On Uncertain Ground: Destabilizing the American Landscape through Henry ‘Box’ Brown’s Mirror of Slavery
In 1849, to escape enslavement, Henry “Box” Brown folded himself inside a cargo crate and blindly jostled across the mid-Atlantic terrain for twenty-seven hours until he was delivered to “free” northern soil. In Massachusetts he performed his moving panorama, Mirror of Slavery, before the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act placed him on tenuous ground once again. The law voided Brown’s self-emancipation by authorizing the jurisdiction of the South, where he was still legally enslaved in Virginia, to supersede his new legal protections. The act revealed how white supremacy destabilized relationships to land: because of his race, Brown was subject to a geographic logic that was decoupled from his actual physical location. Territorial affiliation was critical for nineteenth-century American identity formation, and the appetite for landscape images reflects how the environment was also mobilized as a metaphorical common ground. Brown, as a panoramist, was familiar with these conventions, but his personal experience of the land challenges the strictly affirmative value of landscape representations. Indeed, Mirror of Slavery insists on land as moving and inherently uncertain. Through an analysis of Brown’s landscape imagery, my dissertation foregrounds the destabilizing potential of land and considers how nineteenth-century landscape practices register the spatial valences of race in America.
This project will be the first study of Mirror of Slavery within the context of American landscape representations. I support my analysis with an art historical account informed by methodologies from media archaeology, performance studies, and Black cultural geography. These interventions confront perceptions of the natural world as stable and visually knowable, thus opening up the traditionally white canon of nineteenth-century landscape practice for inquiry into how relationships to land and claims to American subjecthood are visualized through landscape motifs across media.
Amy E. Crum
2022 – 2023SAAM Latinx ArtPredoctoral Fellow
University of California, Los Angeles
Beyond the Wall: Exploring Strategic Intermediality in Chicanx Muralism
My dissertation revisits the history of Chicanx muralism to highlight the ways in which Chicanx artists created an expanded form of muralism that favored intermedial experimentation with painting, photography, film, performance, and installation. Departing from previous studies that have sought to link Chicanx muralism with Mexican muralism, I argue instead that the conceptual approaches of Chicanx artists in the 1970s largely prefigured the desires of contemporary social practice art.
My dissertation is broken into two parts across five chapters. Part one locates critical sites of interlocution between Chicanx muralists who traveled to Mexico and members of the Mexican avant-garde known as Los Grupos, who shared an interest in process-based, pedagogical, and community-driven approaches to art making. Part two investigates a contemporaneous series of experimental mural presentations in Los Angeles that incorporated community participation within both formal and informal arts institutions. Using a transnational grouping of case studies, I demonstrate how Chicanx muralists strategically drew from the associative properties of different media to criticize ongoing state-sanctioned violence, urban displacement, and socio-historic exclusion. By differentiating the practices of Chicanx muralists from their perceived Mexican predecessors, my project challenges paternalistic assumptions that frame Chicanx art as the result of a unidirectional northward flow of Mexican influence into the United States. Instead, I map the vast networks through which Chicanx art and artists have and continue to circulate.
This fellowship received Federal support from the Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center.
Build/Live/Work: Artist-Built Environments and the Expanded Vernacular in the Twentieth Century
This dissertation examines the ways artist-environment builders complicate the turn toward place in American postwar art. In it, I argue that the built environments of Roger Brown (1941–97), Ulysses Davis (1913–90), Sam Doyle (1906–85), and Tressa “Grandma” Prisbrey (1896–1988) are grounded in histories of American regionalism and the emergence of the Interstate Highway System, the rise of amateur craft, and placemaking strategies of the Civil Rights Movement and Second Wave Feminism. Artist-built environments were central to evolving ideas around place and placemaking in American art, yet they have remained separate from histories of site specificity, institutional critique, and alternative spaces.
The artist-environment builders of this project oriented their practices to new and expanding modes of transportation in the mid- to late twentieth-century United States. In centering mobility and movement as central tenets of their work, my project challenges the ways nomenclatures of folk, self-taught, and outsider have been used to imply insularity. While Brown considered the mythological capacities of the American South in his Alabama, Illinois, and California environments, Doyle drew on the legacy of the “Gullah Highway” to envision his home and outdoor gallery on St. Helena Island, South Carolina. Prisbrey’s construction of a home studio in Simi Valley, California, intersected with the feminist aims of the Woman’s Building in Los Angeles, while Davis’s woodcarving studio and barbershop in Savannah, Georgia, established a protective environment for Black history during Jim Crow-era segregation.
