Cai Lyons

Department of Art History, Curating and Visual Studies
Doctoral researcher

Contact details

PhD Title: Transnational Networks of Modernism: feminist and geopolitical analysis of the Anglo-Irish artist Mary Swanzy (1882 – 1978)’ [working title]
Supervisor: Dr Francesca Berry
PhD History of Art




My research centres around the sustained study of the career of the Anglo-Irish artist Mary Swanzy, evaluating her work in the context of transnational avant-gardism and the geography of pan-European modernism. Born in Dublin, Swanzy travelled widely, spending time in Paris, Florence, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Belarus, Honolulu, Samoa, and Santa Barbara. Swanzy engaged with established and emergent modernist idioms, including Cubism, Orphism and Futurism, atemporally and outside of known spaces, disrupting the essentialist narrative of these movements. Shown in a range of locations, her work was deeply entangled with international knowledge production, cultural exchange, and artistic practices.

I investigate sources to tell the narrative of her career, before proceeding to answer research questions that address Swanzy and her identities as traveller, as woman, as feminine, as white, as potentially lesbian, and as engaging and experimenting with changing modernist idioms. I aim to engage theoretically with the specificity and nuances of her practices, to critically contextualise her within a broader modernist programme, and to challenge art historical hierarchies relating to the centres and margins of artistic production. Of particular interest is the potential of Swanzy’s Samoan work as an alternative to the othering of brown bodies of the South Seas by Paul Gauguin.

This research will involve an exploration of Swanzy and her artistic career but will have significance beyond Irish and European academia as it will explore the networks of modernism, and its diverse histories within and beyond Europe.


Lyons, C. (2018/19). On Exhibit: The Space Between Gender (RBSA). The mechanical, the organic, and the influence of gender binaries and gendered labour in the work of Yazmin Boyle. Midlands Art Papers, 2.