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Research Projects

Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
09.2005 – 03.2011
Prof Murdo Macdonald, Principal Investigator

Window to the West
Window to the West
Window to the West
Window to the West
Uinneag dhan Àird an Iar

Towards a redefinition of the visual within Gaelic Scotland

Main project collaborators

Prof Murdo Macdonald: DJCAD, University of Dundee (Principal Investigator)
Prof Norman Gillies, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, University of the Highlands and Islands (Co-Investigator)
Prof Boyd Robertson, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, University of the Highlands and Islands (Co-Investigator)
Dr John Purser, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, University of the Highlands and Islands (Co-Investigator)
Dr Norman Shaw, DJCAD, University of Dundee (Research Team)
Dr Meg Bateman, University of the Highlands and Islands Sabhal Mòr Ostaig (Research Team)


Research logosProf Murdo Macdonald (Principal Investigator)
Lesley Lindsay (Research Fellow)
Dr Norman Shaw (Research Group Member)
Donald Addison (Research Group Member)
Prof Will Maclean (Research Advisor)
Arthur Watson (Research Advisor)
Dr Paul Harrison (Research Advisor)
Jane Cumberlidge (Project Liaison)

Context and background

Window to the WestThe development of the University of the Highlands and Islands has resulted in a significant growth in research into Gaelic culture, however the place of the visual arts within this culture has largely been neglected and is only defined as a footnote to the broader history of the visual arts in Scotland or to the music and poetry of the Gael. This project addresses this imbalance. The fundamental premise is that by placing the study and practice of visual art at the heart of a multidisciplinary research project, it creates a new focus for the understanding of Highland culture (Gaidhealtachd). Its title is adapted from Sorley MacLean’s poem Halllaig: ‘Tha bùird is tàirnean air an uinneig / triomh ‘m faca mi an Aird an Iar’; ‘The window is nailed and boarded / through which I saw the West.’

The skills in this interdisciplinary group include Gaelic language and culture, contemporary art practice and history of art.

Aims and objectives

The project was driven by three strands of activity: rethinking of the history of visual art in the Highlands and Islands; the making of contemporary art in a Highland or Highland-related context; and the exploration of the visual in Gaelic language.

The cross-disciplinary team investigated the visual within Gaelic culture, through art history, visual art practice and language. The project aims were to contribute to the development of Gaelic visual and cultural studies, and to increase the knowledge and awareness necessary to underpin cultural sustainability. Furthermore, the project aimed to create a multidisciplinary set of academic resources and develop the of concepts of cultural and linguistic partnership.


Window to the West has been a turning point in the perception of the visual culture of the Scottish Gàidhealtachd. It has consequences both for further research and for educational and cultural policy. The findings will inform Gaelic Language Plans. (Scottish Government policy for public bodies).


A significant range of outputs have been achieved throughout the duration of the project; these include peer-review journal articles and book chapters, conference papers, invited public presentations, exhibitions, publications, artworks, facilitation of artists’ residences, and a series of symposia and conferences in Dundee, Skye and Edinburgh. Together these constitute a major resource for students, scholars, artists, art historians, cultural historians and general public.

A major conference, State of The Art: Visual Tradition And Innovation In The Highlands and Islands Of Scotland was held at the National Galleries of Scotland, 24th – 26th June 2010. This event brought together key delegates and speakers from academic, cultural and political sectors.

A major exhibition, Uinneag Dhan Àird an Iar: Ath-lorg Ealain na Gàidhealtachd/Window to the West: the Rediscovery of Highland Art, was held at the City Art Centre, Edinburgh, 20th November 2010 to 6th March 2011.

Outcomes from the project will be documented at Fàs (the Centre for Creative and Cultural Industries) at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig and at VRC in Dundee Contemporary Arts.

Windows to the West - click here to download PDF description

Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
09.2005 – 03.2011