Harry Callahan,  Barbara and Eleanor , Chicago, 1953

Harry Callahan, Barbara and Eleanor, Chicago, 1953


About the Colloquium
The RISD Art History Research Colloquium serves as a monthly forum for intellectual exchange amongst RISD faculty, staff, students, and invited guests, and provides an opportunity for members of our scholarly community to share their current work in progress, research interests, and approaches to pedagogy in an informal, collaborative environment. We hope that the Research Colloquium encourages interdisciplinary exchange of ideas bringing together a range of scholarly perspectives and methodologies related to the study of art history and visual culture. We also hope that it fosters an atmosphere for intellectual discussion, discovery, and debate amongst colleagues.

The Research Colloquium meets once a month to learn about and discuss the research-in-progress currently being done by a member of our community (e.g. an article, book chapter, exhibition catalogue, or presentation). Presenters (faculty, student, visiting researcher, etc.) can choose to either:

  • Distribute a text in advance for colloquium participants to read. The meeting, then, will consist of a short précis followed by an open discussion, in which colleagues may ask questions, make suggestions, or otherwise provide feedback.

  • Deliver an approximately 40-minute presentation, which is also followed by open discussion.

Past Colloquia: 2019-20


Installation view of Mickalene Thomas’s  Tableau   © Photograph: Yves Jeffcoat

Installation view of Mickalene Thomas’s Tableau
© Photograph: Yves Jeffcoat

May 6, 2019 | 6:00 – 7:30 PM
Room 366, Prov-Wash Building

Mickalene Thomas’s Cozy Corners

Eric Anderson

My paper considers home decoration as a topic situated within the varied terrain of vernacular material culture, design practice, and artistic representation. As a starting point, I explore the domestic interiors portrayed by Mickalene Thomas in recent paintings, collages, photographs, and installations. Thomas collects and arranges decorative furnishings in her studio and in galleries, reviving a nineteenth-century artistic practice for twenty-first century home–makeover culture. Her collecting and display, in turn, provide the starting point for the production of a prolific body of domestic imagery. Thomas’s pictures of interiors follow a recognizable template with colorful, patterned, textile-laden surfaces that frame intimately enclosed spaces and languidly posed sitters. These contemporary cozy corners suggest a cult of hyper-adorned domesticity steeped in historical motifs and ideological meanings. Yet the exaggerated eclecticism and unorthodox materials (rhinestones, wood paneling, wax-print fabrics) and the assertive presence of the black, queer women who inhabit Thomas’s interiors indicate an intention to critically reimagine old motifs for new subjectivities.

To better understand Thomas’s critical revisions of decoration and domesticity, I make comparisons to past imagery from nineteenth-century painting and photography, 1950s modernist architecture, and a 1970s decorating manual. Thomas’s appropriation of historical motifs as well as her engagement with historical practices of the studio and the gallery draw attention to persistent, often hidden ways that home décor has been used to mark out boundaries of identity and belonging. Inspired by literary scholar Susan Fraiman’s notion of “extreme domesticity”—homemaking as a radical assertion of agency from positions of marginalization—I emphasize ways that Thomas’s exuberant décor subverts conventional definitions of gender, sexuality, and race in the home.

Eric Anderson studies and teaches the history of modern design. He has written on topics including exhibitions, color theory, Sigmund Freud’s office and the mass-marketing of furniture. Articles and reviews have appeared in the journals West 86th, Centropa, Journal of Design History and Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide and in books including Design Dialogue: Jews, Culture and Viennese Modernism (Vienna, 2018), Making Home: The Arts and Crafts Movement and the Reform of Everyday Life (New Haven, 2018), Klimt und der Ringstrasse (Vienna, 2015) and Performance, Fashion, and the Modern Interior (Oxford, 2011). He has lectured recently in China, Greece and the UK and spent a semester as a Fulbright Fellow at the Sigmund Freud Museum and University of Applied Arts in Vienna.

