Picturing Politics: Drawing Out the Histories of Collective Political Action in Contemporary Art

Ellul, Hannah. 2017. Picturing Politics: Drawing Out the Histories of Collective Political Action in Contemporary Art. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This project explores the appropriation of images of political upheaval in contemporary art, with a particular focus on artists who painstakingly draw from photographs. It is a project informed by contemporary debates on the convoluted temporality and performativity of the image, the aesthetic and affective dimensions of political subjectification, and forms of political agency.

The drawings of artists including Andrea Bowers, Fernando Bryce and Olivia Plender, discussed here, elaborate a piecemeal, meticulously-drawn iconography of protest. Photographs and documents of emancipatory political struggle from different periods and places are reworked by hand, in acts of salvage. Something like an affective atmosphere is limned in scenes and artefacts that may not have lost their capacity to move but nonetheless seem remote today, the collective political desire and will they evoke overwhelmed by the disconcerting vicissitudes of sociopolitical circumstance.

In light of the long and complex histories of art’s engagement with the political, and the many and various modes of reciprocity devised along the way, what does it mean to be preoccupied with images of political action? To ask as much is to begin to address the complex ways in which such images intersect with and shape processes of political identification and affiliation, the emergence of collective subjectivity and the desire for political agency. Moreover, it is to speculate upon how these processes take place in a negotiation with the often obscure histories of collective action, and how such histories inform renewed efforts of political imagination. What attachments or detachment are played out in these drawings? What choreographies of binding and unbinding are traced in these lines?

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


Additional Information:

This is an edited version of the thesis, due to the presence of third-party copyright material in the original.


Art and politics, drawing, political aesthetics, performativity, political images, political agency, documentary, protest, political histories, radical history, drawing and photography, political imagination

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Visual Cultures


31 May 2017

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

05 Jun 2017 15:27

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 14:00



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