Sick Women: The Chronic-poetics of Feminist Art History

School of Arts and Humanities Research Platform, Royal Collge of Art, London

8 June 2021

In the 2016 essay-manifesto “Sick Woman Theory,” the artist Johanna Hedva draws on their own experiences of chronic illness to challenge the systemic ableism, sexism, classism and racism that ‘infects’ contemporary life. With ‘woman’ denoting a fluid subject-position that encompasses all of the disordered, diseased, undesirable, and dysfunctional bodies belonging to women and other “secondary” people, Hedva’s text is a reparative chorus of many sick voices, “who are faced with their vulnerability and unbearable fragility, every day.”

This event, which re-enacts, reflects and re-frames a recent conference panel at the 2021 College Art Association annual conference, seeks to explore what feminist art history might learn from this configuration. Together, we ask: what is a feminist methodology of sickness? How can it attend to; care for; think and write with ‘sick women’ and to what effect?

The subject of the sick woman, we suggest, calls for risks to be taken in feminist research and writing. Such an approach is demonstrated in the erotic, poetic, visual, personal, autotheoretical, archival, and affective works and performances brought together here and revisited anew from a quickly changing present. The event will involve a live restaging of Gemma Blackshaw and Alice Butler’s epistolary introduction, together with screenings of papers by Fatema Abdoolcarim, Allison Morehead, and Carol Mavor, and followed by an in-conversation with Blackshaw, Butler, and Morehead, chaired by Nora Heidorn.