Sixth Feminist Art History Conference

At the height of the Kavanaugh hearings, while the treatment of women in society and the #metoo movement were at the forefront of our country’s consciousness, American University hosted its Sixth Feminist Art History Conference.  The opening remarks all commented on the timeliness of the event, which took place from Friday September 28th to Sunday the 30th, and the acute need to examine the way culture shapes society’s perception of women, both in art history and the public arena.

Dr. Amelia Jones opened conference with an insightful keynote that set the tone for two days of conference panels questioning gender essentialism, how queer theory can be used historically, and many more key issues in feminist approaches.  Her talk entitled, “Essentialism, Feminism, and Art: Spaces Where Woman ‘Oozes Away,’” interrogating the use of “woman” as a category.  She posited that the increasingly visible trans* and gender queer communities provide a more useful way of thinking about gender difference against the grain of the singular and defined, despite how multiplicitous those categories are.

After a brief hiatus, the conference has returned to a biannual schedule thanks to the generous endowments of Ms. Robin D’Alessandro and Dr. Jane Fortune.  In light of Dr. Fortune’s death a few days before the event, the department’s appreciation of her gift included a veneration of her legacy and a review of Indiana Jane’s—as she was affectionately known—ardent support of female artists.  American University Professors Emeriti Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard, upon whose groundbreaking feminist scholarship the conference is based, presented these acknowledgements, marking a pointed moment of remembrance as the audience acknowledge these pioneers in the field.  Underscoring the idea of an inherited mantle, American University’s Master’s student volunteers donned bright purple shirts asking “Why have there been so many great feminist art historians?,” an ironic reference to the late Linda Nochlin and an acknowledgement of the great work that has come from those scholars in attendance. 

The twenty panel sessions featured topics from Renaissance gaze theory to collaboration in the avant-garde.  Several themes across the talks included the question of how to label historic queer identities, the relationship of biography to responsible feminist art history, and the complexity of homosocial artistic networks, particularly for female artists.  We are grateful to our panelists and chairs for their time and expertise in sparking such lively debates for our audience.  

The sold-out conference was a great success and the department looks forward to hosting the event again in 2020.

1First-year Master’s students Hannah Southern (left) and Nicole Martin (right) wearing the conference’s volunteer t-shirts as the opening reception.

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Students and scholars mingling at the opening reception in the Katzen Arts Center rotunda.

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Dr. Amelia Jones delivering her keynote address to a sold-out auditorium.

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