Dec. 6, 2021

Loïs Mailou Jones


Born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1905, artist Loïs Mailou Jones’s career spanned much of the 20th Century as both a painter and a teacher of generations of Black artists at Howard University.

Jones faced racial discrimination in the US throughout much of her long life, and found refuge and inspiration in the Harlem Renaissance Movement and in the expatriate community of Black artists in Paris. Her 1953 marriage to Haitian artist Louis Vergniaud Pierre-Noel, and later research trips to Africa further influenced her work.

Her many important paintings include The Ascent of Ethiopia (1932); Les Fétiches (1938); Self-Portrait (1940); Mob Victim (Meditation) (1944); Jardin du Luxembourg (1948); Jeune Fille Française (1951); Ode to Kinshasa (1972); Ubi Girl from Tai Region (1972); Suriname (1982); and Glyphs (1985).

Joining me to help us learn more about Loïs Mailou Jones is writer Jennifer Higgie, author of the new book, The Mirror and the Palette: Rebellion, Revolution, and Resilience: Five Hundred Years of Women's Self Portraits.

Our theme song is Frogs Legs Rag, composed by James Scott and performed by Kevin MacLeod, licensed under Creative Commons. The episode image is Loïs Mailou Jones, 1937, from the Loïs Mailou Jones Pierre-Noël Trust.

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Transcript

Kelly Therese Pollock  0:00  
This is Unsung History, the podcast where we discuss people and events in American history that haven't always received a lot of attention. I'm your host, Kelly Therese Pollock. I'll start each episode with a brief introduction to the topic, and then talk to someone who knows a lot more than I do. Be sure to subscribe to Unsung History on your favorite podcasting app, so you never miss an episode. And please, tell your friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, maybe even strangers to listen too. 

Today's episode is about artist Lois Mailou Jones. Lois Mailou Jones was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on November 3, 1905. Jones's father, Thomas Freeland Jones was a building superintendent and her mom Carolyn Jones was a cosmetologist. Thomas was later the first African American to earn a law degree from Suffolk Law School and became a lawyer. Lois started creating art from a young age, drawing and painting with watercolors. She later reflected that her parents had always encouraged her. While attending the High School of Practical Arts in Boston, she took night classes from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts through an annual scholarship. At the age of just 17, Jones held her first solo exhibition in Martha's Vineyard. After graduating from high school, Jones attended the school of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, where she studied design. She then earned her graduate degree in design from the Design Art School of Boston in 1928. Jones began her career as a textile designer for the F. A. Foster Company in Boston, and the Schumacher Company in New York City. She designed drapery and upholstery fabrics, incorporating flowers and leaves in her designs, as well as more unusual motifs inspired by Africa and the Caribbean. In bothered Jones that the work of designers was mostly anonymous. She said, "Only the name of the design printed on the borders of the fabric was known, never the name of the artist who created it. That bothered me because I was doing all this work, but not getting any recognition." Shifting her focus to painting where she could sign her own work. Jones took courses at Howard University in the summer of 1928, where she would later earn a BA in Art Education in 1945. Jones was unable to find a job teaching art in Boston. So she traveled south to North Carolina, where she founded the art department at Palmer Memorial Institute, a historically Black prep school in Sedalia, North Carolina. She didn't just teach art. She also coached a basketball team, taught folk dancing, and played the piano for church services. In 1930, Jones was recruited by James Vernon Herring to join the art department at Howard University in Washington, DC, where she would be a professor of design and watercolour painting until her retirement in 1977. By the early 1930s, Jones was creating art that reflected African influences. She attended a summer session at Columbia University, where she was introduced to the culture of the Harlem Renaissance. Another artist, Aaron Douglas, was including African centric themes in his work, and Jones started studying objects from Africa, and using them as an influence in her paintings. In 1932, she painted her seminal work, "The Ascent of Ethiopia," which launched her career. In this work, Jones was inspired by Meta Warrick Fuller's sculpture, "The Awakening of Ethiopia." Jones had known Meta Warrick Fuller in her youth on Martha's Vineyard. Jones was encouraged to explore African themes in her work, especially by Alain Locke, a philosophy professor at Howard University and founder of the Harlem Renaissance, who wanted her to paint her heritage. 

