Dr Ella S. Mills
School of Humanities and Performing Arts (Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Business)
PhD 2016: History of Art, University of Leeds
Dialectics of Belonging and Strategies of Space: Cultural Memory, B/black Women's Creativity, and the Folds of British Art History 1985-2011
MA 2009: History of Art, University of Leeds
BA Hons: 2008 Fine Art & History of Art, University of Plymouth
BA Hons: 2001 English Literature, University of East Anglia
Fellowships, Awards and Funding
Paul Mellon Centre Publication Grant: Images for Black Women Artists: Voices of Resistance, Strategies of Creation, Ella S. Mills, Bloomsbury Academic, 2020, £2200
Plymouth Culture Investment Fund, for Spaces to Speak project, 2020: £7,980,
a-n and Freelands Foundation Fund for Ingrid Pollard commission, 2020: £2500
Arts Council England, Ingrid Pollard: Research Commission in Devon, 2020: £29,500.
Paul Mellon Centre Post-Doctoral Research Fellowship, Black Women Artists: Voices of Resistance, Strategies of Creation, Ella S. Mills, Bloomsbury Academic, 2019: £10,000.
Tate British Art Network: Black British Art
Association for Latin American Art
College Art Association
Roles on external bodies
Decolonizing Network, University of Plymouth
Kaleider Resident, Exeter
Honorary Research Fellow, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter
- MODULE LEADER for Modernism modules:
'Decolonizing Modernism: Art 1890 – 1940’
‘Art After 1950: Abstract Expressionism to a Black Arts Movement'
Stage 2 and 3 Students
Fine Art and Art History Students
- DISSERTATION SUPERVISOR for Stage 3 students:
ARHI605 Dissertation I - Theories and Methods
ARHI608 Dissertation II - Dissertation Project
Staff serving as external examiners
- PHD EXPERT COMMENTATOR for upgrade approval, February 2021.
I am an art historian whose expertise lies in the intersections of feminism and art, histories of the black diaspora in visual culture, and the politics and representation of the black subject, from 1700 up to present day. My art historical practice is thus interdisciplinary, underpinned by international post-colonial, black and queer feminisms, cultural studies, sociology and museology. I also bring expertise in oral history and grounded theory interviewing and textual analysis with substantial experience in artist interviewing. I bring a core of care as a teacher, and a responsibility to unfold the backstories and in-betweens, paying particular attention to undocumented encounters between artists and arts institutions. I also bring expertise in oral history and grounded theory interviewing and narrative analysis with substantial experience in artist interviewing.
I am currently writing my monograph (Bloomsbury, 2022) on fine art practices relating specifically to Black artist-women in Britain. The book is based on a series of analyzed one-on-one interviews I undertook with key figures in the British Black Arts Movement of the 1980s, who are still actively creative in British Art: Sutapa Biswas (b.1962), Sonia Boyce (RA, b. 1962), Lubaina Himid (RA, CBE, 1954), Claudette Johnson (b. 1959) and Ingrid Pollard (b. 1953). It is a theoretical intervention into the field of art history offering new concepts for the study of gender and race in contemporary art. Led by Himid’s practices of ‘conversation’ and Hazel Carb's White Woman Listen! (1982) I introduce to art historical methodology an aspect of post-interview transcript analysis from the well-established, influential Constructivist Grounded Theory Methods (Bryant, Charmaz).