Patricia Eunji Kim
2022 – 2023George GurneyPostdoctoral Fellow
New York University
Visible Ephemeralities: Race, Gender, and Classical Narrative in Twentieth-Century Art
This project brings together the work of African American artist Augusta Savage (1892–1962), Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama (b. 1929), and Cuban artist Ana Mendieta (1948–85), who were all active in the United States and Europe throughout the twentieth century. Each of these artists appropriated narratives from Classical mythology by representing the bodies of non-white women in their visual reinterpretations, including sculpture, installation, and performance works, that primarily survive through their documentation. Savage sculpted Amazons as Black women in ephemeral clay; Kusama made her own “yellow” body one of the main attractions in her performance installation, Narcissus Garden; and Mendieta’s performance work included conceptual engagements with Black Venus, a Cuban creole symbol of anti-slavery and feminine beauty. Each of these artworks primarily endure through their documentation, raising archaeological questions around looking at art after it’s “gone.” Grounded in archival work, this project consults a range of photographs, artists’ writings, and reviews to excavate the traces of their monumental, ephemeral work. My work thus builds on methodological conversations within art historical and classical reception studies while drawing on race-oriented feminist frameworks to inform my analysis. Historical studies have discussed neoclassical visual culture’s role in reaffirming whiteness, imperial projects, and national identities. Likewise, Black classicisms and postcolonial studies have focused on classical receptions in literature. Building on these discourses, my project illuminates the ways in which these women made themselves visible as both subjects and artists within narratives that are associated with the canon of “Western civilization.”
2022 – 2023William H. TruettnerPredoctoral Fellow
University of Texas at Austin
Pussy Porn and Other Arguments: Feminist Photographies in American Art, 1979–1984
This project historicizes the interrelated artistic and activist projects conducted at the turn of the 1980s by socialist-feminist artist Martha Rosler, lesbian-feminist artist Tee A. Corinne, and Black feminist artist Carrie Mae Weems. Offering close reads of how Rosler’s, Corinne’s, and Weems’s works use photography to represent female and feminist subjectivities, I use archival evidence to reconstruct how these artists distributed, exhibited, and discussed their photographic projects in feminist collectives as well as photography’s institutional fora.
I argue that feminist photographies hold an understudied but transformational presence in the U.S.-American art world’s turn to photography during the 1980s. Art historians have often located this turn in theories of authorship, differentiating between a modernist dedication to the photographer’s subjective expression in fine-art photography, versus a postmodernist refusal of the artist’s subjectivity in Conceptual art. I argue that this epistemological binary is rooted in whiteness and maleness; as I show, women frequently traveled between the fine-art photography and Conceptual art worlds. I analyze how Rosler, Corinne, and Weems produced and distributed photographic images to express alternative forms of authorship in which photographers share agency over images with their human subjects and audiences. Examining how Rosler’s, Corinne’s, and Weems’s theories of authorship conversed with those of fine-art photography and Conceptual art, I ground the history of art and photography in the politics of creating socially-just institutions in which women, in all our diversity, participate equitably.
2022 – 2023Douglass FoundationPredoctoral Fellow
University of California, Santa Cruz
Atomic Afterlives: Visualizing Nuclear Toxicity in Art of the United States, 1979–2011
On July 16, 1945, U.S. government scientists detonated the first atomic weapon in the New Mexico desert. Since that detonation and the use of nuclear weapons on Nagasaki and Hiroshima that same year, numerous American artists have produced artwork that visualizes, scrutinizes, and scrambles understandings of all things atomic. Yet no study to date has analyzed how the very invisibility of radioactivity and nuclear toxicity requires unique aesthetic approaches, or how such methods of visual investigation are complexly marked by and indebted to various nuclear threats unfolding during the last decade of the Cold War to the contemporary moment. “Atomic Afterlives” examines a selection of American artists whose work interrogates the aesthetic, political, and historical considerations of the U.S. nuclear program’s environmental costs some forty years after the first atomic blast.
This project utilizes an ecocritical and environmental justice approach to trace how Patrick Nagatani (1945–2017), Sharon Gilbert (1944–2005), Jack Malotte (Western Shoshone/Washoe, b. 1953), Richard Misrach (b. 1949), Zoe Strauss (b. 1970), Jim Sanborn (b. 1945), and Will Wilson (Diné, b. 1969) visually examine connections between atomic toxicity and local mining histories, legacies of nuclear weapons testing, and global inheritances of the Cold War. In doing so, I consider how diverse visual approaches—such as installation, painting, print media, and photography—grapple with the difficulties of nuclearity and visuality, including the long-term and usually invisible slow violence of environmental injustices spurred by atomic energy, armaments, and wastes. I ask how these artworks mediate, express, represent, and give agency to the nuclear and its atomic afterlives, and if such works can destabilize the deep-rooted visual power of U.S. government-created photographic imagery of atomic detonations and dominant versions of nuclear science visuality. I argue that these works, stemming from genealogies of research-based conceptual art and documentary practices, offer deep and mutating understandings of nuclear threats in relation to diverse American audiences; understandings that, in turn, highlight shifting artistic responses to nuclearity over three decades.
