Posted on 20/10/2008
Professor Helen Gilbert has been awarded a substantial grant by the European Research Council’s (ERC) prestigious Advanced Investigator Grant scheme. The grant will support her innovative, transnational and interdisciplinary project entitled ‘Indigeneity in the Contemporary World: Performance, Politics, and Belonging’.
The ERC Advanced Investigator Grant is a £460million scheme, with each grant award worth up to €2.5million over five years. The programme targets scholars who have already established themselves as independent research leaders, and encourages risk-taking and interdisciplinarity as well as supporting pioneering frontier research projects. The reviewers of Professor Gilbert’s proposal were particularly impressed with the far-reaching, ambitious nature of the research project, its rigorous design, and its highly original focus. As one of only a very few Arts and Humanities researchers to be awarded this grant, Professor Gilbert hopes her success will encourage others in this field to apply for ERC funding, which is very competitive. This year alone, there were a total of 2,167 proposals competing for the grant awards.
Professor Gilbert’s project explores how indigeneity is expressed and understood in our complex, globalising world, asking what indigeneity has come to mean in particular places and at key moments, and what kind of cultural, political, ethical and aesthetic issues are negotiated within its canvases. To address these issues, the project will examine performance as a vital mode of cultural representation and a dynamic social practice. Performance is interpreted broadly to include not only the performing arts – theatre, film and dance – but also mixed-media work, site-based heritage projects, applied theatre in health education, Olympic pageantry, festival enactments, political protest and cultural displays within tourism ventures.
‘I am especially interested in how evolving concepts of indigeneity may contribute to broader understandings of heritage, belonging, social cohesion and mobility in multicultural societies and how cultural values, knowledges and practices are transmitted, through performance, across place and time,’ explains Professor Gilbert. The project will be thoroughly interdisciplinary, while the fieldwork focuses on regions settled during the era of European expansionism, notably Australia, the Pacific Islands, the Americas and South Africa.
Professor Gilbert, who moved from Australia to take up her current post at Royal Holloway in 2005, is recognised as a world leader in postcolonial theatre and performance studies. Her research has primarily focused on issues relating to race relations, cultural identity, nationalism, and the politics and aesthetics of cross-cultural engagement in both Western and non-Western contexts. This research has spanned texts and performances drawn from diverse cultures in the English-speaking world, with special emphasis on Australasia, Canada and the Caribbean. She has recently co-authored an award-winning book, ‘Performance and Cosmopolitics’, with Jacqueline Lo, and is currently working with Australian colleagues to complete a cultural history of the Orangutan in scientific literature, fiction, and performance.
Commenting on her grant award, Professor Gilbert says, ‘It is very exciting to have the resources to conduct transnational research of this scope and complexity. I’m looking forward to the challenge and well aware of the responsibilities that come with such a substantial amount of public money’.