This practice-as-research PhD explores the inextricable entanglement of botanical art with liberatory queer (and) decolonial (and) feminist artmaking practices and violent legacies. Flowers, present in our gardens, parks, roadsides and homes, are often overlooked as benign presences, an Enlightenment-influenced attitude that names plants as passive entities (Wandersee and Schussler). Within this thesis, flowers, as living plants, painted objects and/or metaphors, act as companions in praxis and have a direct impact on the research, ethics, aesthetics and structure of the project. The central aim of this work is not to redeem or redress the history of botanical art, one entwined with capitalist colonial heteropatriarchy, but rather, through a succession of illustrated and interwoven arguments, to illuminate how dwelling with the history and present of botanical art, through a form of slow scholarship, can offer an alternative mode of botanically entangled queer (and) decolonial (and) feminist writing, citing and critiquing.
The art that illustrates the project takes the form of illuminated manuscripts, in which botanical paintings are interwoven with citations from queer (and) decolonial (and) feminist texts. Created as part of a ‘devotional citation’ praxis and using both illustration and embroidery techniques, these artworks live on the page alongside the writing, and act alternatively as illustrations, interruptions and excesses, while the illustrated footnotes occupy full pages, not relegated to margins or placed in a hierarchy to the main text. Informed by a queer (and) decolonial (and) feminist ethics, the project is rooted in research within Undercommons and commoning practices (Emma Dabiri, Stefano Harney & Fred Moten), black feminist love-politics (alexis pauline gumbs, Audre Lorde, jennifer c. nash) and queer theory (ashon t. Crawley, Amber Jamilla Musser).
The thesis is organised around the life cycles of a flowering plant: Seed & Root; Sprout & Leaf; Bloom & Pollinate and Wither & Seed. While Seed & Root attends to the history of British women botanical artists of the 18th and 19th centuries, the links between plant taxonomy and the foundations of scientific racism, and botanic and cottage gardens relationship with the colonial weaponization of Christian ideology, Sprout & Leaf provides a contemporary context for my praxis through exploring the work of British and North American artists working with flowers as living plants, painted objects and/or metaphors to speak to queer (and) decolonial (and) feminist liberatory politics, such as Lauren Craig, Benny Nemer, Jennifer Packer and Charmaine Watkiss. Bloom & Pollinate is an explication of how thinking with flowers has influenced my approach to citation and speaks to ‘devotional citation’ as a citational praxis rooted in an ethics of gentleness and reciprocity (Anne Dufourmentelle, Sara Ahmed). Furthermore, I highlight how dwelling with discomfort and ambivalence in research can be understood as a queer (and) decolonial (and) feminist research method. Finally, Wither & Seed considers the scope and limitations of the thesis and plants the seeds for the future growth of the project.