2022 – 2023Terra Foundation in American ArtPredoctoral Fellow
Beyond Landscape: Property and the Contested Ground of North American Visual Culture, 1900–1945
In this study I examine a cross section of early twentieth-century visual culture that formally and materially sustains the ideological foundation of Canada and the United States: white possession. Diverging from literature on cultural primitivism, my dissertation investigates territorial occupation as a precondition for the well-studied artistic appropriations that proliferate in the period. My project constellates printed federal ephemera, modernist ethnographic portraiture, textiles, and clay vessels that transform colonized Indigenous land into visual and material resource. Chapter one places an anthropological portrait on an Indian land sale poster in conversation with figurative Native American Rookwood Pottery, exploring how Indigenous bodies come to signify land. Chapter two examines how Canadian painter Yvonne McKague Housser’s portraits of Ojibwe children on their reservation visually index white property rights. Chapter three analyzes how H. R. Mallinson & Co.’s National Park silks reinscribe and disseminate colonial land management technologies. The last chapter considers Loïs Mailou Jones’s painting of, and vessels by, Wampanoag pottery sellers, exposing artistic entanglements between Black property ownership, racial discrimination, and Indigenous dispossession. Together, these case studies reveal the complicity of twentieth-century artists in perpetuating settler colonialism as a material framework that extends beyond deliberate depiction of land.
This project works across media and unsettles the Canada–U.S. border, challenging how the nation-state as a category for art historical research naturalizes colonial land partitions. Informed by critical race theory, it also disrupts the settler-Indigenous binary and attends to the multiracial complexities of settler nations. With a critique grounded in the embodied production, use, and afterlives of settler art, I argue that North America’s contested ground constitutes a visual and material logic of possession.
2022 – 2023Wyeth FoundationPredoctoral Fellow
University of California, Los Angeles
Coastal Modern: Art and the Lowcountry since the Civil War
This project considers artistic and cultural engagements with the coastal version of modernization that remade the American Lowcountry after the Civil War. Stretching along the shores of Georgia and South Carolina, the Lowcountry responded to the loss of agriculture and lack of manufacturing by embracing industries compatible with its seaside, subtropical environment: tourism and leisure; fishing and aquaculture; and shipping and other maritime activities. These discrepant socioeconomic developments occurred alongside equally locational artistic and cultural practices and gave rise to a regional visual culture. Drawing on the interdisciplinary energies of modernist studies, environmental humanities, and cultural studies, this dissertation observes how a variety of media and modes—including painting, photography, exhibitions, and museum practices—ushered in a distinct coastal sensibility that is both colloquial and cross-cultural. This project analyzes the work of little-known artists from a variety of backgrounds, all of whom worked in the Lowcountry and variously considered what it means to be “modern” and “American” on the shores of the Deep South. I bring an original, environmental framework to bear on such materials and posit the coast (in addition to the city and country) as a key geographical category in the development of modernity. By focusing on this dis-esteemed area in the Southeast, I hope to contribute to the few modernist studies on the Lowcountry and expand the map of modern American art. Far from being a provincial backwater, the Lowcountry’s down-home cosmopolitanism comes to the fore when its coastal character is adequately explored.
2022 – 2023Terra Foundation in American ArtPostdoctoral Fellow
Courtauld Institute of Art
A Quiet Renaissance: Portraits, Still Lifes, and Landscapes by Interwar Black American Modernists
My project examines a body of figurative, naturalistic portrait, still life, and landscape paintings produced in the interwar period by the Black American artists Aaron Douglas, Laura Wheeler Waring, Loïs Mailou Jones, Archibald J. Motley Jr., and Palmer Hayden. In scholarship and in exhibitions in the United States and internationally, art historians have tended to interpret the visual culture of the Harlem Renaissance—the period with which these artists are all primarily associated—as modernist; as a result, these artists’ practices have been defined in the same manner. The works by these artists that have received the most attention are graphic and stylized with contemporary subject matters, elements of abstraction, and non-naturalistic color palettes and compositions. And yet, these artists all produced a substantial number of naturalistic works during the same period. They each maintained a strand of practice that treated more conventional subject matters—individual sitters, landscapes and seascapes, assortments of quotidian or remarkable objects—through more established painterly modes. With conventional compositions; loose brushwork; and lifelike light, shadow, and color, these works evoke Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. As a research fellow at SAAM, I am conducting the archival research and visual analysis necessary to account for these naturalistic paintings that have been almost entirely neglected in scholarship to date. I anticipate that restoring this naturalistic tendency to a position of prominence will reveal that these artists’ interwar practices existed in a vastly more heterogeneous, unstraightforward relation to modernism than has henceforth been posited. My research outputs will provide a reading of works that have the potential to significantly alter how scholars consider the Harlem Renaissance, a period that remains a critical locus for mapping genealogies of Black American artmaking.
