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Inspired by medical écorchés, for the exhibition in the Small Collections Room Traci Kelly has removed the usual protective layers from all the drawers to reveal the inner structures and contents. The open access thoughtfully undermines the interdiction of touch attached to museum collections and invites tactility. Each cabinet is approached thematically and as a collective body of work. Historical female characters inhabit the work through arresting imagery and parallel narratives.

Loïe Fuller (b. 1862, USA) and Contessa di Castiglione (b. 1837, Italy)—P
lain veneered cabinet
Fuller was a pioneer and innovator of modern dance and theatrical lighting techniques. She owned several patents for chemical compounds for colour gels and luminescent salts for lighting and costumes. Fuller was respected by leading French artists and scientists, including Marie Curie, and was a member of the French Astronomical Society.

An aristocrat, a lover of Napoleon III and an unofficial political ambassador, Castiglione’s history is entwined with that of early photography. She gained notoriety with risqué poses of bare-skin legs and feet for the camera’s eye. In these portraits, which reveal her narcissistic drive and communicate Freudian readings of the fetish, her head is always off frame, announcing the partial subject.

Elizabeth Coleman (b. 1892, USA)—Cabinet inlaid with bird imagery
One of thirteen children, Bessie Coleman was determined to be a pilot. When the USA refused to train African-Americans, she accepted private sponsorship to undergo training in France. She returned to the USA as the first African-American female to hold a pilot license and to hold an international pilot license. Feted for her skill and daring, she became a respected aviator and public speaker. At the age of 34 Coleman was thrown from her faulty plane at 2000 feet and was killed instantly upon impact. Her mourning services in Chicago were led by the activist Ida B Wells.

Kari Nielsdatter (b. 1846, Norway)—Japonica cabinet and cabinet with bone inlay hunting scenes, interpreted as the ‘exotic other’ and the ‘animal other’
Nielsdatter suffered from tuberculoid leprosy, and was consequently housed in a designated hospital for most of her life. Gerhard Henrik Armauer Hansen, the doctor who had identified the bacterium for leprosy, attempted to further infect Nielsdatter without her consent, as he carried out research on the disease. Against all the odds, due to Nielsdatter’s social status, the case was taken to court. The successful outcome against the respected scientist helped lay the ground for modern medical ethics.


 Solo show, Nottingham contemporary, Nottingham, UK, 2015
Material Installation, drawing, photography and collage
Photo credit David Severn
Curated by Abi Spinks