In 1937 and 38, Jones took a sabbatical in Paris to study painting at the Academie Julian. While there she painted landscapes and street scenes outdoors in the French tradition, like many African Americans of the time, including Josephine Baker, James Baldwin, and Dizzy Gillespie. Jones found living in Paris to be a relief after the prejudice she experienced in the US, and she ended up spending many summers in Paris. In a Good Morning America interview in 1996, Jones remembered, "They told me, 'Lois, you know, you're talented, but you're not going to make it in this country. You're going to have to go abroad, because the establishment was not interested in the work of Black artists.'"  And she recalled of being in Paris, "that sense of freedom and people not isolating you, because of your color. It was your talent that counted. And so it was with the musicians, the artists, the writers, I mean, so many of them went."  She also recalled a funny story of a garcon mistaking her for Josephine Baker. While in Paris in 1938, Jones produced one of her most well known paintings "Les Fetiches", which depicts African masks. Jones has said she was inspired by her work in high school, with costume designer Grace Ripley, who produced masks. "Les Fetiches" now hangs in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, along with several other paintings by Jones. In 1953, Jones married fellow artist Louis Vergniaud Pierre-Noel of Haiti. They remained married until his death in 1982. Jones was inspired by Haitian culture, and produced oils and watercolors with vibrant colors, and abstract styles. These pieces include "Ode to Kinshasa" and "Ubi Girl from Tai Region." In the 1960s and 70s, Jones finally visited Africa, interviewing contemporary artists in 11 countries. As a professor, Jones taught generations of Black artists, including the sculptor, Martha Jackson Jarvis, and the painter David  Driskell. When asked to reflect on her students later in life, Jones said, " I just hope that what I have done and what my colleagues have done over the years, will inspire them to achieve and to take their place in American art." In 1977, Jones retired from Howard University as Professor Emeritus, but she continued to work as an artist and lecturer exhibiting throughout the world. Lois Mailou Jones died on June 9, 1998, in Washington, DC, at the age of 92. She was buried on Martha's Vineyard in the Oak Bluffs Cemetery. To help us understand more, I'm joined now by writer Jennifer Higgie, author of the new book, "The Mirror and the Palette: Rebellion, Revolution and Resilience: Five Hundred Years of Women's Self Portraits." 

So Hi, Jennifer, thank you so much for joining me.

Jennifer Higgie  8:04  
Oh, thank you so much for having me. Glad to be here.

Kelly Therese Pollock  8:06  
I would love to hear a little bit about this book that you wrote, what inspired you to write about women and self portraits?

Jennifer Higgie  8:15  
Yeah, absolutely. Well, as I'm sure everyone's pretty aware, by now, women were fairly much excluded from traditional art histories, which the the art history that I grew up learning, like in the in the 80s, and 90s, when I went to art school in Australia, and I know that this is pretty much across the board, was an art history that was in a sense, written by white men about other white men. And as we, you know, may have been made aware, there are huge exclusions in that story around women artists, people of color, people of different classes, Indigenous communities; there are so many exclusions. And so my particular interest as a woman has been the exclusions of women in art history. And a few years ago, I started an Instagram project where I just set myself the task of every day of the year, I tried to find a different woman artist who was born in the past and, and, you know, it was it was a way of teaching myself as well. And anyway was really fascinating. And, I mean, I'd read a lot of feminist art history. And, and then it was, it was sort of astonishing that, you know, there were, there were really brilliant women artists in the Renaissance, who had proper big professional careers who are well known and, and making a living as artists. There were women in the 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th centuries, of course, making art and so, you know, I just became really astonished by these exclusions. And one of the things that I came across again and again, was that because so many women were barred from the academy or from the life room, they weren't allowed to work on scaffolds. You know, they didn't have any political agency. So if they had access to paint and a mirror, they often painted themselves. And so there's a great tradition of self portraits by women in art history. And I just personally became really fascinated by many of these stories. 

Kelly Therese Pollock  10:08  
And so well, we'll get to Lois in a minute. But, but for these women artists who are, you know, further back in time, you know, what are since it has been excluded so much, what are the ways that you're able to sort of uncover some of their stories or dig into their stories a little more, you know, what one of the sources you're using, as you're putting this together?