2022 – 2023Patricia and Philip FrostPredoctoral Fellow
Stony Brook University
From the Frontier to Unrooted Global Citizenship: Twentieth-Century Asian American Landscape
Asian American art history, a nascent, albeit growing field, has focused on unifying aesthetic qualities, politics of representation and how it has been referenced in embodied experience, and markers of foreignness. Asian American history more broadly has been discussed in the context of displacement, internment, immigration, and transnationalism, all terms that implicate the sense of land and place. How can we understand works by Asian diasporic artists in the context of their relationship to land? How can the frameworks of indigeneity, settler colonialism, and global imperialism inform investigating Asian diasporic art practices, and vice versa? This dissertation is the first to examine twentieth-century Asian American artists’ representations of land and landscape. The project focuses on four Asian American artists: Chiura Obata (1885–1975), Bernice Bing (1936–98), Nam June Paik (1932–2006), and Yong Soon Min (b. 1953). Considering Obata’s landscape ink paintings of the American West, Bing’s Abstract Expressionist Bay Area landscapes, Paik’s broadcast television works that feature New York cityscapes, and Min’s mixed media prints of global partition, each artist case study looks at a specific body of work centering land and situates their practice of that period in a distinct moment in American and Asian American art historical narratives. By emphasizing land and landscape, I redirect analysis from discussions related to “hybridity” and multiculturalism to uncover new ways of situating work by Asian American artists alongside discourses of Asian American settler colonialism and global imperialism. Asian American art production in relation to land expands our current knowledge of the twentieth-century formation of global racial relations and the politics of multiculturalism in the United States.
2022 – 2023Terra Foundation in American ArtSenior Fellow
University of Kansas
Collaged Memories: Jimmy Tsutomu Mirikitani's "Sidewalk Art"
This project explores the art of Japanese American painter and collagist, Jimmy Tsutomu Mirikitani (1920–2012) through a retrospective exhibition—slated for 2025 at the Spencer Museum of Art—and accompanying scholarly catalog, for which I serve as the main author. Mirikitani studied Japanese traditional painting in Hiroshima and was a kibei (Japanese American who grew up in Japan) who lost his U.S. citizenship and survived an internment camp during World War II. While living on the streets of New York City between the mid-1980s and 2001, Mirikitani created art using cast-off materials and art supplies provided by pedestrians and displayed his works on the sidewalk to share his life stories with the public.
This will be the first major scholarly investigation of Mirikitani’s artistic trajectory and “sidewalk” activities. It will highlight his collaborative mode of artmaking that involved pedestrians and examine how his traumatic memories became shareable across social and racial boundaries. This inquiry corresponds with and will contribute to the recent scholarly/curatorial efforts to transnationalize the fields and pursue interdisciplinary approaches, thereby bringing voice to those who have remained in obscurity due to their “in-between” statuses as immigrants, refugees, and non-citizens.
2022 – 2023Terra Foundation in American ArtPredoctoral Fellow
University of California, Berkeley
Mineral Modernism: The Mexican Subsoil and the Remapping of American Form
What can the U.S. history of foreign extraction tell us about the aesthetics of American modernism? My dissertation proposes that American modernism in the 1930s emerged in dialogue with the Mexican minerals that increasingly fueled U.S. modernity. I analyze efforts by artists in the United States and Mexico to imagine a shared American modernism during this period, as the United States renegotiated its access to valuable minerals in Mexico. I focus on three artists and one exhibition, each of which was supported financially by the extractive interests of U.S. companies in Mexico. Across four chapters I analyze Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry; the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition American Sources of Modern Art; Jean Charlot’s lithographs of Maya Masonry; and William Spratling’s silver workshop in Taxco, Mexico.
I show how perceptions of underground resources featured prominently in artistic theories of the moment, demonstrating the ways in which artists forged an equivalence between minerals and other objects being unearthed from the subsoil, such as Mesoamerican art. As artists and critics in the 1930s struggled to define an American modernism that was independent of European tradition, they turned to Mesoamerican art as a source for distinctly American modernist form. But they also routinely drew comparisons with minerals, likening Aztec sculpture to oil reserves, or referring to Maya bas reliefs as a “mine” for authentically American abstraction. Ultimately, I argue, concepts of autochthonous American form both reflected and produced ways of seeing the Mexican subsoil: as a shared continental interior; as racially Indigenous; as a latent reserve in wait of development; or as a decentralized, multidimensional network of interconnected fragments. In doing so, I open up a new way of seeing American modernism that transcends national borders and uncovers its assumptions about race and the natural environment.
