Past Events

Strange Universe: Explorations of the Modern in Postwar Britain 1945–1965

Conference – Jane Alison, Charlotte Flint, Hilary Floe, Lynda Nead, Isobel Whitelegg, Giulia Smith, Greg Salter, Maryam Ohadi-Hamadani, Ming Tiampo, Ben Highmore, Deborah Sugg Ryan, Claire Zimmerman, Hammad Nasar, Abbas Zahedi, Sria Chatterjee, Sarah Victoria Turner

  • 16 June 2022
  • 9:00 – 6:30 pm
  • A collaboration between Barbican Art Gallery and the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, this one-day symposium uses the themes and works included in Postwar Modern: New Art in Britain, 1945–1965 to explore the “strange universe” of British art in this period.
  • The Barbican, EC2Y 8DS

A collaboration between Barbican Art Gallery and the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, this one-day symposium uses the themes and works included in Postwar Modern: New Art in Britain, 1945–1965 to explore the “strange universe” of British art in this period. Bringing together artists, scholars and curators, we will together explore how art making and the art world was remade and reimagined in the twenty years following the Second World War.

The day will be structured around four different conversations, in which panellists have been invited to select two works of art or objects that speak to the notion of a postwar sensibility. The day will be introduced by the curators of the exhibition and will also include a discussion with Associate Artist to the Exhibition, Abbas Zahedi.

Conference Programme

09.00–10.00: Private View and refreshments served

10.00–10.30: Curators’ Welcome
Jane Alison (Head of Visual Arts, Barbican), Charlotte Flint (Assistant Curator, Barbican Art Gallery), Hilary Floe (Assistant Curator, Barbican Art Gallery)

10.30–11.45: Panel 1
Lynda Nead (Chair) (Pevsner Chair of History of Art, Birkbeck University of London), Isobel Whitelegg (Director of Postgraduate Research, School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester), Giulia Smith (Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow, Ruskin School of Art, University of Oxford)

11.45–12.00: Comfort Break

12.00–13.15: Panel 2
Gregory Salter (Chair) (Lecturer, University of Birmingham), Maryam Ohadi-Hamadani (Lecturer in History of Art, University of Edinburgh), Ming Tiampo (Professor, Carleton University )

13.15–14.15: Lunch

14.15–15.30: Panel 3
Ben Highmore (Chair) (Professor of Cultural Studies, University of Sussex), Deborah Sugg Ryan (University of Portsmouth), Claire Zimmerman (University of Michigan)

15.30–15.45: Comfort Break

15.45–17.00: Panel 4
Hammad Nasar (Senior Research Fellow, Paul Mellon Centre), Jane Alison (Head of Visual Arts, Barbican), Abbas Zahedi (Associate Artist, Postwar Modern, Barbican)

17.00–17.30: Wrap Up
Chaired by Sarah Victoria Turner (Deputy Director, Paul Mellon Centre) and Sria Chatterjee (Head of Research and Learning, Paul Mellon Centre)

17.30–18.30: Reception


General Ticket: £10
Concession Ticket: £7

Tickets for Strange Universe include entry to the Postwar Modern exhibition at the Barbican and morning refreshments; lunch is not included.


We are offering up to ten bursaries to support individuals who may not otherwise be able to attend the conference. Bursaries will cover the ticket price travel and some expenses including childcare. If you would like to be considered for a bursary please email [email protected] with Strange Universe Bursary in the subject field, outlining your request for a supported place by 10am Friday 10 June 2022.

In collaboration with:

About the speakers

  • Jane Alison is Head of Visual Arts at the Barbican, a post she has held since 2013. Her leadership has seen the Barbican Art Gallery’s programme go from strength to strength, exemplified by record-breaking attendance and critically acclaimed shows such as Ragnar Kjartansson (2016), The Japanese House (2017), Lee Krasner: Living Colour (2019), Masculinities: Liberation through Photography (2020) and Noguchi (2021); and Curve commissions by the likes of Random International (2012–13), Richard Mosse (2017), John Akomfrah (2017), Yto Barrada (2018) and Shilpa Gupta (2021). Prior to this, as Senior Curator at the gallery, she was responsible for many of its most memorable exhibitions, including Colour after Klein (2005), Viktor & Rolf (2008) and The Surreal House (2010). More recently, she co-curated Barbican’s showing of Modern Couples: Art, Intimacy and the Avantgarde (2018).