Jennifer Higgie  10:29  
Yeah, I mean, there are a few very brilliant, you know, feminist art historians who have done brilliant, brilliant work, you know, in, in Europe, in India and Australia, in America, you know, so there's, you know, it's not like I'm alone in this. There's brilliant people like Griselda Pollock or Linda Locklin, of course, Janine Burke in Australia, you know, there's a whole host of, you know, brilliant women as art historians in the in the sort of mid to late 20th century especially. And, you know, we're in a great moment in time, actually, when, finally, museum collections are beginning to look at the exclusions of their collections. And so there's been, especially in the last few years a big boom in, in exhibitions around seemingly forgotten women from art history. So there's been, you know, a lot more scholarship around these artists a lot more curating around these artists, you know, for example, last year, just before the pandemic hit, I went to the Prado in Madrid to see the second ever exhibition that they devoted to women artists, and in their 200 year history, and it was on the great Italian Renaissance artists Sofonisba Anguissola and Lavinia Fontana. You know, in the National Gallery here in London, they recently bought brilliant self portrait by their great Baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi. And that did a national tour. I mean, there are there are lots of exhibitions now devoted to women in art history. So, you know, it's exciting. We're learning so much and, and these women are getting a lot more exposure now, which is great. 

Kelly Therese Pollock  12:01  
Yeah, so Lois Mailou Jones, you know, my, my lifetime crosses hers. And yet I had not heard of her, which is, you know, sort of embarrassing and sad. So, so tell me a little bit about why you wanted to include her in your book of women's self portraits.

Jennifer Higgie  12:20  
Yeah. She's amazing Lois Mailou Jones, but I wanted to include really, you know, my book isn't encyclopedic. It's a cross section of 22 women's stories over 500 years. I started in 1548, and go right through to 1980 across 13 different countries. So I didn't want it just to be about women in a European tradition in Europe. I also wanted to look at women in America and Australia and New Zealand and India. And so I was looking at who sort of exemplified some of these really fascinating stories around agency and self portraiture and, and I came across Lois Malou Jones, and I was just blown away by her story and, and she's just a really fascinating artist, an African American artist born in 1905 in Boston. Her mother was a hair dresser and her father was a building superintendent who became actually the first African American lawyer to graduate from Suffolk University. Anyway, she she grew up in this very creative and supportive family and she used to summer on Martha's Vineyard with her grandmother who was a housekeeper for this wealthy family there, and she used to love going on holidays to Martha's Vineyard. And while she was there, she met the renowned African American sculptor, Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller, who also took her holidays there and and she had been living in Paris at the turn of the century. And she was a protege of Auguste Rodin, the great sculptor. And in 1907, she'd become the first African American woman to be commissioned by the federal government to create a public sculpture for the Negro Pavilion at the James Ter-Centennial Exposition. Anyway, so this amazing sculptor, really, she became friends with the young Lois and really encouraged her artistic ambitions because by now Lois had started making sketches and watercolors, and she encouraged her, actually. She she gave her advice that you know, America was incredibly racist at the time. It was very hard not only to be a young Black woman, but a young Black woman artist was you know, she was really facing huge challenges. And so Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller actually encouraged her when she could to go to Paris to study because people of color were much more accepted into art schools and into the art scene there. And and so after that, she was just you know, she was really incredible. She Lois attended the High School of Practical Arts in Boston, and she enrolled in evening classes at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. She had her first exhibition at the age of 17. She got a four year scholarship to the Boston Museum School, and she graduated with honors in 1927. Then she worked for a designer. She enrolled in graduate classes. I mean, she just you know, she had she was really full of energy and she was really extraordinary. And so she was working in both design and in painting. And then she applied for teaching position at actually at the Boston Museum School where she had been a star pupil, but she was turned down and really patronizingly advised by the director to travel south to help her people. And so she was understandably infuriated by this, but she wasn't deterred. And she did go south and she founded the art department at the Palmer Memorial Institute in North Carolina. She organized an exhibition there she was, of course, a, an absolute livewire there and full of energy and incredible. And then she was spotted by a professor, Professor James Herring who in 1930, he was establishing the Fine Arts Department at Howard University. And he was so impressed by Lois he offered her job and she worked at Howard University for the next 47 years and, and she became a real inspiration and great teacher to a new generation of Black artists, including like Elizabeth Catlett, Howardena Pindell, Alma Thomas. And so she was not only a brilliant artist herself, but she became a very inspirational teacher and really opened the doors to a lot of young Black artists in America. So I wanted to bow down to her.

Kelly Therese Pollock  16:29  
As we're thinking about sort of her and being inspired by Meta, and then the inspiration that she would have had later for her students, what does that mean, for an artist to have to have someone who looks like them is like them, you know, as opposed to sort of trying to create and not knowing if anyone like you has ever been able to create like that before, you know, what, and in the whole book that you're writing, as these women are trying to make their way in a field that is, is, you know, non supportive of women, you know, what, what does that mean to have any examples of people like you who have done this work?