Pre-circulated paper please email thad@risd.edu to receive a copy or RSVP here and we will email you a copy.
Light refreshments will be served.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres,  Untitled  ( Lover Boys ), 1991 Installation view at Galerie Xavier Hufkens, Brussels

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Untitled (Lover Boys), 1991
Installation view at Galerie Xavier Hufkens, Brussels

April 15, 2019 | 6:00 – 7:30 PM
Room 366, Prov-Wash Building

WWFGTD? On Generosity as Pedagogy, Modeled in the Sculpture of Felix Gonzalez–Torres

Elizabeth Maynard

This piece is a consideration of Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ work as a potential pedagogical model. The focus of my recent writing and teaching practices have been how to engage in a supportive dynamic that creates space for embodied intelligence. Teaching at a notoriously demanding art school prompts reflection on the divisive and dehumanizing tendencies of academic institutions. I turn to the gifting energetics of Felix Gonzalez-Torres (FGT), whose work is a favorite among my students. The softness of FGT’s minimalism, at once rigorous and generous, haunted by presence and absence, joy and melancholy, has served as a physical model of what it means to teach from a place of empathetic connection with subject matter and students. My recent turn towards somatic pedagogy is beautifully figured in FGT’s stacks and piles that both implicate and elide the body without ever denying its centrality: an elegant metaphor for intellectual labor as an embodied experience. Teaching is a practice that requires laying a foundation with equal parts hope and discipline, and then relinquishing control. As I find myself largely without a road map on this path for engaging my students, subject matter, and self, I often ask what would FGT do?

Liz Maynard works as an art historian, yoga teacher, and body worker in Providence, Rhode Island. She teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design and Rhode Island College where she focuses on modern and contemporary art works oriented around embodied experience and the construction and deconstruction of subjectivities. Her prime methodology as a writer and teacher is to locate the threads of empathetic connections in both discourse and experiential practice that allow for a deeper understanding of the arts and each other.

Light refreshments will be served.

© Ijlal Muzaffar

© Ijlal Muzaffar

March 8, 2019 | 6:00 – 7:30 PM
Room 366, Prov-Wash Building

Settling Dreams, on Three Scales (The Lahore Biennale Reader)

Ijlal Muzaffar

In this talk, I will look at what has been a blindspot in architectural histories of non-Western modernism: the meaning of land. Before a building is put up, a plan is drawn, what histories have shaped the meaning of land, from the scale of an empire to a silt particle floating in water? Does architectural understanding of scale and materiality have something critical to say about it? I will explore these questions with a story both global and personal that unfolds when the British colonial government began digging canals in the Sindh desert in India in 1898 to grow cotton. The small farmers settled in the new colonies (my family amongst them) were met, however, not with the promised water but with a rebellion from the followers of Sufi saints that occupied the land and considered it holy. Who’s meaning does the land hold, the imperial bureaucrat defending the empire’s economy, the settler holding a British quail-hunting rifle at the approaching sound of rebel horsemen at night, or the Scottish engineer trying to keep the silt particles miraculously afloat in the new canals?

Ijlal Muzaffar is an Associate Professor of Modern Architectural History at the Rhode Island School of Design. He received his PhD from MIT in the History, Theory, and Criticism of Architecture and Art. He also holds a Master of Architecture from Princeton University and a BA in Mathematics and Physics from the University of Punjab. His work has appeared in edited volumes, biennale catalogues, and peer reviewed journals like Grey room, Future Anterior, and Aggregate, an architectural history research collaborative and publishing platform of which he is also a founding member. He is currently working on two book projects. The first, titled The Periphery Within: Modern Architecture and the Making of the Third World, looks at how modern architects and planners played a critical role in shaping the discourse on Third World development and its associated structures of power after the Second World War. The second book, called Settling Dreams, charts the changing meaning of land as British colonial government laid out new canals in the Sindh desert (now in Pakistan) in1898 and transplanted small farmers (his family among them) from faraway lands to grow cotton for Manchester mills.

Pre-circulated paper please email thad@risd.edu to receive a copy or RSVP here and we will email you a copy.
Light refreshments will be served.

Past Colloquia: 2018-19

Art History Colloquium Posters.jpg

2018 Keynote Address Poster

2018 Keynote Address Poster

April 26, 2018 | 6:30 – 8:00 PM
Metcalf Auditorium, RISD Museum

Global Vorkurs: Reassembling the History of the Bauhaus from the Global South

Joaquín Barriendos

In 2019, Germany will be celebrating the one hundredth anniversary of the inauguration of the Bauhaus. In order to celebrate the legacy of this influential school and aesthetic idea, Germany will relocate different Bauhaus archives in three new museums. In addition, a number of exhibitions and seminars around the globe will be discussing the presence of the Bauhaus worldwide. The centenary of the Bauhaus is the perfect arena for discussing the latest epistemological and geopolitical foundations that are encouraging art historical visions and museum imaginaries in Europe to become global. In this keynote address, Joaquín Barriendos focuses on the relationship between the Bauhaus and Latin America, with an emphasis on Mexico and the intense connection this country “south the border” had with several of the members of the Bauhaus.

