Sigrid Holmwood

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Sigrid Holmwood's MPhil/PhD Art research project

The Peasant Paints: expanding painting through planting and pigment-making

My research proposes to expand painting by addressing its materiality and circulation through the relationship between painting and the figure of the peasant.The figure of the peasant is important as she-who-must-be-excluded in order to construct modernity. This exclusion is both real and symbolic. In representing the peasant, the bourgeois subject constructs the self through what she is not, either denigrating the ‘backward’ peasants or romanticising the ‘old way of life’. Either way, in Western European thinking, the peasant is pushed into a distant past despite the millions of peasants currently in conflict with modernising projects around the world. Recently, the term ‘peasant’ has been reclaimed by campaigners, such as La Via Campesina, as a form of decolonial thinking (Mignolo) and activism (Morena), linking peasants and indigenous peoples. (Blaser). It is this expanded, political use of the word peasant that I enlist in order to expose the persistence of notions of progress in Western thinking and art, despite the apparent end of grand narratives.

In order to genuinely answer recent calls to expand painting into its networks,(Joselit) I argue that one must think painting decolonially (Mignolo). The Western European bourgeois tradition will be found to be just one provincial occurrence among many. For the purposes of my research, I use a definition of painting based on its materiality - the processing and application of pigments. The practice-based element of the research is based on the construction of a pigment garden in Andalusia, which follows colonial relationships with Mexico. I thereby incorporate the performance of planting and pigment-making into the act of painting. By expanding painting through its materiality, and treating plants and pigments as persons, the possibility of reconfiguring ontological relations is opened up. In my research, I will theorise this confrontation between modernity/coloniality and decolonial alternatives by drawing on Amerindian ontology, Viveiros de Castro’s Cannibal Metaphysics, 18th and 19th-century Swedish peasants that painted, and re-enactment as method. I will thereby propose a conception of peasant painting in which, rather than being a passive figure serving to construct the bourgeois modern subject, the peasant becomes a point-of-view: the peasant paints.


  • John Chilver
  • Ros Gray