Skip to main content
  all homeabout SHCfocal themefellowscourseseventsfellowshipsresourcescontact  

  TO APPLY:   
Carina Ray

Institute of Advanced Studies
University College London

Curriculum Vitae


The theme of flaying recurs in the ancient myths and legends of many cultures from the Aztecs to the Ancient Greeks, as well as in documented cases of ritual practice and penal punishment from eleventh-century England to twentieth-century Mongolia. In contemporary culture, flaying continues to be a powerful phantasm, appearing in horror films such as The Martyrs (2008), and in popular fiction as an extreme form or torture, as well as a theme within artworks that explore the interstices of identity, skin, self and body.

The cultural significance of the skin is frequently most legible were it is breached, broken and stripped away; thus the theme of flaying provides a potent symbolic lens through which to examine shifting historical and cultural readings of the skin. The skin can be both mask and mirror, simultaneously concealing and exposing the interior; protective armour or vulnerable membrane; a garment imbued with powers of renewal, as in the ritual practice of the Aztecs in honour of fertility god Xipe Totec; or alternately, in the Greek myth of Nessus, a poisoned second skin that possesses the power to flay its wearer alive.

The project will explore representations of flaying in ritual practice, mythology, medicine, art and literature from the Ancient world to the modern day, including contemporary film and bioart practices using skin, as well as examining the use of the flayed skin in folk medicine and magical practice. The project is unique in terms of its historical scope and interdisciplinary approach, and in its focus on a number of historical artefacts manufactured from human skins, which have never before been studied. The Body Stripped Bare constitutes the first in-depth, interdisciplinary analysis of practices and representations of flaying and the fabrication of the flayed human skin into objects of use and display, across historical periods, geographies and cultural contexts.

Gemma Angel is an interdisciplinary scholar specialising in the history and anthropology of the European tattoo, tattoo collecting and preservation, and medical museum collections of human remains. She completed her doctoral thesis at University College London (UCL) in collaboration with the Science Museum in 2013, on a collection of 300 preserved human tattooed skins of nineteenth-century European origin.

Her research coheres around themes of memory, tactility and the affective force of human remains, particularly in relation to human skin and the European tattoo. Practices of marking, excising and preserving human skin in European medical-scientific contexts are at the core of her research, which deals with both the symbolic power of the flayed skin, its representation in the visual arts and popular culture, and its practical use in the fabrication of objects such as book covers, garments and display items.

Since completing her PhD, Gemma has been awarded a Wellcome Trust ISSF Postdoctoral Fellowship to study anatomical collections at the University of Leeds Humanities Research Institute (2015), and she is currently a Junior Research Fellow at UCL Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS) (2015-16). Her current ethnographic research project Looking, Feeling, Knowing: The politics of seeing in medical collections of human remains after the Human Tissue Act explores the complex political entanglements of looking, affective response and medical knowledge within the medical museum. She also convenes the IAS seminar series Bodily Matters: Human Biomatter in Art, which explores the materiality, aesthetics and ethics of human biomaterial in contemporary art practice.

Gemma's research interests encompass the medical humanities, anthropology, STS, museums and visual culture, as well as the methodological intersection of ethnography and historiography. Methodologically, she is interested in exploring the intersection of ethnography and historiography, particularly in relation to the production of new historical knowledge and the 'afterlives' of museum objects.

Return to 2016-2017 Fellows