Sarah Lightman

Artist, writer, editor, speaker and curator.

I love to draw, paint and write.

I am fascinated by autobiography, revisioning biblical narratives and feminist art history.

My work includes painting narrative portraits, creating a graphic memoir, curating exhibitions on comics and diary drawings, and editing books and journals on Jewish women’s comics.

I love to speak and teach on my research, artwork and publications and bring people together to discuss ideas and art. I have chaired conferences, arranged artist studio visits, organised studios critiques and hosted art salons.

I completed an Art Foundation course at Central/St. Martins, attended The Slade School of Art for my BA and MFA and I have a PhD from University of Glasgow in women’s autobiographical comics. I am an Honorary Research Fellow at Birkbeck, University of London.

I am the recipient of numerous awards and grants, including a Will Eisner Award, The Susan Koppelman Prize, a Jordan Schnitzer Book Award, A Hadassah Brandeis Institute Research Award, The Principal’s Early Career Mobility Fund (University of Glasgow), The Slade Duveen Travel Award, The Slade Life Drawing Prize, UCL, The Slade Prize, UCL, The Coldstream Sessional Prize for Excellence, UCL, The Rothschild Foundation, The David Foundation, European Association for Jewish Culture, The Arts Humanities and Research Council, The Association for Jewish Studies and The Stirling Maxwell Centre.

My graphic novel, The Book of Sarah (Myriad Editions, Penn State University Press 2019) has been shortlisted for the 2019 British Book Design & Production Award for Graphic Novels. My book was created from a selection of the diary drawings I have been making since I was student at The Slade School of Art. Over twenty years, I created thousands of pages of pencil, charcoal and oil pastel drawings, and watercolour and oil paintings. These pages charted my childhood and sibling rivalries, schooldays, and intense religious orthodoxy when I studied in Jerusalem, my years at art school, romantic escapades, marriage and most recently, the birth of my son.

I edited Graphic Details: Jewish Women’s Confessional Comics in Essays and Interviews (McFarland 2014) the first ever book on Jewish women and comics. Inspired by co-curating the touring exhibition “Graphic Details Confessional Comics by Jewish Women” that toured 9 museums over 6 years.   My critically acclaimed collection featured essays, interviews and artwork, and was the recipient of numerous book awards:  The Will Eisner Award for Best Academic Publication (2015), The Susan Koppelman Prize for Best Feminist Anthology in Feminist Studies in Popular and American Culture (2014), a Jordan Schnitzer Book Award Honorable Mention- Jews and The Arts (2016) and Nominated for the Broken Frontier Best Book on Comics (2014).

My solo shows include “The Book of Sarah” at Koppel Central, London (2019), “Sarah Lightman Art and Film” Mother Egg Review Gallery (2018), “Sarah Lightman and Charlotte Salomon Artist Intervention” at Women’s Art Library, Goldsmiths (2017), “Food, Family, Feelings” at Old Dominion University (2014), “The Book of Sarah”, at Occupy My Time, Deptford, London (2013) and “In Memoriam” at New Hall Art Collection, University of Cambridge (2009).

Groups shows include The House of Illustration, Jewish Museum London, The Cartoon Museum London, Oranim College, King’s Place Gallery, The Collection, The Centre for Recent Drawing, Ben Uri Gallery London, Mall Galleries and The Jerwood Space, The Cartoon Art Museum, San Francisco, The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum, Ohio State University, Space Station Sixty Five, Jewish Museum Florida, Oregon Jewish Museum, Portland, The Washington DC JCC, Yeshiva University Museum,  and Koffler Centre for The Arts

