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Queen Mary academic wins prestigious Leverhulme Trust research award

Dr Martin O’Brien from the School of English and Drama has been announced as a winner of the 2021 prize.

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The Last Breath Society (Coughing Coffin) performed at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, August 2021, image by Holly Revell.
The Last Breath Society (Coughing Coffin) performed at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, August 2021, image by Holly Revell.

In a highly competitive field of over 400 entries, Dr Martin O’Brien is announced as one of just 30 recipients of the 2021 Leverhulme Trust prize for his work on live art, a subsidiary of visual and performing arts, and its intersections with disability studies. 

The prize, awarded annually to five people in each of six subject areas, “recognises and celebrates the achievement of exceptional researchers whose work has already attracted international recognition and whose future careers are exceptionally promising.”

Dr O’Brien’s work explores the performance and representation of illness and disability and stems from his experience of living with a severe chronic illness. He uses long durational performance practices to challenge common representations of illness and to examine what it means to be born with a life-shortening disease, and live longer than expected. His work has most recently been shown at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London in 2021 as part of a Wellcome Trust-funded project on patients’ experiences of waiting.

Dr Martin O'Brien, Senior Lecturer in Live Art at Queen Mary, said: 

“I’m blown away to be awarded the Philip Leverhulme Prize. It’s a huge honour. The funding will help me to continue my practice-based and written research on illness and performance. This prize offers an amazing opportunity to build a significant project over a two-year period. With heightened attention on ideas of health at the moment, it feels like an important time to be making and thinking through art practices that address the cultural politics of illness and death. I’m really grateful to all my colleagues in the School of English and Drama for their support.”

Head of the Department of Drama, Professor Dominic Johnson added:

“Martin is a dynamic and challenging artist and scholar, and the Philip Leverhulme Prize is a very welcome and timely acknowledgement of this. Martin’s cutting-edge research in live art and disability studies contributes to the Department of Drama’s distinctive strengths in the study and practice of experimental performance. We’re really proud of Martin’s achievements, and congratulate him on his award.”

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