Departmental Lecturer in Visual, Material and Museum Anthropology
Gemma Angel specialises in the history and anthropology of the European tattoo; histories of museums and collections; museum ethnography and object biographies; the material culture of medicine; human remains in museum contexts, particularly medical museums; the historical and contemporary fabrication of human skin into objects of use and display; and modern and contemporary biomaterial art practice.
She received her PhD from University College London in collaboration with the Science Museum in 2013, and has trained in fine art, history of art, and visual anthropology. Her doctoral research was an interdisciplinary study of a nineteenth-century medical collection of 300 preserved tattooed human skins, held in the storage archives of the Science Museum, London. She is currently working on a book manuscript on the collection.
Gemma has previously been awarded a number of research and teaching fellowships, and was most recently an O'Donnell Visiting Educator at Whitman College in Washington State, USA. From 2016-17, she was a Society Fellow at Cornell University Society for the Humanities, working on the focal theme Skin. Her ongoing research project deals with the symbolic power of the flayed skin, as well as the biopolitics and ritual significance of its practical use in the fabrication of objects such as book covers, garments, tools, weapons, and display items.
From 2015-2016, she held a Junior Research Fellowship at UCL Institute of Advanced Studies, conducting ethnographic work in pathology and anatomy collections at medical schools across London, exploring the complex political entanglements of looking, affective response, and medical knowledge within the medical museum. Taking the 2004 Human Tissue Act (HTA) as an historical catalyst for change and drawing upon theoretical approaches from anthropology and science and technology studies, the project investigated shifting discursive, spatial and material practices surrounding human remains, tracing how the political and ethical status of these materials emerges not from properties inherent within the objects, but from the socio-political fields in which they are enacted and made to 'matter'.