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    Panel Discussion | Urszula Szulakowska and the Brisbane Art Scene in the 1980s

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    Event description

    Last year, art historian Urszula Szulakowska passed away. In the 1980s, she was a big player in the Meanjin/Brisbane art scene—a key teacher, critic, and curator. Join friends Michele Helmrich, Jeanelle Hurst, Luke Roberts, and Nancy Underhill as they discuss her monumental impact on the scene.

    Born in England in 1950 to Polish-refugee parents, Szulakowska spent her early years in Husbands Bosworth Polish Resettlement Camp in Northamptonshire. In 1977, after completing her master's in art history at Oxford, she headed to Australia, to work as a tutor at the Power Institute, at the University of Sydney. In 1982, she jumped ship to teach art history at the University of Queensland.

    Back then, Brisbane was a different place, still under the thumb of police-state premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen. It was culturally isolated, with little of the arts infrastructure we now take for granted. The IMA was well established but was criticised for turning its back on local artists. Queensland Art Gallery only just opened its dedicated Robin Gibson building and the APT was over a decade away.

    Along with two other key British-born, Brisbane-based academics—Graham Coulter-Smith and Nicholas Zurbrugg— Szulakowska was a catalyst. She became immersed in the scene, frequenting the IMA; grass-roots artist-run initiatives John Mills National, That Space, and One Flat; and dealer galleries Michael Milburn, Roz Macallan, and later Bellas. 

    She was a founding member of the Eyeline editorial committee and a regular contributor— indeed, the magazine was named after her own use of eyeliner. At the University, her students included Paul Andrew, Barbara Campbell, Sarah Follent, Michele Helmrich, Peter MacNeill, Louise Martin-Chew, Michael Milburn, David Pestorius, Ted Riggs, and Lynne Seear.

    Szulakowska was critical of the idea that Brisbane should be measured by the standards of Sydney and Melbourne. She championed Luke Roberts in Art and Text. With Hiram To, she curated Belles Lettres for John Mills National in 1987, and she curated (I)magical Poetics at the IMA in 1988. But, by the end of the decade, Szulakowska was homesick. In 1990 she returned to England, taking an art-history position at Leeds University. Coulter-Smith and Zurbrugg would also return to England. In 1998, Szulakowska published Experimental Art in Queensland 1975–1995: An Introductory Study—her effort to map the emerging Queensland art scene.



    We are committed to making the IMA accessible to people of all abilities, their families, and carers, as well as visitors of different ages and different backgrounds.

    The gallery entrance is on the ground floor of the Judith Wright Arts Centre, on Berwick Street. There is wheelchair access and an accessible toilet with baby changing facilities also located on the ground floor, and we welcome guide and support dogs.

    If you plan to attend this event and have specific support needs we can accommodate, please contact, call (07) 3252 5750, or ask our friendly staff on-site. Read our access information for visitors here.

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