History of Art


Zaena Sheehan

PhD supervisor: Cadence Kinsey
Working title for PhD: Porous Bodies: Bio-materialism in Contemporary Art. 

This project concerns the use of biological materials in contemporary art of the 2010s. Specifically, it analyses and compares how artists’ engagement with more-than-human relations has unfolded along the axes of post-humanism and the new materialisms. Historicising current debates and practices against a wider ecologisation of subjectivities and social relations, my research calls into focus the complexities and contradictions that inhere in these paradigms. Crucially, I foreground the work of art’s embedded status within this landscape, and consider how the turn toward relational ontologies manifests today as a problem of aesthetic form. 

I examine how artists such as Anicka Yi, Jenna Sutela, Nour Mobarak, and Mary Maggic have deployed contingent material processes to highlight the body’s traffic in substances ranging from endocrine disrupters to bacteria to fungi and moulds. Encompassing a diverse range of media, from installation to video and performance, a commonality across these case studies is that the ‘body’ is rarely figured, as such. Rather, these artists pursue various forms of non-depiction, which render somatic boundaries as permeable and unresolved. Bringing feminist materialisms, critical race scholarship, and biopolitical theory into conversation with art-historical considerations of method and form, this project forges an inter-disciplinary field of enquiry to consider the possibilities and limitations of this aesthetic strategy. 


  • "A Growing Enquiry – Art & Agriculture, Reconciling Values (review)." European Journal of Food Drink and Society 2 (1) (2022). 


  • 2022: LAHP studentship, which fully-funds my PhD. 
  • 2021: Nominated for Dean’s List, UCL. 
  • 2021: Helen Weston Prize for Art History, UCL. 
  • 2020: AKO Curatorial Award, the Courtauld Institute of Art. 
  • 2019: Full academic scholarship supported by the Catherine Lewis Foundation, the Courtauld Institute of Art.


  • TA Advanced Lecture in Contemporary Art – ‘Of Public Interest: Performance Art and Participation,’ Autumn 2023.