Monday, 12 March 2012

Alice McEwan presenting research on George Bernard Shaw's clothes

Alice McEwan, TVAD Research Group member and a AHRC PhD Student in the School of Creative Arts is giving a paper ‘Pay attention to my clothes’: curating Bernard Shaw through dress at Shaw’s Corner' at the CHORD Workshop  ‘Dress, Textiles and Heritage’ on June 13, 2012 at the University of Wolverhampton.

For playwright and critic George Bernard Shaw, dress was an important facet of his identity: a crucial marker of his political and personal vision, and a way of making himself instantly recognisable. Conscious of the semiotics of dress and how meaning is constituted in clothing, Shaw deliberately used clothes in his programme of self-representation and self-curation as a way of manipulating and controlling his public image. Likewise cultural perceptions of the famous playwright were often directed through his manner of dressing or through sartorial metaphors. Artists such as those with socialist and utopian visions in the Czech avant-garde represented Shaw’s particular style of dress through new graphic media to epitomize the modern, urban man. His clothed body photographed in the distinctive suits became a symbol of model citizenship and civic competence; but equally it became a potent visual marker for ‘brand GBS’, conferring status and identity. Cartoonists such as Max Beerbohm, aware of the emphasis placed on dress by Shaw, deliberately satirised his philosophical associations through clothing: ‘Coat, Mr. Schopenhauer’s; waistcoat, Mr. Ibsen’s; Mr. Nietzsche’s trousers’.

Today Shaw’s Corner, the country home of Shaw now managed by the National Trust, functions as a museum dedicated to representing his life and work. Many items of clothing survive in the collection. Clearly these have the potential to express a richly textured and layered narrative in the semiotic sense: but what about the physical, material embodiment? How does the dress of this famous historical personality create meaning in ways that might be described as aesthetic, haptic or financial? What happens when the actual items of clothing are displayed alongside the many and varied cultural representations, and what kinds of possibilities are offered up by these inter-connections? This paper seeks to examine the challenges posed for the curatorial staff in the present, and looks at the ways of conveying the modernity, energy and vitality embodied by Shaw’s dress in his own lifetime, to a modern audience

More information about the event including the programme, location and booking details is available at: