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Dr Lucy Szablewska

Research Associate

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Research Associate of Department of Geography 


I am a part-time postdoctoral research assistant on two research projects in the Department of Geography at Durham University.

The first is a comparative study of depictions of mask-wearing in public visual arts in sub-Saharan Africa and the UK. It is funded by the British Academy and runs from September 2020 - August 2021. The study was sparked by the rise in mask-wearing in public spaces in response to Covid-19. It explores the role of visual arts in understanding the characteristics of masks as socially imbued objects, the multiple meanings they convey and the influences shaping how these meanings change over time. The project aims to inform better understanding of the challenges related to people's willingness to wear masks, and to promote humane responses to the pandemic. There is more on the project in this Geography Directions blog: 'The Social Meaning of Masks'.

The second project aims to build a network of UK, Ugandan and other sub-Saharan African scholars, artists, civil society organisations and policy makers to identify innovative new ways in which art might harness creative capacity in the fight against HIV/AIDS. It is supported by a Global Challenge Research Funding grant running from 2019 - 2021.

Both projects are led by Professor Cheryl McEwan in the Department of Geography, Durham University, who is working in collaboration with Dr Lilian Nabulime, an academic, sculptor and HIV/AIDS activist in Makerere University in Uganda, and Robert Ssewanyana, a sculptor and doctoral scholar in Durham and Makerere universities.

The sculpture of a woman's head in the photographs above was created by Lilian Nabulime in Uganda. The mask was created by Pearl Laidler, a Durham tailor specialising in alterations and repairs.

My involvement grew out of my background in desk research, interviewing and public engagement, and longstanding interest in sub-Saharan Africa. This developed during my undergraduate degree in Social Anthropology and subsequent work as an English language teacher and women’s entrepreneurship co-ordinator through Voluntary Service Overseas in Zimbabwe 1989 - 1992. Since then I have worked in a variety of formal and freelance roles in the communications and social enterprise sectors in North East England.

Between 2012 - 2019 I undertook a part-time PhD in the Department of Geography, Durham University, supervised by Cheryl McEwan. It examined the linked lives of Polish worker-carers in North East England and their families in Poland and makes the case for understanding the significance of population ageing and valuing the role of unpaid care labour in migration research.

I am a trustee of the City of Durham Trust and secretary of the British Society of Gerontology's (BSG) Emerging Researchers in Ageing (ERA) group.