My academic research focuses on women’s autobiographical comics. In keeping with the approach of many feminist scholars, I have deliberately plaited my academic writing with a personal, confessional narrative. My PhD, “Dressing Eve and Other Reparative in Women’s Autobiographical Comics”, is under contract with Penn State University Press. My monograph asks how do comics artists highlight and challenge androcentric biblical references, narratives and images, and can these comics be considered feminist reparative acts, as they critique patriarchal religion? My hypothesis is that Sharon Rudahl’s four-page comic “The Star Sapphire”, Miriam Katin’s graphic novel We Are On Our Own, Bobby Baker’s diary drawings and pre-diary drawings, and my own graphic novel The Book of Sarah participate in the process of transforming biblical narratives and images into feminist responses. These artists highlight the androcentric ideology at work in biblical texts and challenge the representation of the female body and women’s roles within the narratives. Rudahl dresses Eve, Baker undresses the Virgin Mary, Katin distresses Queen Esther and I re-address the Matriarch Sarah to ensure that women in the Bible can win in their biblical visual/verbal afterlives.

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Through a delicate interweaving of images (ranging from the architectural, loose outlines, fractured repetitions and empty spaces) and text, the reader becomes immersed in this deeply considered reflection of gender and cultural identity. In its spirit of perpetual enquiry, it is an intensely Jewish book; but the questions it asks, about being and belonging, speak to the wider concerns of twenty-first century life.

— Dr Ruth Gilbert, University of Winchester

My writings have been published in The Cincinnati ReviewStudies in ComicsThe International Journal of Comics Art, Disability Experiences (Layman Poupard Publishing), MAMSiE, Studies in in the Maternal, Mom Egg Review Literature and Art, HaaretzPerspectivesShofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies, The Jewish Chronicle, Jewish Renaissance, The Jewish Quarterly, The Routledge Handbook to Contemporary Jewish Cultures (Routledge), Trauma, Narratives and Herstory (Palgrave Macmillan),  1001 Comics to Read before You Die (Cassel), The Unspeakable: Narratives of Trauma (Peter Lang), The Edinburgh Companion to Modern Jewish Fiction (Edinburgh University Press), and Critical Engagements. I co-edited "Contemporary Comics by Jewish Women", a Special Issue of Studies in Comics 6:2, with Andrea Greenbaum and Heike Bauer and "Centre Stage and on the Page - Women in Comics", a Special Issue of Studies in Comics 7:2, with Catriona MacLeod. I am currently co-editing Jewish Women's Comics: Borders and Bodies (under contract with Syracuse University Press)

I am frequently a guest lecturer at museums, galleries and universities where I speak about my artwork and research. Recent invitations include: The Whitechapel Gallery, The Southbank Centre (Women of The World Festival), California College of The Arts, The Free Word Centre, The House of Illustration, Edinburgh Jewish Literary Society, Goldsmiths College, McMaster University, Penn State Medical School, Dickinson College, Mathrubhumi Literary Festival, Jewish Book Week at King’s Place, University of Glasgow, University of Bochum, and Birkbeck College. I have been invited as a Keynote Speaker at conferences and events including British Jewish Contemporary Cultures: An International Conference in Bangor University (2017), Ruhr-University Bochum (2019) and University of Winchester (2019) .

 My current art project has been exploring themes of motherhood in art history and comics as I record my own story. Since I have become a mother have I found myself frustrated by images of the Virgin where Mary’s birthing seemed excessively easy, she never responded to her child with anger or frustration, and her clothes are perfect and not covered in vomit, breast milk, food and other detritus. However, I did still feel a kinship with a series of Byzantine paintings, Glykophilousa Madonnas, where the Virgin is often sad – her emotions attributed to knowing of her son’s future crucifixion. Often her son is caressing her cheek in these images, almost mothering her with tenderness and affection in the present, at the exact moment Mary is anticipating future pain and loss, and her powerlessness to protect her child.  I have reinterpreted and contemporised Mary’s sadness into a series of charcoal self-portraits, Madonna of The Broken Bridge, that also incorporated my son’s new favourite toy, his Brio train set. My son is often frustrated when pieces do not fit together. In particular, it took him a few weeks to work out how to construct the bridge. In the drawings of Madonna of the Broken Bridge, I reflect on how I cannot always fix the bridges that will break in his life.