  • Charlotte Flint is an Assistant Curator at the Barbican Art Gallery, where she has worked on Jean Dubuffet: Brutal Beauty (2021), Toyin Ojih Odutola: A Countervailing Theory (2020), Lee Krasner: Living Colour (2019) and Another Kind of Life: Photography on the Margins (2018). Prior to joining the Barbican, she worked at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, as an assistant curator and at the Hayward Gallery, London.

  • Hilary Floe is an Assistant Curator at the Barbican Art Gallery, where she curated the 2021 Curve commission by artist Shilpa Gupta. Previously, she held curatorial positions at The Hepworth Wakefield and Modern Art Oxford. She completed a PhD in history of art from the University of Oxford in 2016 and has contributed to numerous exhibitions and publications in the field of modern and contemporary art.

  • Headshot of Lynda Nead with window in background.

    Lynda Nead is Pevsner Professor of History of Art at Birkbeck, University of London. She has published widely on a range of art historical subjects and particularly on the history of British visual culture in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Her most recent book is The Tiger in the Smoke: Art and Culture in Post-War Britain (Published for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art by Yale University Press). She has a number of advisory roles in national art museums and galleries and is a Trustee of the Holburne Museum and of Campaign for the Arts. She is currently writing a book called British Blonde: Women, Desire and the Image in Post-War Britain.

  • Isobel Whitelegg is an art historian and curator specialising in the history, circulation and international reception of contemporary art from Latin America (especially Brazil). In 2018, she curated Signals, If You Like I Shall Grow (kurimanzutto at Thomas Dane, London), an exhibition that drew together the diverse national and international network of artists fostered by the gallery and meeting place Signals London (1964–66), which included the artists David Medalla and Gustav Metzger amongst its founders. Her present research focuses on the relationship between institutional memory and histories of Brazilian art during the 1964–85 military regime. She is curator of the forthcoming mid-career retrospective Cinthia Marcelle: a Conjunction of Factors (MACBA, Barcelona, 15 July 2022 – 8 January 2023).

  • Headshot of Giulia Smith, looking slightly away and to the left in front of a plain white background

    Giulia Smith is a Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow at the Ruskin School of Art, University of Oxford. Previously she was a postdoctoral fellow at the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art (2018–2019) and the Getty Research Institute (2016–2017), having received her PhD from the History of Art Department at UCL in 2016. Dr Smith specialises in modern and contemporary art, with an emphasis on the legacies of empire in Britain and across the Atlantic world. Titled Living Landscapes: Biotic Resistance in the Transnational Caribbean, her book project considers visual objects and literary texts produced in the second half of the twentieth century alongside contemporary artworks that mobilise geophysical entities and climatic phenomena in support of counter-hegemonic critiques of colonial and neo-colonial regimes of oppression and environmental exploitation. Preliminary publications relating to this research include an essay for the catalogue of Life Between Islands: Caribbean British Art 1950s–Now (Tate Britain). In the past Dr Smith has contributed articles to British Art Studies, Third Text, Sculpture Journal, Art History and Art Monthly. She has collaborated on exhibitions and research programmes with South London Gallery, ICA, Showroom and Wellcome Library, among other venues.

  • Greg Salter is a lecturer in art history at the University of Birmingham. He researches and teaches on art in Britain since 1945 with a particular focus on gender and sexuality. His first book is Art and Masculinity in Post-War Britain: Reconstructing Home, published in 2019. His current research project traces the transnational histories of queer art in Britain since the 1960s, with a particular focus on kinship.