Jennifer Higgie  17:06  
Yeah, I mean, I think I'm sure that that was an extraordinary, extraordinarily powerful meeting for, for the young Lois to, to, you know, not only want to be an artist at a time when women are, you know, it's very difficult for women to become artists, but as a young Black woman, to see as a role model an incredibly successful, and brilliant and articulate woman in in Meta Vaux Fuller. And so, you know, it was it was really, it was really fortuitous, I think, that as you say, you know, she at an impressionable age as a young teenager, she was to meet an older Black woman who could be a role model. And, you know, I think that was incredibly important, as you say that she could see herself, you know, and see the possibilities for a career at that time, which was, you know, incredibly inspiring for her.

Kelly Therese Pollock  17:58  
Yeah, yeah. I wonder if we could talk some about the the actual self portrait that Lois created. So she was about 35, I think around when when she did her self portrait. And so what what as, as you were looking at it, as you were thinking about her self portrait, and compared to these other 21 women, you know, what are the things that really stand out for you about the way she represented herself?

Jennifer Higgie  18:25  
Hmm. Well, as you said, she's she's 35, it's 1940. And she's, by now she's teaching at Howard University, and she's returned from Paris. And so she had a really an extraordinary few years in Paris. And what was particularly interesting about her time in Paris, I think, was that she came across, you know, some of the great modern artists of the day, like, you know, Picasso and Matisse and a lot of these other artists, many of whom had been influenced by African sculpture in particular, which was rather insultingly called primitivism, which is a term that we would not use now. And for Lois Mailou Jones, as a young Black woman to see white artists who were using this kind of language or being inspired by many different forms of African sculpture, you know, she found this really interesting, and she wanted to put herself as a Black woman into these frame of references. And so in this wonderful self portrait that she does when she's 35, which is now in the collection of this Smithsonian, she pictures herself painting, you can't see what she's painting, but she's created this rather almost mystical space around her. You don't know if it's a dreamlike space or if it is actually her studio. And, you know, she depicts herself as a powerful young woman painting, you know, she's in the act of painting. You know, she is, she is in the midst of her own creativity, and behind her in the corner are a few small, unidentifiable, African totem objects. And so she places them here in in a way that she hadn't done before. Because before she was working very much in a white European tradition. And in the self portrait, she is acknowledging that she perhaps also has different ancestral voices that she can tap into and that are empowering for this young artist. And so this is her acknowledgement of her, the way in which she's straddling two worlds, both the European tradition of painting and an African tradition as well, which she,s acknowledging with the inclusion of these small figures.

Kelly Therese Pollock  20:32  
So can you talk some about then the, the way her work would have been received was received, as she was coming up sort of just after this period where she's done her self portrait? You know, what, what that looks like, for her and the reception of her work in the US?

Jennifer Higgie  20:49  
Yeah, I think it's really important to remind ourselves how bad things were for, for Black artists in America at this time. I mean, in 1941, not a single living Black artist had gallery representation in New York. And Lois writes about how when she came back from Paris where she'd been, you know, she had had a great time in Paris, and she didn't feel that she was in a world in a racist world nearly so much in in Paris. She comes back to back to America, and, you know, she talks about visiting galleries to see if she couldn't get an exhibition. And basically, doors are slammed in her face, and they say your work is good, but you know, we can't show you because you're Black. So in 1941, in a gesture of defiance, Lois entered her landscape painting, "Indian Shops, Gay Head, Massachusetts," into Washington's Corcoran Gallery's annual art prize, despite the fact that the museum, like so many museums at the time, actually prohibited African American artists from participating in the competitions. And so her best friend, her lifelong best friend was a young artist who she'd met in Paris called Celine Marie Tabary, who was a white artist, and she was staying they were living together at that time. And so they came up with this idea that Celine would deliver Lois' painting to the gallery as a young white woman, you know, she would deliver it. And anyway, she won the prize. And so it was this sort of wonderful subversion of, you know, this terrible racist environment by, you know, Lois won the competition. And, anyway, so, I cut four decades later, in 1994, four years before her death, the Corcoran Gallery actually issued a public apology about this terrible situation. And they staged an exhibition "The World of Lois Mailou Jones," as part of their apology. 

Kelly Therese Pollock  22:47  
Yeah. So you mentioned that she is, you know, starting to be influenced by African art, and then she eventually does go to Africa and and does research there. Could you talk some about the influence that Africa had on her work?

