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 two 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. In this endeavour, I’ve drawn from an eclectic range of scholars including Edward Said, Judith Butler, Michel Foucault, Helen Tiffin, Homi Bhabha, Joseph Roach, Diana Taylor and Tim Ingold.

I am currently completing the final stages of a large, multi-national project titled ‘Indigeneity in the Contemporary World’. Funded by the European Research Council from 2009–14, this work has taken an interdisciplinary approach to indigenous performance across the Americas, the Pacific, Australia and South Africa. In 2013, I curated a performance-based exhibition, EcoCentrix: Indigenous Arts, Sustainable Acts, as one of the project’s major outputs. It brought images, objects, sounds, performances and live art installations by over 40 international artists to London and was shortlisted for a UK engagement award as well as being adapted for a digital platform. Other outputs from this research include videos of varying lengths and two edited books, Recasting Commodity and Spectacle in the Indigenous Americas (2014) and In the Balance: Indigeneity, Performance, Globalization (forthcoming). My own monograph focuses on transnational aspects of indigenous performance, paying special attention to environmental justice, belonging, commodity culture, heritage and reconciliation.

An enduring passion for interdisciplinary research has also led me to dabble in animal studies, among other eclectic topics. With Helen Tiffin and Robert Cribb, I recently 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. My earlier publications 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). From 2006 to 2008, I ran a transnational AHRC-funded network on performance and asylum, and continue to research in the related field of performative engagements with terrorism.

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