Professor Helen Gilbert

Research interests

Educated in Australia and Canada, my primary academic interest lies in the theatre and performance of marginalised cultures. Over the last three decades, my research has spanned artistic works and practices drawn from diverse parts of the world, with special emphasis on contemporary theatre in Australasia, Canada and Aotearoa New Zealand. Thematically, I concentrate on issues relating to race and representation, indigeneity, cultural identity, nationalism, democracy, diplomacy and the politics and aesthetics of cross-cultural engagement. Theoretically, my work attempts to extend postcolonial analytical models to better account for performative praxis. My current passion is the study of arts-based activism in the age of the Anthropocene, particularly in relation to climate change.


From 2009–14, I led a transnational European Research Council-funded project on indigenous performance across the Americas, the Pacific, Australia and South Africa. A major performance-based exhibition, EcoCentrix: Indigenous Arts, Sustainable Acts (2013), emerged from this interdisciplinary work, along with several edited volumes, including Recasting Commodity and Spectacle in the Indigenous Americas (2014) and In the Balance: Indigeneity, Performance, Globalization(2017). The exhibition brought images, objects, sounds, performances and live art installations by over 40 international artists to London and was shortlisted for a UK national engagement award. A monograph synthesising the project’s pioneering insights is in progress; it focuses on transnational aspects of indigenous performance, paying special attention to environmental justice, belonging, commodity culture, heritage and reconciliation. 


My earlier books include Post-colonial Drama: Theory, Practice, Politics (co-authored with Joanne Tompkins, 1996) and two award-winning monographs: Performance and Cosmopolitics: Cross Cultural Transactions in Australasia (co-authored with Jacqueline Lo, 2007), and Sightlines: Race, Gender and Nation in Contemporary Australian Theatre(1998). I have also published in animal studies, among other eclectic topics. With Helen Tiffin and Robert Cribb, I wrote Wild Man from Borneo: A Cultural History of the Orangutan (2014), which studies the species boundary between humans and orangutans as imagined by scientists, philosophers, artists and the public at large over the past three centuries. In 2015, I was awarded a Humboldt Prize for career achievements in international and interdisciplinary arts research.  


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