Joaquín Barriendos is a Research Fellow at the Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, Universidad Autónoma de México in Oaxaca, México and an Associated Academic Curator at Tlatelolco University Cultural Center, Barriendos has published extensively on the globalization of Latin American contemporary art as well as the theorization of global art circuits and institutions. He has served as Latin American Cultural Studies Assistant Professor at Columbia University, Visiting Professor at the Universitat de Barcelona, and Research Fellow at the Institute National d’Histoire de l’Art in Paris. Barriendos’s is the authore of Geoestética y Transculturalidad: Globalización de la Diversidad Cultural, Políticas de Representación y Nuevo Internacionalismo del Arte Contemporáneo (Girona, Fundaciò Espais [Premio Espais a la Crítica de Arte]), and his writings have appeared in Javier Guerrero’s Visual Objects (Princeton University Press, 2018), James Elkins’s Art and Globalization (Penn State University Press, 2011), Mieke Bal’s Migratory Politics: Technology, Time, Performativity (Amsterdam, 2011), and Hans Belting’s The Global Art World: Audiences, Markets and Museums (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2009).

Samah Hijawi,  The vegetable market Amman  From  Where are the Arabs? , 2009 Still from public performance

Samah Hijawi, The vegetable market Amman
From Where are the Arabs?, 2009
Still from public performance

April 3, 2018 | 10:15 – 11:30 AM
Danforth Lecture Hall, RISD Museum

From PLO to NGO: Arts, Letters and the Dissonance of Dissent
after the Cold War

Hanan Toukan

Since the start of the Arab revolutionary process and the violence that has accompanied it, the arts have come to play an ever more crucial role as mobilizer, witness and archivist of historical events. As a result the domain has enjoyed an exponential growth in the technical and financial support it receives from US and EU funding bodies. This growth has provoked intense debates within policy circles and a plethora of academic literature on what the role of visual and cultural practices are and should be in violent warfare, political change and the study of politics and culture in the region. This talk will historicize and contextualize this phenomenon as its focus predates 2011 and grapples with it from its first appearance in the 1990s and until its consolidation in the aftermath of 9/11.  Specifically the talk examines the ways in which transnational circuits of visual cultural production are related to how society makes, sees and experiences the political in art and its relevance to the wider publics in Jordan, Lebanon and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The talk addresses prevalent debates about the nature of the political in art as well as the role of art and the intellectual in political change. It shows that both are part and parcel of shifting structural dynamics in local and international politics that directly impact the production of culture and how different generations practice them, perceive them and process them.  Hence the talk is not is not so much about “art”, as much as it is about the “artworld” from a local perspective, and how culture in it is produced in a global world.

Hanan Toukan is Visiting Assistant Professor of Middle East Studies and Visual Arts at Brown University. Before joining Brown, Professor Toukan taught at the Freie Universität Berlin as well as at SOAS, University of London. She has also been a guest lecturer at Goldsmiths University of London in art history and visual cultures as well as Campus in Camps in Palestine. Professor Toukan was an EUME Postdoctoral Fellow in Berlin in 2012–2013, a Freie Universität Postdoctoral Fellow between 2014 and 2016 and a Kenyon Institute Visiting Scholar in East Jerusalem in 2012. Toukan is currently working on her manuscript based on her award winning Ph.D. titled “A Global Political: Art, Dissent and Diplomacy in the Arab World” under contract with Stanford University Press. Her articles have appeared in Arab Studies JournalCultural PoliticsJournal for Palestine StudiesReview of Middle East StudiesJerusalem QuarterlySCTIW ReviewJadaliyyaand Ibraazamongst others. She has also contributed chapters to Narrating Conflict in the Middle East: Discourse, Image and Communication Practices in Lebanon and Palestine (2013, edited by Dina Matar and Zahera Harb), to Commitment and Beyond: Locating the Political in Arabic Literature since the 1940s (2015, edited by Frederike Pannewick and Georges Khalil) and Histories of Arab Documentary (edited by Viola Shafik).