2022 – 2023Joe and Wanda CornPredoctoral Fellow
The Graduate Center, CUNY
Building Black Manhattan: Architecture, Art, and the Politics of Respectability, 1857–1914
This dissertation examines the architecture of charitable and reform institutions built to serve Black aid recipients in Manhattan between the Civil War and World War I. Due to the gendered nature of reform work, it was the decisions of Black women that guided these buildings' designs, choices in siting, and services offered. In altered buildings and purpose-built structures, Black women—some formerly enslaved, some from the elite—provided services to poorer women, men, and children; they adhered to the “politics of respectability” in expecting architecture would forge race pride and express their aspirations for inclusion in American public life. These women built churches to serve established congregations and new arrivals, institutions to care for children and the elderly, experiments in low-income housing, and more. To contend with absences in the architectural record, which has historically obscured Black women's contributions to the built environment, I incorporate the analysis of fine art and visual culture to present a fuller view of the Black urban experience in late nineteenth-century New York City.
The art and architectural history of Black New York City has concentrated on Harlem in the interwar years as a site that was uniquely positioned to foster the proliferation of Black culture. My dissertation inserts the earlier contributions of Black women into the architectural history of New York City and articulates how the later success of Harlem called on nineteenth-century spatial practices. By situating the placemaking efforts of Black reformers alongside the established history of the city’s urban development, this project expands the architectural understanding of Manhattan’s history to underscore the ways Black women labored to build a city in which they could prosper.
2022 – 2023George GurneySenior Fellow
Latinx Public Memorials
There is a lacuna of Latinx representation within U.S. public monuments and memorials. My book project considers this historical lack of a Latinx presence in commemorative practices and examines the contemporary actions of Latinx public art producers to correct this historical erasure in their roles as artists, public art administrators, curators, community organizers, politicians, and jurors. This study seeks to account for the specific strategies, processes, and networks through which Latinx artists both engage with and resist traditional modes of memorialization. It specifically examines contentious monuments connected to the Latinx experience, as well as memorials to veterans, tragedies, and cultural figures.
Little scholarly research has been conducted to examine the way in which Latinx memorials are received by visitors in the public realm. By conducting visitor response interviews to examine public artworks, this study seeks to understand how visitors interact with and respond to memorials dedicated to Latinx culture and history. In addition to visitor response, this investigation applies the interdisciplinary lenses of memory and gender studies to interrogate Latinx memorials. By focusing on public memorials through their link to visitor reception and patronage, this project explores how Latinx artists are composing complex narratives in the public sphere to create public art projects that are more reflective of the U.S. population. My analysis of contemporary Latinx artists working with innovative public art models and aesthetic inquiries to amplify a multiplicity of voices offers broader ramifications for framing public art and commemorative practices.
Photographic Infrastructures: The Framing of American Architectural Photography, 1890–1940
My dissertation revises the history of American architectural photography by revealing its transnational formation and imperial origins between 1890 and 1940. It considers the place of visual instruction (the use of images as didactic tools) in a growing movement to expand access to public education and confer knowledge and skills needed to sustain industrialized economies on a local, regional, and national scale. Visual instruction relied on the commissioning of ambitious photographic surveys of natural, commercial, and industrial landscapes around the globe. These surveys were disseminated to school children in the form of lantern slides, stereograph sets consisting of hundreds of images, instructional posters, and print albums. The pedagogical aims of visual instruction are related to a set of attitudes toward photography that found expression in France, Turkey, Russia, and Britain in the declining empires of the early modern period. These attitudes were adopted in American imperial contexts at the dawn of the twentieth century, when private, multinational businesses began emulating imperial powers by sponsoring their own photographic surveys for educational use. In this way, visual instruction came to be associated not only with instilling feelings of national belonging and citizenship, but also in the expansion of the world economy. This project maps the movement of these pedagogical and photographic practices. It also situates the work of Hedrich Blessing Photographers, a Chicago-based commercial photography studio established in 1929, in a genealogy of colonial encounters framed by cameras and classrooms. The studio was best known for its representation of modernist icons by architects such as Eliel and Eero Saarinen, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, among others. This analysis uncovers a complex set of social and cultural entanglements that span regional and foreign contexts and colonized and metropolitan worlds.
“Black Conceptual Practice” analyzes the legacy of two seemingly incommensurable yet mutually generative discourses: Conceptual art and Black art. Through five chapters, I analyze how U.S.-based artists Charles Gaines, David Hammons, Senga Nengudi, and Lorraine O’Grady used systems, seriality, information, ritual, and language as processes of artistic exploration and as tools for navigating the constraints of racism: its arbitrariness, discriminatory gaze, and deleterious effects on the careers of Black artists. The artists’ commitment to indeterminacy and ephemerality provoked questions about the structural integrity of whiteness while frustrating essentialist readings that bound their racial identity to the visual field. In doing so, they extended conceptualism’s strategies in directions that remained latent in the work of its first generation of practitioners. This confounded audiences who expected racial iconography and instead found abstract, process-oriented, and conceptual approaches to ritual performance, Third World alliance, and intra-racial tensions. Black conceptual artists’ experimental aims and eschewal of stylistic and identificatory categories resulted in their marginalization from the market for Black art in an already racially segregated art world. Drawing on first-person interviews, oral histories, and recently processed archives, I analyze Gaines’s use of systems, Nengudi’s and Hammons’s conceptual materialism, and O’Grady’s performative critique, drawing on underexplored accounts and theories of the era by Adrian Piper, Judith Wilson, Howardena Pindell, and Just Above Midtown Gallery. This book’s methodological aims are germane both to art history and to critical race studies: first, to reveal longstanding and complex issues around blackness as a conceptual strategy (or, as artist Pope.L has described it, a “social technique”); and second, to offer an interpretive framework for artists who sought a space beyond the racial paradigms that shaped the historiographic narrative of their moment.