Black Artists & Modernism Project (BAM), 2017-2018, Postdoctoral Research Fellow:
The Black Artists & Modernism project (BAM 2015-2018) was a three-year research project led by Prof. Sonia Boyce as a collaboration between the University of the Arts London and Middlesex University. BAM addressed the understated connections and areas of contention between Black British artists’ practice and the work of art’s relationship to modernism through close readings of works of art, artist dossiers, interviews, study days, public symposia and a database of artworks in public collections across the UK. Having produced several high-profile events and impact activities the project culminated in the BBC 4 60-minute documentary, ‘Whoever Heard of a Black Artist: Britain’s Hidden Art History’ (2018), and ‘Speech Acts: Reflection-Imagination-Repetition’, an exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery (25 May 2018 – 22 April 2019). My role with BAM was twofold, the first comprising in-depth research and analysis of the Victoria & Albert museum’s collections, exhibiting histories, strategies and policies in relation to Black British artists. The second strand involved leading a series of artist interviews with Black British artists with a focus on artworks in public collections. This involved forming relationships with artists, detailed research of their careers and specific works, identifying interview frameworks and designing questions, editing transcripts, and following all ethics protocols.
INVITED SPEAKER (selected):
- In Conversation with Ingrid Pollard, Devon and Exeter Institution, video, Exeter, November 2020, online.
- ‘Claudette Johnson’, Creative Conversations: Black Women Artist Making and Doing, University of Central Lancashire, Preston, January 2020.
- Ella S. Mills with Lubaina Himid, Artist Residency Programme Studio Talks, Porthmeor Studios, St. Ives, May 2019.
- ‘A Methodology of Listening: Grounded Theory and the Artist Interview’, Visual and Material Research Culture Group Lecture Series, Northumbria University, March 2019.
- ‘Human Ingenuity: Narratives of Creativity at the V&A’, Black Artists & Modernism Study Day, Manchester Art Gallery, May 2018.
- Ella S. Mills in Conversation with Lubaina Himid, A Feminist Space at Leeds: Looking Back to Think Forward on the occasion of Griselda Pollock’s 40 year teaching anniversary, University of Leeds, December, 2017.
- ‘Lubaina Himid: Invisible Strategies’, Creative Gathering: She Who Writes Her Story Rewrites History, Modern Art Oxford, February 2017.
- ‘Moments and Connections: Cultural Memory, B/Black Women's Creativity and the Folds of British Art History 1985-2011’, Framing the Critical Decade: After the Black Arts Movement, University of Bristol, March 2016.
- ‘Maud Sulter: History and Memory’, Lost Children: The Black Atlantic and Northern Britain, Institute for Black Atlantic Research, University of Central Lancashire, May 2015.
- ‘Lubaina Himid in conversation with Dr. Pamela Crawford and Ella S. Mills, Museum/Gallery Collections: Hidden Histories & Manipulated Memories, Gallery II, University of Bradford, October 2013.
- ‘Lubaina Himid, Ingrid Pollard and Ella S. Mills: Talking on Corners, Speaking in Tongues’, Old Mistresses Revisited, The National Gallery, June 2013.
- ‘Maud Sulter: Zabat: Poetics of a Family Tree’: Reframing the Moment: Legacies of the 1982 Blk Art Group Conference, University of Wolverhampton, October 2012
- ‘Maud Sulter: As a Blackwoman’, Thin Black L|ne(s) Symposium, Conway Hall, organised by Lubaina Himid, in connection with Tate Britain, February 2012.
Chair, ‘Creative Cartographies and Inherited Aesthetics: Craft, Tradition, and Labour in Contemporary Fine Art Practices.’ College Art Association (virtual), February 2021.
Co-Convenor for panel, ‘Creative Cartographies and Inherited Aesthetics: Craft, Tradition, and Labour in Contemporary Fine Art Practices.’ Association for Art History Annual Conference (Newcastle, UK), April 2020. * conference cancelled due to COVID-19.
‘The Other Story: La Meprise’, Black Artists and Modernism: The Work Between Us, Bluecoat Gallery, Liverpool, asked to present a paper on behalf of Dr Sophie Orlando, January 2016.
‘A Methodology of Listening: Grounded theory and the artist interview - Thinking new approaches to writing Black British art histories’, Association of Art Historians, Black British Art Histories panel, University of Edinburgh, April 2016.