Jennifer Higgie  23:04  
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Yeah. So in 1953, so when she is 48, Lois, married a Haitian graphic artists called Louis Vergniaud Pierre-Noel  and they'd met students at Columbia University much earlier. And then their sort of paths crossed, and they got together and they had a very joyful wedding actually, in in France, where Lois fondly remembers  the massive champagne and the whole village celebrated, even though they were the only people of color in the village. This is what she says. And, you know, it was very different to the experiences she was having in segregated America. Anyway, so they live between the US in Washington where she was teaching and Haiti, and it was the first time she had traveled outside of Europe or America. And she really loved the island, and she taught art, she painted its inhabitants and landscapes. She delved into its spirituality. In 1954, she was commissioned to create a portrait of the president. And anyway, so in 1970, she was awarded a Howard University fellowship to work on a major research project, which was the Black visual arts. And it her aim was to document the contemporary art of the African diaspora. And for the first time she traveled to Africa, so by now she's in her 60s. And even though she's been exploring, you know, she was through various friends and mentors in the Harlem Renaissance. Exactly. She'd been exploring her African identity and the legacy but she hadn't actually traveled it until you know, she's in her 60s. And so she spent the next few years traveling back and forth from the continent and she interviewed literally hundreds of artists in the Congo in Ethiopia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sudan, you know, she really, she did not stop traveling. And it was really important this journey she did because she really documented thoroughly the work that she was seeing and the interviews that she she conducted with a whole range of artists throughout the African continent. And then she actually expanded her research into Dahomey, which is renamed Benin, and Tanzania and Uganda and Zaire. And so she disseminated her findings in exhibitions and lectures. And she took over 1000 photographs, and they entered the Howard University's Archive of Contemporary and Ancestral African Art. So, you know, she was not only working as an artist herself, but she was doing an incredibly important job documenting contemporary African art, you know, throughout the 70s. So, you know, it was an invaluable research project. Yeah. So, yeah, so she was really, she was she, she was such an inspiring person, because she had so much energy, and she did so many things. And you know, she never stopped. And she never, you know, she was, of course, she was frustrated and despairing, often at the kind of obstacles she had to face and the dreadful racism she had to constantly deal with. But, you know, she always rose above and created extraordinary things out of these hardships.

Kelly Therese Pollock  26:20  
Yeah. And, you know, I think what's interesting about her life, because where it spans is that, unlike some of the other women who weren't recognized until more recently, perhaps, she was recognized in her lifetime of it, you know, as toward, like, the very end of her life that the museum started to be like, "Oh right, we should have been showing your work all along." But because she lived so long, and because it was in the 20th century, you know, she she did get to the point where she was able to, to get that recognition in her own lifetime.

Jennifer Higgie  26:50  
Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, that was great, you know, like, in 1990. So she's 85, the Smithsonian American Art Museum bought the painting that she'd created in Paris, this painting, which is probably her most famous painting called "Les Fetiches," where she takes a lot of the motif, say, used by Picasso and other artists who are using or referencing African art, and she creates her own very sort of mystical ancestral painting. And so, you know, this was bought in 1990. And, you know, she was happy. And she said, she famously said, "I'm very pleased, but it's long overdue. When I think of what I struggled through the prizes, I've won the recognition elsewhere. I can't help but feel this is an honor that is 45 years too late." So she, she was honored definitely in her lifetime. But, you know, it did take a long time. But wonderfully, actually, rather wonderfully in 1984, Lois Jones Day was proclaimed in Washington, DC to sort of honor her on the 29th of July, which is really, really fantastic. And, you know, she had, she experienced momentous changes that underwent, you know, American underwent, and many of them were obviously very positive, but she was still very clear that there was a long way to go, you know, in terms of America dealing with its racist legacy. So, yeah,

Kelly Therese Pollock  28:12  
Yeah, it was so interesting to sorry, we're bouncing around a little bit in time here, but that she also did a painting and I'm not gonna remember the name, but a man who is about to be lynched, and that it just strikes me so powerful that she, you know, having been born not that long after slavery had finally been outlawed, you know, that she grows up during these momentous changes in the 20th century. But but she's also reflecting very powerfully, not just on sort of the the strength and power of African Americans and Africans, but on the on the racist history itself of the US.