2021 – 2022Terra Foundation for American ArtPostdoctoral Fellow
Forum für Kunstgeschichte
Modelling Sauk and Fox in South America: The Latin American Contribution to Ferdinand Pettrich’s “Indian Museum”
Despite the renewed attention to Ferdinand Pettrich’s “Indian Museum” in recent years, no research has been carried out on its complex transnational trajectory, which spanned two decades and included its first conception in the United States; its partial commission, execution, and first exhibition in Brazil; its subsequent circulation in England; and, finally, its institutionalization in the Museo Lateranese (later Museo Etnologico Vaticano).
This project seeks to study the decisive importance of the Latin American ethnographic and artistic contexts of Pettrich’s work. I am particularly interested in the contractual, political, intellectual, material, and formal conditions that defined the appearance of this “museum” in South America. In particular, I explore its connection to ethnographic knowledge that circulated in the region between the 1830s and 1850s and the established networks of Brazilian artists, foreign scientists, businessmen, and artists residing in or passing through South America during these years.
One of the main goals of the research is thus to discuss the extent to which Pettrich’s representations of North as well as South American natives are the result of visual and intellectual exchanges engaged within a transnational framework. The investigation is situated at the border of three connected types of circulation: that of art works, that of artists, and that of scientific knowledge and its visual models.
2021 – 2022Patricia and Philip FrostPredoctoral Fellow
University of Pittsburgh
Muralism, Racial Discourse, and Cultural Anthropology in US Black Art, 1936–1955
My project explores how US Black muralists adapted cultural anthropology to articulate particular racial identities in and beyond the nation-state during the late Jim Crow era. Considering artists Charles White, Hale Woodruff, and Thelma Johnson Streat, I draw out the impact of anthropology’s research practices and lively academic debates about racial and cultural identity on US Black muralism of the 1940s. Influenced by the Mexican Muralists’ investment in anthropology, these muralists deployed anthropological tools such as ethnography, theories of diaspora, and cultural baselines; adopted anthropological methods such as Katherine Dunham’s dance anthropology; and consistently used anthropological texts as references. Cultural anthropology provided these artists a way to combat biological essentialist approaches to race while also highlighting legacies of Black culture as the basis of group identity. This project addresses a lacuna in social art histories of US Black art between the concept of the New Negro of the 1920s and the Civil Rights Movements and Pan Africanism of the 1960s. Focusing on these artists reveals an underappreciated dimension of Mexican muralism’s influence on American art and provides a new take on the rhetoric of US cultural nationalism and belonging.
2021 – 2022SAAM Latinx ArtSenior Fellow
Alien Skins: Transplanetary Arts of the Americas
Alien Skins is the first book to explicate how artists of the Americas have used speculative aesthetics to imbue the alien in visual culture, science history, and legal studies with empowering ends. By reimagining the “borders” between the cosmos, citizenship, and alternative futurity, Latinx artists adapt speculative forms allowing for another articulation of creativity “on the horizon,” demanding an art theory and method in future tense. Proposing a vision from the skies, this vertical alignment of Latinidad resists earthbound definitions of identity and culture. Instead, they offer what I term “transplanetary” art of the Americas, borderlands that are organized beyond Anthropocene terms. Being not of this world but of others, these artists suggest that Latinxs have always been “alien” in American and Latin American art history. By reoccupying the repugnant language of the illegal alien, they transform xenophobic calls to build walls, militarize national borders, and separate families in a regime of state violence.
In an acrobatic, otherworldly aesthetic process, these Latinx creatives span variant space-time arrangements, frequencies, and cosmologies. Emphasizing not the “new” or “now” but rather the “not yet” or “to be seen,” Alien Skins undercuts contemporary studies of Latinx art with a speculative critique of the field. As a result, this study helps explain the uncredited yet influential impact of the “space age” onto Latinx cultural expression. In short, they ask: “In space, who is the real alien?”
This fellowship received Federal support from the Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center.
Fellow Travelers: The Artist-Researchers of the Rosenwald Fellowship, 1928–1948
This dissertation is the first to consider the Rosenwald Fellowship, a grant-giving program that allowed African American artists to complete research travel for projects of their own design. It examines the way that travel and research became critical parts of artistic practice in the 1940s, how artists’ “fieldwork” was funded, and the importance that this mobility held specifically for Black artists. It centers the work of four artists singled out by the Rosenwald for their exceptional abilities: Jacob Lawrence, Eldzier Cortor, Rose Piper, and Haywood “Bill” Rivers.