  • Maryam Ohadi-Hamadani is Lecturer in History of Art at the University of Edinburgh. Her research interests include transnationality, diaspora and decolonisation, and the politics of postwar abstraction and visual culture in Britain and beyond. She has held positions at the Cleveland Museum of Art; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland; Tate Liverpool; and the Yale Center for British Art. Recent publications include "Race, Labor and Posctolonial Politics in Frank Bowling's Mother's House series" (Pop Art and Beyond: Gender, Race, and Class in the Global Sixties, Mona Hadler and Kalliopi Minioudaki, eds., Bloomsbury, 2022).

  • Headshot of Ming Tiampo, wearing a black shawl, in front of a red earthy background at Venice Biennale 2022

    Ming Tiampo is Professor of Art History, and co-director of the Centre for Transnational Cultural Analysis at Carleton University. She is interested in transnational and transcultural models and histories that provide new structures for understanding and reconfiguring the global. She has published on Japanese modernism, global modernisms and diaspora. Tiampo’s book Gutai: Decentering Modernism (University of Chicago Press, 2011) received an honourable mention for the Robert Motherwell Book award. In 2013, she was co-curator with Alexandra Munroe of the AICA award-winning Gutai: Splendid Playground at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Her current book projects include Transversal Modernisms: The Slade School of Fine Art, a monograph which reimagines transcultural intersections through global microhistory, and Intersecting Modernisms, a collaborative sourcebook on global modernisms. Her latest book, Jin-me Yoon, is forthcoming with Art Canada Institute in 2022. Tiampo is an associate member at ici Berlin, a member of the Hyundai Tate Research Centre: Transnational Advisory Board, a member of Asia Forum, a founding member of TrACE, the Transnational and Transcultural Arts and Culture Exchange network, and co-lead on its Worlding Public Cultures project.

  • With a background in fine art and art history Ben Highmore teaches cultural studies at the University of Sussex. In 2017 he published two books: The Art of Brutalism: Rescuing Hope from Catastrophe in 1950s Britain (Yale University Press) and Cultural Feelings: Mood, Mediation, and Cultural Politics (Routledge). The first looked at a tight-knit group of artists, critics and architects to explore how they responded to the immediate postwar years. The second book expanded that approach to look across the postwar period in terms of feelings and moods. For the last couple of years, he has been working on a book about postwar English taste and the emergence of the new middle classes. This is being published in February next year as Lifestyle Revolution: How Taste Changed Class in Late-Twentieth-Century Britain (Manchester University Press). Currently he is writing a book on playgrounds – particularly those that emerged out of the bombsites of London and elsewhere. Previous books include The Great Indoors: At Home in the Modern British House (Profile Books) and Ordinary Lives: Studies in the Everyday (Routledge).

  • Deborah Sugg Ryan is Professor of Design History and Theory and Associate Dean (Research) in the Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries at the University of Portsmouth. Her books, articles and curatorship focus on the history of houses, interiors, domestic design and consumerism. Ideal Homes: Domestic Design and Suburban Modernism (Manchester University Press) was awarded the 2020 Historians of British Art Book Prize for Exemplary Scholarship in the Period after 1800 and was republished in a new trade edition as Ideal Homes: Understanding the Design and History of the Interwar House with a new introduction on researching house history. She is currently writing a history of the modern kitchen. An experienced television and radio presenter, contributor, consultant and writer, Deborah's media credits include all four series of BBC Two's A House Through Time and BBC Radio 4's Trading Spaces. She is founder and co-host of Twitter's #HouseHistoryHour on Thursdays at 7pm.

  • Claire Zimmerman studies the built environment in the modern period. Recent work has focused on the massive changes to cities, buildings and people associated with industrialisation in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This work has resulted in Albert Kahn Incorporated and the Industrialization of Architecture (MIT Press, 2024), Detroit-Moscow-Detroit: An Architecture for Industrialization (co-edited with Jean-Louis Cohen and Christina Crawford for MIT Press, 2023) and a special number of the journal Grey Room on architectural cost (Grey Room 71 [2018] with L. Allais and Z. Çelik Alexander). Other recent work includes “Migration, Briefly Arrested,” in the Canadian Centre for Architecture web journal, “The Anti-Photograph,” in Modern Management Methods (ed. C. Blanchfield and F. Lotfi-Jam for Columbia Books on Architecture and the City, 2019), and “Built Environment” in The Art Institute of Chicago Field Guide to Photography and Media (A. Byrd and E. Siegel). Other books include Photographic Architecture in the Twentieth Century (University of Minnesota Press, 2014), Neo-avant-garde and Postmodern: Postwar Architecture in Britain and Beyond (co-edited with Mark Crinson, Yale Studies in British Art, 2010), and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe: The Structure of Space (Taschen, 2006). Zimmerman teaches at the University of Michigan.

