4 February 2020

Blank image

Alice Strang (1992) is an Emmanuel Woman through & through, and has made her name as a Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art celebrating the achievements of women artists. Here she discusses her journey from undergraduate to National Gallery, which culminates in appearing in a work of art to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the admittance of women undergraduates to Emma, by—you’ve guessed it —a woman artist.

A collage of a medieval court, with overlays of drawings & photos of alumnae of the collegeMy father & maternal uncle studied at Emmanuel in the 1960s, my parents were married in the college chapel in 1966 and I arrived there in 1992, two years after my sister, Faith Archer (1990). I had spent a Gap Year as an au pair in Florence, and thought I would scream if I saw another Madonna and Child painting! Thus began my love of modern art. I read History with Italian Part I, followed by a blissful History of Art Part II. This involved reading lists consisting entirely of books I would have chosen to read for pleasure. There were no modern, let alone contemporary, art papers available, so I got my fix by volunteering at the magical Kettle’s Yard.

After completing my degree, I joined Christie’s Graduating Training Scheme. Stints on the Front Counter,and in the British Paintings & Jewellery Departments, led to becoming a Junior Specialist in Modern & Impressionist Art. Promotion, and time in the Twentieth–Century & Contemporary Art departments, secured me the position of Junior Curator at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. I left King’s Cross with my duvet & pillow in a bag in one hand, and an Edinburgh A-Z in the other, planning to give it two years before trying to get to Tate.

Twenty years later, now complete with a Glaswegian husband & two sons with Scottish accents, I am a Senior Curator at the National Galleries of Scotland. I’ve curated exhibitions of women artists from Winifred Nicholson (1893-1981) to co–curating the current Paula Rego: Obedience and Defiance show, which ran at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art II in early 2020. Much as a parent shouldn’t have a favourite child, nor should a curator have a favourite show, I can’t help having a soft spot for the Modern Scottish Women: Painters and Sculptors 1885-1965 exhibition & book. This revealed a new chapter in Scottish art history, and for which I was made a Saltire Society Outstanding Woman of Scotland.

When women graduates of Emmanuel were asked recently to send in photos of their time at College, I nostalgically went through my albums & sent in a few. It was a delightful surprise to find (the least flattering!) one featured lower left in Women & New Court 2019 [above] by Matilda Schwefel (2017), which was created to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Emma’s admittance of women undergraduates. Hat on head & hands on hips, I was mucking about in the Porters’ Lodge! Little did I know that the resultant photo would end up summing up, not only my time at University, but also my professional life thereafter.

Back to All Blog Posts