I am co-convening a session at the Association for Art Historians annual conference in London in April 2018, entitled #LeaderImage – Exploring, analysing and challenging attitudes towards gender and leadership in images of politicians in the digital age.
During the 2017 UK General Election campaign, Theresa May presented herself as ‘strong and stable’ to try and convince the public she was a suitable Prime Minister. May’s inference of physically masculine attributes was an attempt to instil confidence. Her actions are reflected in themes discussed in Wendy Brown’s Manhood and Politics: A Feminist Reading of Political Theory.
In response to a culture whereby masculinity equates good leadership, digitally literate individuals are increasingly manipulating images of politicians to convey opinions on projected gender identities. For example, in 2017, supporters of Jeremy Corbyn Photo-shopped his head onto the muscular body of James Bond, while doubters superimposed his face onto ‘weak and wobbly’ jelly. Using screen grabs, captions, memes or, like these examples, Photoshop, some individuals feel liberated to create an online war of pictures, informed by ideas regarding gender and leadership, in the run up to elections and referendums.
The session convenors use observations on manipulated images disseminated during the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum to initiate a global summit on attitudes towards gender and leadership in political imagery – the purpose being to stimulate debate on boundaries in online spaces, for such images are impacting elections and perpetuating regressive and dangerous gender norms. Contributions on how the interplay between gender and leadership manifests online in any region are welcome. Papers on how technology can disrupt entrenched ideologies regarding this interplay are also encouraged, as are papers that examine historical links between digitally manipulated images and other political art.
With this session, we hope to evaluate freedom vs. censorship in online spaces and to explore the art historian’s role, purpose and alliances in an image-saturated post-truth world. Therefore, we encourage potential contributors to think broadly about how images like those mentioned above, and the processes of their creation and presentation, relate to historical specialisms in various fields.
Follow my tweets about the AAH conference, panellists and papers using the hashtag #LeaderImage