Dr Jacki Willson

Dr Jacki Willson


My research is situated between the disciplines of Fashion/Costume and Performance. I began my research journey in Fine Art practice and created Arts Council Funded activist performance work in Nottingham after graduating in 2001. My projects -In Exile (2003) and Content in Suburbia (2008) - dealt with questions of motherhood and home by documenting activist intervention pieces that I performed in my local area.

My MA in Cinema Studies moved my research into Fashion/Costume Studies. This became a useful and exciting way of thinking through questions of the 'gaze' and objectification. From 2012 to 2016 I taught Cultural Studies to Fashion, Textiles and Jewellery students at Central Saint Martins. Ideas relating to fashion have helped to re-vitalize different ways of approaching feminism and the female body.

My two monographs, The Happy Stripper: Pleasures and Politics of New Burlesque (2008) and Being Gorgeous: Feminism, Sexuality and the Pleasures of the Visual (2015) came out of my PhD research. This was triggered by a performance by Ursula Martinez called 'Show Off' whereby Martinez performed a striptease. The PhD thesis explored this performance by looking at the intersections between the historical trajectories of women's performance art, the burlesque artiste and feminist activism.

Research interests

My research interests relate to the fashioned or costumed body, performance and gender/sexual politics. My research focuses on live art and new cabaret (especially burlesque and drag) performance by women who are female-identifed or assigned female at birth.

I was the PI on a 3 year AHRC project ‘Fabulous Femininities: Extravagant Costume and Transformative Thresholds’ (2020-2023). The project explored the way that costume was used by the burlesque and cabaret community throughout the UK, and has a new digital archive and a documentary in relation to it. The documentary was officially selected by the North East International Film Festival: http://neiff.co.uk/full-program.

In 2020–21 I also led an Interdisciplinary Research and Impact Project between healthcare (with Prof. Linda McGowan) and performance entitled: ‘Miscarriage and Wellbeing: performative rituals for visualizing loss’. This project involved artists, the Miscarriage Association; HOPE Bereavement Support, NHS healthcare professionals and women who have suffered a miscarriage. The data generated via the artist workshop and interviews are being developed into a co-authored article and larger bid. 

My interests also include gender politics and activism within popular culture whether that be on the street, on the stage or on the screen. My focus is specifically intersectional AFAB (cis, non-binary and trans) and queer feminine presenting burlesque and drag. I have authored two monographs on burlesque and feminist performance practices and one co-edited two collections, 'Revisiting the Gaze: the fashioned body and the politics of looking' (Bloomsbury: 2021)) and  Dangerous Bodies: new global perspectives on fashion and  transgression (Palgrave: 2023). 

I am the editor of a newly commissioned global book series with Bloomsbury on Costumed Politics.

I am currently the Lead Researcher on an internal Research England funded project, ‘Role Models on Your Doorstep’, which seeks to raise the profile of under-represented staff across the University of Leeds.

<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="https://ahc.leeds.ac.uk/dir/research-projects">research projects</a> allows you to view and search the full list of projects in the faculty.</p>


  • PhD Fine Art theory/history - Loughborough University (AHRC scholarship_fully funded)
  • BA Fine Art (Painting) - 1st Class - Loughborough University
  • BA Cinema Studies - Nottingham Trent (internal scholarship)
  • PGCE - University of York

Student education

I teach at Undergraduate and Postgraduate level and have contributed to various modules including Politics, Identity and Performance and Researching Theatre and Performance. My lectures relate to Feminism, Gender Performativity and Performance. I launched a popular MA module in 2020 entitled ‘The Costumed Body: Performance, Performativity and Politics’.

Research groups and institutes

  • Bodies & Performance

Current postgraduate researchers

<h4>Postgraduate research opportunities</h4> <p>We welcome enquiries from motivated and qualified applicants from all around the world who are interested in PhD study. Our <a href="https://phd.leeds.ac.uk">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>