Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures

School of Performance and Cultural Industries


Dr Jacki Willson

Academic Fellow in Performance and Culture

Performance and Cultural Industries, Room 1.01

Jacki Willson has a Fine Art BA, a Cinema Studies MA and a PhD from Loughborough University entitled, 'The Explicit Performing Female Body and the Knowing Smile'

Her research includes the themes of gender, sexuality, woman as spectacle, dressing up, humour, spectatorship, cultural activism, and reflecting on the intersections between the categories of the artiste, artist, and the activist.


Jacki Willson’s research is situated between the disciplines of Fine Art, Fashion and Performance. She began her research journey in Fine Art practice and created Arts Council Funded activist performance work in Nottingham after graduating in 2001. Her projects – In Exile (2003) and Content in Suburbia (2008) – dealt with questions of motherhood and home by documenting activist intervention pieces that she performed in her local area. Her MA in Cinema Studies moved her into Fashion Studies as a useful and exciting way of thinking through questions of the ‘gaze’ and objectification.  From 2012 to 2016 she taught Cultural Studies to Fashion, Textiles and Jewellery students at Central Saint Martins. Ideas relating to fashion have helped to re-vitalize different ways of approaching feminism and the female body. Jacki Willson’s two monographs, The Happy Stripper: Pleasures and Politics of New Burlesque (2008) and Being Gorgeous: Feminism, Sexuality and the Pleasures of the Visual (2015) came out of her PhD research. This was triggered by a performance by Ursula Martinez called ‘Show Off’ whereby Martinez performed a striptease. The PhD thesis explored this performance by looking at the intersections between the historical trajectories of women’s performance art, the burlesque artiste and feminist activism. She is currently in the process of writing two publications – Dressed for Love: Performing the Politics & Aesthetics of Motherhood and Care/Self Care and another on Bawdiness and Feminine Style.

Research Interests

  • feminism
  • burlesque
  • gender
  • sexuality
  • woman as spectacle
  • dressing up
  • humour
  • spectatorship
  • cultural activism

Research Projects & Grants

  • Sept 2016: British Academy Leverhulme Trust Grant proposal submission, ‘Cultural Activism, Performativity and the Artiste: A Dialogue with the Bawdy and the Brazen’.
  • 2003-2006:  won AHRC scholarship to fund PhD.
  • 2003    Awarded a New Works and Commissions Grant by East Midlands Arts for a Digital Video Project entitled In Exile.
  • 2004    Awarded an Arts Council ‘Grant for the Arts’ for photographs documenting a series of intervention/performances.

External Appointments

Member of the advisory board for the Gender and Popular Culture series for I.B.Tauris.

Have Peer Reviewed books, articles and proposals for Intellect, Bloomsbury, Fashion Theory, I.B.Tauris and the Tulsa Journal for Women’s Literature.

PhD & Postdoctoral Supervision

2014- 2016: Co-supervised Kelly Dearsley with Agnes Rocamora at London College of Fashion – ‘Fashion Media Reception as Embodied Practice: a phenomenological inquiry into media reception in an age of mobile digital networked technology’.

PhD Thesis

This submission lays out an argument about feminist performance art’s dynamic relationship with its audience and their equal and vital importance to its delivery, meaning and resonance.  It draws its intellectual weight from literary critical sources relating to a history of feminist performance art (with specific reference to the critical reception of Carolee Schneemann and Hannah Wilke), a tradition of burlesque performance, feminist activism and theories of embodiment and humour. The catalyst for this thesis was a performance of Show Off that I went to see in 2001 by Ursula Martinez and the subsequent trace that this artwork left on my subjectivity. Other case studies are used (for example Lydia Thompson of The British Blondes and Gypsy Rose Lee in relation to burlesque and The Guerilla Girls and Martha Rosler in my exploration of humour) to contextualize Martinez’s practice historically. This particular subject area is indebted to burlesque, form/genre transgression and feminist philosophical investigations into subjectivity.

My argument is that feminist performance art is an imperative mode through which to generate new and emergent subject positions.

This argument penetrates the text by the use of two voices, one is critical/analytical and the other, which has been italicized, forms more of a personal stream-of-consciousness narrative. I have used this method in the introduction and the final part of this thesis. This method is not just stylistic; it is also important theoretically. This thesis is rooted in my need to understand, establish and make tangible my reaction as an audience member – the interaction between the performer and the viewer and its resonance long after the performance has finished. The two voices are an essential means of trying to underpin and comprehend the performance’s effect/affect on my subjectivity both theoretically and historically by periodically interrupting the academic voice with a first person, inward voice. This performative reiteration becomes the indelible trace that still remains.



Professional Practice

  • 2013: ‘Performance Dinner No. 5: ‘Woman as Image, Man as Bearer of the Look’ Invited as a guest of the Subjectivity and Feminisms Research Group based at Chelsea College Art to contribute a performance as a response to Laura Mulvey texts. Event took place 29th April, 2013. DVD as output.


  • 2015 Aug 26th     ‘Sex Addiction (and other academic books it’s best not to read in public’, Matthew Reisz, Times Higher Education.


  •  2015      Review of “Being Gorgeous’, ‘Naked Fairy Tales’, Matthew Reisz, Times  Higher Education, 14th August, 2015.


  •  2015     Blog entries published on I.B.Tauris blog at:



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