The AU MA Art History program had strong representation at the 2011 Robyn Rafferty Mathias 21st Annual Student Research Conference. Kellie BurrisWalton, Patricia Bray, Orin Zahra, Adriana Lema Polo, and Mary Cameron all presented papers. The M.A. art history students were grouped together in a session entitled “Self and Other: Images and the Construction of Identity.”
Kellie Burris Walton began the session with her talk entitled “Models of Maternity and Modesty: Colonial Portraiture and Women’s Roles in the New World”. In her paper, Kellie examines the way in which colonial portraiture during the late seventeenth and early to mid-eighteenth centuries reflected the prescribed gender roles for women of this period. While the final appearance of a portrait was determined by a number factors including the region where it was created, the social and economic status of the sitter, and the skills of the artist, careful visual analysis of such a work indicates that within the colonies, a woman’s duty as a wife and mother outweighed all others in importance. In her paper Kellie explains that a survey of these portraits ultimately allows the viewer to construct a model of the proper and fruitful woman, a concept stressed on women of this period, beginning as early as childhood. To support this assertion, Kellie’s paper examines multiple examples of female portraiture from this time, considering them in conjunction with the British mezzotint sources often consulted by the artists as well as etiquette books of this period outlining the behavior deemed appropriate for these sitters.
Patricia Bray discussed portraiture in her talk “Gabriele Münter, The Polish Woman (1909): Fusing Nature and Culture.” Patti argued that Munter’s portraiture incorporated aspects of landscape painting in an inventive form of artistic synthesis. In so doing, the artist challenged conventional associations of men with culture and women with nature. Patti supported her thesis analyzing Münter’s 1909 painting Portrait of a Young Woman in a Large Hat, known as The Polish Woman. Patti explained that the painting is innovative in its formal execution, as it combines naturalism with abstraction. The painting also negotiates cultural expectations about women in fascinating ways. The Polish Woman echoes the topographical and chromatic treatment of Münter’s contemporaneous landscapes depicting the town of Murnau in the Bavarian region of Germany. The significance of this painting is two-fold: in making landscape a figural motif, Münter fused artistic genres traditionally kept separate. By combining nature and culture in a portrait of a woman by a woman artist, Münter confounds accepted ideas about the gendering of nature and culture.
Mary Cameron’s talk was entitled “Rookwood Vases: An Exchange between East and West.” Mary’s talk was an excerpt from her larger thesis paper. In her talk, Mary discussed how Japonisme influenced the Arts and Crafts movement, especially the Rookwood Kiln in Cincinnati, Ohio. Interest in Japan was widespread in late nineteenth century American culture. Following the opening of Japan in 1854 by Commodore Perry and a push for modernization undertaken by the Meiji emperors, a wealth of Japanese goods flowed into the West. Here they met receptive artists and collectors, who disseminated Japanese aesthetics to the wider public. One artistic trend that embraced Japanese style was the Arts and Crafts movement, originating in Great Britain in the 1870s. The movement was largely devoted to reversing the negative effects of industrialization. As a result of Americans studying in Great Britain and British artists lecturing in America, the ideals of the Arts and Crafts movement spread to the United States. American artists, influenced by the concurrent threads of Japonisme and the Arts and Crafts movement, combined both styles in order to reject industrial techniques and to offer a retreat from the grind of the modern world. As a result of this cross-cultural pollination, a plethora of intriguing art that combined Japanese and Western styles was created. A fascinating example of this phenomenon can be found in the pottery produced by the Rookwood Kiln in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Orin Zahra ended the session with her talk “Natvar Bhavsar: Indian Modernism and the American Avant-Garde.” Orin explained that when discussing prominent American art movements of the twentieth century, such as Abstract Expressionism, the contributions made by Indian artists are hardly discussed in scholarship. Despite the lack of scholarly literature on this topic, Orin’s talk made use of primary sources, such as interviews, and cites key essays from art historians as it explores the transnational art of the painter, Natvar Bhavsar. Orin asserted that Bhavsar’s dynamic paintings show an amalgamation of Abstract Expressionist aesthetics and his cultural roots. By comparing Bhavsar’s original technique as a color-field painter to his American contemporaries, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko, Orin argued that Abstract Expressionism really provided the means for artistic expression to Bhavsar, but the aesthetic vision was already on the artist’s mind prior to being introduced to the American movement. This vision came out of the colorful, symbolic rituals with which Bhavsar was raised in India. Ultimately, Orin disagrees with scholarship which argues that a focus on nationality and geography reduces the artist and the artwork to essential ideas. Instead, Orin asserted that these concepts are actually quite complex and enrich, rather than diminish and devalue, the scholarship on modern Indian artists who have inspired from the West.
The papers presented in this session demonstrate the wide range of research interests and diversity of methodologies employed by AU’s M.A. Art History students.