Oxford Festival of the Arts presents: REFRAMING THE MUSE and THE MODERN MUSE
  • Date 11 June 2024 - 12.00 p.m. - 14 July 2024 - 7.00 p.m.
  • Location Kendrew Barn

June 28 – July 14

Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays: 4pm – 7pm

Weekends: 11am – 4pm

Reframing the Muse

This summer, 9 female painters have reimagined the 9 ancient muses for the modern age. Curated by Ruth Millington ‘Reframing the Muse’ will run from June 28 – July 14 at The Kendrew Barn, St John’s College, Oxford as part of Oxford Festival Of The Arts.

Having been brought down from their pedestals and existing far beyond the passive stereotype imposed on the muse, these protagonists invite new perceptions about their part in the making of portraits. Far from posing silently, they are significant collaborators who don’t simply sit still.


Actress and comedian Katherine Parkinson can be seen laughing while boating in the frame of Roxana Halls, an artist best known for depicting wayward women who refuse to conform to societal norms. Acting as Thalia, the muse of comedy, Parkinson assumes a performative role in this theatrical painting.

Meanwhile, 90s Cantonese pop star, Faye Wong, has inspired Elaine Woo MacGregor. In Urania’s Love – Shanghai Flâneuse (2024), the artist’s muse of astrology and astronomy is a star herself, posed as if for a billboard campaign and clutching a shiny compass in one hand.

Terpsichore, on the other hand, dances to music only she can hear through airpods in a series of luscious paintings by her partner Carolyn Blake. In her personal painting, Lucy Andrews presents her father as a tragic muse – he can be seen gardening, escaping temporarily from his alcoholism which has had a huge impact on the artist.

An actor, friends, a scientist and performers also assume the status of muse in the frame of Annis Harrison, Ava Khera, Louise Reynolds, Lindsay Simons and Liz Collini who have each breathed new life into this art historical subject with their brushes.

Urania's love_Shanghai Flaneuse (2024)

Based on Ruth Millington’s book MUSE (Square Peg, 2022) this show invites viewers to rethink the role of the muse who has inspired artists for centuries. 

Arpita Shah – Modern Muse

Drawing from and subverting the conventions of Mughal and Indian miniature paintings from ancient to pre-colonial times, Arpita Shah’s Modern Muse visually and conceptually explores the ever-shifting identities and representations of South Asian women in contemporary Britain.

The 9 photographic portraits give an insight into the perspectives of what it means to be a young British and Asian woman, while also challenging the lack of visibility of women of colour as ‘Muses’ in Western art history.

Vidya - Modern Muse © Arpita Shah

Kindly lent by The Centre for British Photography

Modern Muse was commissioned by GRAIN Projects and was made with women in Birmingham and the West Midlands, supported by Arts Council England.


Arpita Shah is a photographic artist and educator based in Eastbourne, UK. She works between photography and film, exploring the fields where culture and identity meet. As an India born artist, Arpita spent an early part of her life living between India, Ireland, and the Middle East, before settling in the UK. This migratory experience is reflected in her practice, which focuses on the notion of home, belonging, and shifting cultural identities.

Harrjoht - Modern Muse © Arpita Shah[4]

Her work has been shown internationally in the USA, India, United Arab Emirates and across the UK. She is the recipient of the 2019 Light Work and Autograph ABP Artist in Residence programme in Syracuse, New York and her work is held at the National Galleries of Scotland and Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery.

Associated Programming:

The Muse – A Panel discussion

Eve and Marilyn: Making an Icon – Emily Brady

Festival website links:

The Muse

Reframing the Muse – curated by Ruth Millington

The Modern Muse – Arpita Shah (in collaboration with Photo Oxford)

Eve and Marilyn: Making an Icon – Emily Brady

Exhibiting artists:

Lucy Andrews

Carolyn Blake

Francesca Currie

Roxana Halls

Annis Harrison

Ava Khera

Elaine Woo Macgregor

Louise Reynolds

Lindsay Simons

Plus Liz Collini