Across four chapters, “Fellow Travelers” follows these artists on journeys to the American South, the Caribbean, and Europe. The first chapter uses the varied work of Jacob Lawrence to map the complex field of patronage in the 1930s and 1940s, examining the strategies that Lawrence developed to navigate this terrain—strategies that allowed him to meet, but also exceed the demands the Rosenwald made of its fellows, as well as the conditions it placed on Black art. Each of the following chapters follows the itinerary of another Rosenwald fellow as they negotiated the same field, developing their own strategies as they crossed paths with other streams of movement: examining how Cortor’s work can be seen in conversation with exiled Surrealist-circle artists circulating between New York and the Caribbean (Chapter 2); considering Piper’s relationship to the folklorists and ethnographers visiting the US South to study its “folk” culture (Chapter 3); and exploring how Rivers fit within the flow of Black veterans and students to postwar Paris (Chapter 4). Each chapter considers the artists relationally, as friends or members of a workshop circle, as well as participants in wider circuits of movement forged by fellow travelers—many of which wound their way beyond the boundaries of the nation. Finally, it takes seriously what distinguished these artists, making them different from tourists or migrants―namely, the way they positioned themselves as researchers. Their practices, evolving in conversation with disciplines like anthropology or sociology, reveal a moment of entanglement between the arts and social sciences that upends narratives of modernism focused on medium specificity and disciplinary specialization. “Fellow Travelers” brings this understudied moment to light, focusing in particular on the new patterns of movement―of people, objects, and money―that made it possible.
2021 – 2022Terra Foundation for American ArtPredoctoral Fellow
Courtauld Institute of Art
Unquicken the Pace: Albert Pinkham Ryder’s Ripening Paintings
My dissertation is an attempt at understanding the unusual temporality of Albert Pinkham Ryder’s creative process. The artist was famous for his extreme slowness in completing paintings, laboring endlessly on the same canvases for years, even after they had been sold or sent to exhibitions. Although there is a substantial corpus of literature on Ryder (notably by Elizabeth Broun, Sarah Burns, Lloyd Goodrich, and William Inness Homer), scholars have largely overlooked the meaning of Ryder’s relationship to time. I argue that his life and working habits were symptomatic of the temporal paradigm that guided his painting.
Ryder’s working time was an interplay between active moments of actual painting and more passive periods in which making was replaced by happening (such as in the drying process) that included phases of “empty” time of resting and incubation. My first chapter examines how Ryder used delayed time as a tool of resistance against the measuring and monetization of time and as an instrument for balancing power with his collectors. The second chapter explores the biological concept of ripening, advocated by the artist himself to legitimize his slow creative process. The third chapter investigates the idea of finish as a provisional condition. I argue that Ryder’s paintings, which he did not date or sign, are not unfinished but finished too many times; each reworking brought forth the past into the present, thus updating an older painting.
2021 – 2022George GurneyPredoctoral Fellow
Bryn Mawr College
Timescapes: Geology and Place in Contemporary Art
My research explores the intersections of time, place, and natural history in the work of four contemporary artists engaging with sites of American history. Through close attention to materiality and process, this project turns to geology and theories of space as interpretive methods for considering works of art. This dissertation builds on interdisciplinary scholarship, including eco-criticism, critical race studies, and environmental justice. During this fellowship, I will focus on my first two chapters that explore the relationship between race and landscape in America.
In chapter one, I ask how Sally Mann’s photographs of the American South relate to sites of trauma, particularly through her use of dirt taken from those landscapes and sprinkled on her photographic negatives. Chapter two investigates the relationship between Mark Bradford’s Pickett’s Charge (2017) and the Gettysburg Cyclorama (1883) through Bradford’s stratigraphic layering of paper and its subsequent destruction. Chapter three turns to the remnants of mineral extraction in Tacita Dean’s film JG (2013). Finally, chapter four looks at the relationship between intimacy, land, and global warming in Roni Horn’s works with water. Throughout, my dissertation considers contemporary art in the age of the Anthropocene, examining how these works explore the reciprocal interweaving of human history and the Earth’s history. My research investigates how art can elicit deeper understandings of the ways the intersecting forces of climate change, colonialism, imperialism, and racial violence are inscribed onto the earth.
2021 – 2022Joe and Wanda CornPredoctoral Fellow
University College London
A Perfect Union: Ottoman-American Visual Media and the Art of Affiliation in Nineteenth-Century America (1835–1895)
Long before there was a substantial Middle Eastern community in the United States, Khachadur “Christopher” Oscanyan (1818–1895), an Armenian-American from Istanbul, worked tirelessly to cultivate good relations between America and the Ottoman Empire. A writer, lecturer, entrepreneur, and diplomat, Oscanyan used a range of media not only to try to “correct erroneous impressions” of the “Turks,” but also to cultivate what we would today call “intercultural understanding” and, through it, a strong American investment in the Ottoman Empire.