  • Hammad Nasar is a London-based curator, writer and strategic advisor. He is Senior Research Fellow at the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, and Principal Research Fellow at UAL Decolonising Arts Institute, London. He is Lead Curator at Herbert Art Gallery and Museum during Coventry’s City of Culture year (2021–22) where he has curated the Turner Prize 2021 exhibition and is co-curator (with Irene Aristizábal) of British Art Show 9. Earlier he was the inaugural Executive Director of the Stuart Hall Foundation, London; the Head of Research & Programmes at Asia Art Archive, Hong Kong; and Co-Founder (with Anita Dawood) of the hybrid art space, Green Cardamom, London. He has served as an advisor to the Barbican for its exhibition Postwar Modern: New Art in Britain 1945–1965 and Abbas Zahedi’s accompanying public programme, Age of Many Posts.

  • Abbas Zahedi (b. 1984, London, UK), studied medicine at University College London, before completing his MA in Contemporary Photography: Practices and Philosophies at Central Saint Martins in 2019. Abbas blends contemporary philosophy, poetics and social dynamics with performative and new-media modes. With an emphasis on how personal and collective histories interweave, Abbas makes connections whenever possible with people involved in the particular situations upon which he focuses.

    Recent selected exhibitions include: The London Open 2022, Whitechapel Gallery, London (2022); Postwar Modern, Barbican, London (2022); and Testament, Goldsmiths CCA, London (2022). Abbas has been the recipient of numerous awards including: the Paul Hamlyn Foundation Awards for Artists (2021), Jerwood Arts Bursary (2019) and Khadijah Saye Memorial Fund Scholarship (2017). Abbas is a visiting lecturer at the Royal College of Art (London), as well as teaching at universities across the UK and abroad.

  • Sria Chatterjee standing in front of olive and blue background

    Sria Chatterjee is Head of Research and Learning at the Paul Mellon Centre. Sria’s research interests lie at the intersection of art, science and environment and she publishes extensively on these topics. Sria leads the multi-year Climate & Colonialism research project at the Paul Mellon Centre. In 2020, she founded and led the award-winning digital project, Visualizing the Virus.

    Before coming to the Paul Mellon Centre, Sria was a fellow at the Max-Planck Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz and an advanced researcher at the FHNW Academy of Art and Design in Basel, Switzerland, where she held a Swiss National Science Foundation fellowship. She served as a contributing editor for British Art Studies from 2020–22 and remains involved in the journal as Editorial Advisor. In 2024, Sria is on research leave from the Paul Mellon Centre on a fellowship at the Davis Center for Historical Studies at Princeton University. In 2023, Sria served as a judge for the Pen Hessell-Tiltman Prize for historical non-fiction. Sria received her PhD from the Department of Art & Archaeology at Princeton University in 2019.

  • Sarah Turner is an art historian, curator and writer. She is Director at the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art in London. Her aim is to share the work and resources of the Paul Mellon Centre as widely as possible and to open up new conversations, ideas and narratives about the histories of British art. From 2008–2013 she was Lecturer in the Department of History of Art at the University of York and was Visiting Senior Lecturer at the Courtauld Institute of Art between 2016–2018. Sarah is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. She is the founding Editor-in-Chief of British Art Studies, an award-winning digital arts publication. With Jo Baring, she is co-host of the Sculpting Lives podcast.

    Sarah is a member of the Advisory Group of the Postwar Modern: New Art in Britain, 1945–1965 exhibition.

    A full list of Sarah’s publications, exhibitions and projects are listed at