narratives of art history.  

This special member spotlight was written by CAA Committee on Women in the Arts members Kimberly Lamm and Tanya Augsburg.

Filed under: Member Spotlight