Jennifer Higgie  28:52  
Yeah, absolutely. And, and a lot of this was the result actually, of a very important person who she met, who was Alain Leroy Locke, who was the first American Rhodes Scholar and he was a radical writer and educator and an artist back and art expert, and he was a leading cultural critic, and professor of philosophy at Howard for more than 40 years. And, and, and he and Lois became very close and, and he was sort of relentless, in his exhortations to African Americans to explore and represent their legacy and their experiences in their art and literature. And even though by the time they met, Lois had painted her self portrait acknowledging the ancestral figures and had painted "Les Fiteches", her work wasn't overtly political, and it was quite likely as a result of meeting Locke that in 1944, she, she painted this, you know, extremely tragic image of man about to be lynched, and it's a very powerful painting in which she depicts this Black man with his hands tied. And but it's very Christ like it's not voyeuristic, it doesn't show an act of violence. It shows more him as this almost like a holy figure. And so it's an extremely moving and a very disturbing painting. But so and it was really from now on that Lois focused most of our work in a more political politically, sort of overt way around race and culture in the US and elsewhere. 

Kelly Therese Pollock  30:37  
Yeah. I'm sure that yeah, in addition to Locke just teaching at Howard, and being around the other academics at Howard probably influenced that as well. So if our listeners are interested in reading your book and learning about all of these incredible women and their self portraits, how can they do that?

Jennifer Higgie  30:57  
Well, it's available now in the United States. It's published by Pegasus and it's available wherever you get your books. There's also an audio version with me reading it if you if you prefer to listen to your books. So yeah, I spent three days reading reading the book out loud.

Kelly Therese Pollock  31:16  
I love it. I love when authors read their own books. 

Jennifer Higgie  31:19  
Oh great. Yeah, actually, it was quite funny reading it out. I was like, "Oh, my God, that's a mistake." So I managed to correct some things. It's a very good exercise to read it out loud, to sort of remind myself what I'd written.

Kelly Therese Pollock  31:30  
Yeah. Excellent. And I will also in the show notes, put some links to some of the paintings that we've talked about so people can look at those online. I think they're, they're so powerful, and it's so important to see them as well.

Jennifer Higgie  31:42  
Great, fantastic. 

Kelly Therese Pollock  31:45  
Well, Jennifer, thank you so much for for joining me, for talking with me about Lois Mailou Jones. This is just she's an incredible person, an incredible life and I'm so glad to have learned more about her and about the other women that you write about as well.

Jennifer Higgie  32:01  
Oh, thank you so much, Kelly, for inviting me onto your show. I've really enjoyed talking with you.

Teddy  32:06  
Thanks for listening to Unsung History. You can find the sources used for this episode at UnsungHistoryPodcast.com. To the best of our knowledge, all audio and images used by Unsung History are in the public domain or are used with permission. You can find us on Twitter, or Instagram @Unsung__History, or on Facebook at Unsung History Podcast. To contact us with questions or episode suggestions, please email Kelly@UnsungHistoryPodcast.com. If you enjoyed this podcast, please rate and review and tell your friends.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

Jennifer Higgie Profile Photo

Jennifer Higgie

Jennifer Higgie is an Australian writer who lives in London. Her new book The Mirror and the Palette: 500 Years of Women’s Self-Portraits is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, and Pegasus Books in the United States. She is currently working on a new book about women, art and the spirit world; her BBC Radio 3 five-part essay on the subject will be broadcast in January. She is also working on various essays and scripts.

Jennifer was frieze magazine reviews editor from 1998-2003; co-editor with Jörg Heiser and then Dan Fox until 2017; frieze Editorial Director from 2017-19 and editor-at-large until 2021. She is the presenter of Bow Down, a podcast about women in art history; the author and illustrator of the children’s book There’s Not One; the editor of The Artist’s Joke; author of the novel Bedlam; and the writer of the feature film I Really Hate My Job.

In 2015, Jennifer curated the Hayward Touring and Arts Council Collection exhibition ‘One Day, Something Happens: Pictures of People’, which travelled from 2015-17 to Leeds Art Gallery; Nottingham Castle; Highlanes Gallery, Drogheda; The Atkinson, Southport; and Towner Gallery, Eastbourne. She has been a judge of the John Moore’s Painting Prize, the Paul Hamlyn Award, the Turner Prize and the 2021 Freelands Painting Prize and a member of the advisory boards of Arts Council England, the British Council Venice Biennale Commission and the Contemporary Art Society. She is currently on the Imperial War Museum Art Commissions Committee.

Jennifer has a BA Fine Art (Painting) from the Canberra School of Art, and a MA (Fine Art, Painting) from Victoria College of the Arts, Melbourne; her paintings are in various public and private collections in Australia. She travelled to London on a Murdoch Fellowship in 1995 and stayed.