As part of an exhibition to mark the bicentenary of the Greek Revolution of 1821, the Centre for Research Collections and A.G Leventis Foundation, with the support of the School of History, Classics and Archaeology, has provided funding to commission artwork by artist Karen Cunningham.

Chosen by a panel following a competitive selection process, Cunningham has been working since June 2021 on a commission which will form part of the exhibition ‘Edina/Athena: The Greek Revolution and the Athens of the North, 1821–2021’ in the University’s Main Library.

Cunningham is an Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) alumna; having graduated from the BA Photography programme, she remains connected to ECA and is currently undertaking a practice-based PhD titled, ‘World-Making and Un-Doing’ in the School of Art. Her work has been presented throughout the UK and internationally including vbkö, Vienna, Austria and Cample Line, Scotland. She has been commissioned to make work by several organisations including LUX moving image, London and Collective, Edinburgh

Her practice and research straddles the forms of moving image, sculpture and photography. Often focusing on overlooked or undertheorized events, sites, and people, her artwork reconsiders objects or histories which may have lain dormant and that have the potential for a renewed relevance or importance.

The commissioned artworks will form part of the exhibition that will explore Scottish-Greek connections in the early nineteenth century and play on the synchronicity of the Greek Revolution and the emergence of the discourse of Edinburgh as the 'Modern Athens' or ‘Athens of the North. The exhibition plans to run from 29 October 2021 to 29 January 2022 in the University of Edinburgh’s Main Library Gallery.

Cunningham has created an artwork in two parts that foregrounds female experiences and contributions to history. From Athena, goddess of war and weaving, to the washer women of Calton Hill, the proposed artwork will feature several females both actual and mythical, from Greece and Scotland, whose influence and relevance to the history of the Greek Revolution and Edinburgh has been presented as being secondary by being unrepresented or disregarded.

"I am thrilled to have been selected for this commission and to be part of the Edina/Athena exhibition. The Centre for Research Collections at the University of Edinburgh has undertaken innovative and important projects with artists and I am very excited to be working with them. Not only is this an amazing opportunity for me to realise a significant new artwork but, in responding to the subjects and themes of the exhibition, this commission will enable me to expand and develop several going concerns within my art practice. These include exploring the capacity of art to engage with historic and contemporary issues in ways that render these events accessible whilst still maintaining their complexities."

Karen Cunningham, Photography graduate, PhD student and artist

The first part, Revolution is a living language will be a limited-edition screen-print on white line featuring images of female figures and symbolic imagery. This will be displayed alongside Looking and being overlooked a moving image work of one of the printed linens being un-done.

Cunningham’s new work for the exhibition takes direct conceptual and aesthetic inspiration from Greek and Scottish histories but also invites audiences to read Greek independence and the Enlightenment not as discrete enclosed moments, but as events woven into the fabric of a time marked by immense social, political, cultural and technological transformation.

Alasdair Grant, Curatorial Fellow at the University, said: "We are delighted to have the opportunity of working with Karen Cunningham to bring contemporary artwork into this historical exhibition. The outcome promises to link the histories and mythologies of Edinburgh and Athens in an innovative way that perfectly complements the themes and textures of our exhibits. Karen's work will shed exciting new light on the experiences of women in these two contexts, both traditionally dominated by male-centred narratives."

Niels Gaul, A. G. Leventis Chair in Byzantine Studies, said: "Karen Cunningham’s ‘diptych’ Revolution is a living language – Looking and being overlooked provides a stimulating link of the events of 1821 in both Greece and Scotland to the present day – her thoughtful approach particularly suits an exhibition that commemorates past events and lives but, at the same time, prompts us to explore how that past is intricately interwoven with today’s world and to reflect on the voices that ‘make’ history and above all the ones too often excluded."

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