Working towards transnational feminisms in contemporary “global feminist” exhibitions: Self-reflexivity and curatorial integrity’, Re-imagining Gender and Politics: Transnational Feminist Interventions, Research Centre for Post-Colonial Studies, Goethe University, Frankfurt, November 2010.
Black Women Artists: Voices of Resistance, Strategies of Creation Ella S. Mills, Bloomsbury Academic, due for manuscript submission Dec 2021.
Funded by a £10,000 Paul Mellon Centre Post-Doctoral Research Grant, and a £2200 Publications Grant for images.
The book is based on a series of analyzed one-on-one interviews I undertook with key figures in the British Black Arts Movement of the 1980s, who are still actively creative in British Art: Sutapa Biswas (b.1962), Sonia Boyce (RA, b. 1962), Lubaina Himid (RA, CBE, 1954), Claudette Johnson (1959) and Ingrid Pollard (1953). With this book I am combining the rapidly developing international interest in Black British artists, with the expansion of artist interviewing methods now being established in the field of art history. Led by Himid’s practices of ‘conversation’ and Hazel Carb's White Woman Listen! (1982) I introduce to art historical methodology an aspect of post-interview transcript analysis from the well-established, influential Constructivist Grounded Theory Methods (Bryant, Charmaz).
‘Navigation Charts: An Artist Conversation with Lubaina Himid', Ella S. Mills, Framing the Critical Decade: After the Black Arts Movement, edited by Prof. Dorothy Price and Elizabeth Robles, Bloomsbury Academic, 2022, manuscript accepted.
‘Artworks in Public Collections: Artist Interviews with Rana Begum, Lubna Chowdhary, Lubaina Himid, Permindar Kaur, Althea McNish, Hetain Patel, Ingrid Pollard, Alia Syed, Ella S. Mills, The Fissures of Modernism: Collections, Cultures and Black-British Artists edited by Prof. Sonia Boyce, David Dibosa and susan pui san lok, Duke University Press, 2022, manuscripts accepted.
‘Human Ingenuity: Narratives of Creativity at the V&A’, Ella S. Mills, The Fissures of Modernism, eds. Boyce, Dibosa, pui san lok, Duke University Press, 2022, manuscript submitted.
‘Fragments of Modernism: Lubaina Himid’s Naming the Money’, Ella S. Mills, Diaspora Artists and British Art History: Intervention–integration–expansion, edited by Alice Correira, Anjalie Dalal-Clayton and Elizabeth Robles, Routledge, 2022, in progress.
‘Remembering the Unknown | Knowings you Remember’, Ella S Mills, Invisible Narratives: Lubaina Himid, Rebecca Chesney and Magda Stawarska-Beavan, exhibition catalogue, Newlyn Art Gallery, 2021.
'Doing the Discourse: Spaces of Black Feminist Subjectivity in British Art History', Ella S. Mills, Claudette Johnson: I Came to Dance, ed. Emma Ridgway, Oxford: Modern Art Oxford, 2019.
‘It’s not an action it’s an object’, Ella S. Mills, Lubaina Himid’s Memorial to Zong, edited by Alan Rice, University of Central Lancashire, Institute for Black Atlantic Research, and Lancaster Maritime Museum, 2019.
‘Ingrid Pollard: Consider the Dark and the Light’, Ella S. Mills, 2015.
‘Lubaina Himid: Navigation Charts’, Ella S. Mills, Journal of Contemporary Painting, 5.1, pp. 25, 2019
‘Navigating Non-Linear Art Histories: Sophie Orlando's Case Studies of British Black Art’, Ella S Mills, Image Re-Vues, (6), July 2018 (online) ISSN: 1778-3801
‘Women Doing Nothing: Redressing the Imbalance of Women in Galleries and Museums’, Ella S. Mills, Into a Better Shape, May 2018, online
‘Lubaina Himid: Naming the Un-Named’, Ella S. Mills, History Today, v.67 (12), November 2017.