My dissertation is a transnational cultural biography of Christopher Oscanyan and the ways in which he leveraged a range of American visual media and national affiliations to encourage and promote imperial reform in the Ottoman Empire. In what ways did an American audience understand and view Oscanyan and his imagery: his photographs, tableaux vivants, object displays, illustrated writings, and personal costume? To put it another way, how did Oscanyan and his images fit into an American visual landscape, particularly during the antebellum and Civil War years, when he was most active? Additionally, what does Oscanyan’s transnational career tell us about the practice of national affiliation among non-state communities in the mid-nineteenth century? How do Oscanyan’s acts of affiliation relate to his pursuit of visibility and legibility?
Drawing from scholarship across fields, from American and Ottoman history to Museum and Cultural Studies, I analyze Oscanyan’s unique contributions to American lecturing, photography, newspaper writing, publishing, and performance culture. I also consider the extent to which the failure of Ottomans like Oscanyan to establish an imperial federation reveals the rising power of a totalizing nation-state model that increasingly obscures Oscanyan’s complexities and renders impossible his vision for the future of Ottoman-American relations.
2021 – 2022Wyeth FoundationPredoctoral Fellow
University of Pittsburgh
Lockwood de Forest, The Ahmedabad Wood Carving Company, and the Global Circulation of Luxury Goods
An 1885 issue of The Decorator and Furnisher helps capture the transformative experience of entering the dazzling world of an Orientalist interior in the United States. “In passing from the street…to the door of Mr. de Forest’s rooms, everything is Occidental and common-place.” Upon entering “his door,” however, “you have stepped into another world, you have gone East, far, far into the Orient.” The artist and designer Lockwood de Forest (1850–1932) filled his New York showrooms with exotic items such as Gujarati furnishings, Syrian ceramics, and Egyptian carpets, reducing objects from around the world to compositional elements within a unified aesthetic environment, disconnected from time or place. As art historians have shown, Orientalist interiors were imperial visualizations of the East made for Western consumption. While instructive, this approach remains focused on the creative vision of American artists and designers, discounting the agency of craftsmen, dealers, and other agents within North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia who knowingly produced and exported luxury wares, furnishings, and ornamental works for Western use. My dissertation aims to decolonize these interiors and their histories by reconstructing the social and material networks that facilitated the global circulation of luxury goods, arguing that late nineteenth-century Orientalist interiors in the US both required and produced these systems of circulation.
To recover the dynamic exchanges that produced these interiors, I have chosen to focus on the work of the Ahmedabad Wood Carving Company (AWCC) and its position within American “artistic” interiors. Jointly founded by de Forest and Indian merchant and philanthropist Muggunbhai Hutheesing to produce luxury woodwork and metalwork for export to the US, the company and its work provide a rare opportunity to consider the material qualities, transnational histories, and cross-cultural associations of such interiors through the objects that made them up. My dissertation traces the AWCC’s teakwood furnishings and metalwork from production to consumption, registering the creative agency of designers, craftsmen, patrons, and consumers as these objects moved through workshops, showrooms, department stores, and the domestic spaces of America’s elite. My approach accounts for the agency of Indian actors in North American interiors, while also revealing how the movement of luxury materials, objects, and aesthetics extend and define uneven relationships across the world.
2021 – 2022Douglass FoundationPredoctoral Fellow
Institute of Fine Arts, New York University
The Crisis of the 1850s: Western American Land and Landscape, 1848-1861
The Mexican-American War added a massive amount of territory to the United States, disrupting the balance of power between slave and free states and forcing Americans to confront whether slavery should be allowed to take root beyond their nation’s former borders. The debate over slavery’s expansion might have been an abstract one if not for the images, produced by artists assigned to the government-sponsored surveys that spread across the American West in the 1850s, that were distributed to Congress and the public. My dissertation examines the way these landscape images, perhaps anodyne to the modern viewer, were suffused with evidence of the power of sectional conflict and charged with the power to shape the country’s future. I argue that while Northerners opposed to slavery’s westward expansion were genuinely interested in the content of these images for what they conveyed about the varied landscapes of the West, pro-expansionist Southerners betrayed, through their indifference to visual descriptions of Western landscapes, a plot to achieve political and economic dominance over the North through the addition of more “slave states” and the construction of a transcontinental railroad linking Southern ports to the Pacific. Despite the overt political inflection of the US-Mexico Boundary Surveys, the Pacific Railroad Surveys, and other government-sponsored expeditions of the period, the drawings and prints produced for their official reports have yet to be studied in terms of their reflection of and influence on the sectional crisis that defined the 1850s. In our current moment of intense partisan discord, my dissertation offers perspective on another defining moment of seemingly insurmountable political conflict in our nation’s history.