El Techo de la Ballena,  Rayado sobre El Techo 1  (Caracas: Ediciones del Techo de la Ballena, March 1961), drawing and design by Ángel Luque. © El Techo de la Ballena Papers, The Museum of Modern Art Library, New York.

El Techo de la Ballena, Rayado sobre El Techo 1 (Caracas: Ediciones del Techo de la Ballena, March 1961), drawing and design by Ángel Luque. © El Techo de la Ballena Papers, The Museum of Modern Art Library, New York.

March 20, 2018 | 10:15 – 11:30 AM
Danforth Lecture Hall, RISD Museum

The Mutability of Magma:
El Techo de la Ballena and the Venezuelan Petrostate

Sean Nesselrode Moncada

At a moment of political turmoil in Venezuela, the radical artist collective El Techo de la Ballena [The Roof of the Whale] produced a series of polemical exhibitions, publications, and documentary films that disrupted a modernist narrative of progress. Active between 1961 and 1969, the group was stylistically promiscuous and deliberately multidisciplinary, its activities unified only by a theory of “magma.” A formless, subterranean base material that serves as a thinly veiled metaphor for crude oil, this magma manifested in the group’s consistent preference for material confusion, visual flux, and narrative instability. By advancing a dissident view that Venezuelan modernism was little more than a Faustian bargain, El Techo’s heterogeneous practice challenged the dominance of kinetic abstraction while questioning the logic of the developmentalist petrostate, revealing an underbelly to the modernism that had long been obscured by a national push to “sow the oil.”

Sean Nesselrode Moncada is assistant professor of History of Art and Visual Culture at RISD, where he teaches courses on Latin American and Latinx art. He holds an MA and PhD in Art History and Archaeology from the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, and a BA in Art History and English Literature from Swarthmore College. His research examines the contested development of modernism in the Americas and its uneven reception and implementation across the hemisphere. His current book project focuses on the artistic, architectural and theoretical development of Venezuelan modernism(s) at the height of the 20th-century oil boom, looking to the relationship between industry and patronage as well as the broader ideological stakes of visuality under an emergent petrostate. His research has been published in journals such as Architecture Theory ReviewCaiana: Revista de Historia del Arte y Cultura Visual del Centro Argentino de Investigadores de Arte, and Hemisphere: Visual Cultures of the Americas. He is coordinator of the Providence and Rhode Island–area ACRAH Reading Group.

© Mehran Mohajer,  Untitled , from  Between and non-Between , 2017, Photography (detail)

© Mehran Mohajer, Untitled, from Between and non-Between, 2017, Photography (detail)

Tuesday, February 27, 2018 // 10:15 – 11:30 AM // Danforth Lecture Hall, RISD Museum

The World between My Fingers: Located Worldliness in the Photography of Mehran Mohajer

Foad Torshizi

“The World Between My Fingers: Located Worldliness in the Photography of Mehran Mohajer” examines the ways in which Mohajer’s photography enables a “worldliness” that is deeply rooted in the visual and literary traditions to which he, as an Iranian artist, belongs as well as in the history of photography. This rootedness allows Mohajer to effectively resist the widespread demand of Western art institutions that the aesthetic economies of non-Western artworks align with Euro-American understandings of meaning, value, aspiration and desire. “The World Between My Fingers...” is part of a chapter in a manuscript Torshizi is currently working on, entitled “The Clarity of Meaning”: Contemporary Iranian Art and the Cosmopolitan Ethics of Reading in Art History.

Foad Torshizi is assistant professor of Art of the Islamic World at RISD. He holds degrees in Comparative Literature and Society and Middle Eastern and Asian Languages and Cultures (PhD and MPhil, Columbia University), Art History (MA, University of Minnesota) and Photography (MFA, Honar University of Tehran). Prior to joining the RISD faculty in 2017, he taught graduate students at Tehran University, advanced undergraduates and graduate students at the Università degli Studi di Milano in Italy as well as undergraduate students at Columbia University’s Core Curriculum. His research interests are in the areas of global contemporary art, contemporary Iranian and Middle Eastern art, postcolonial theory, ethics of readership, theories of globalization and cosmopolitanism, comparative literature and politics of translation and interpretation. Torshizi’s research has appeared in academic journals both in the US and Iran. Most recently he has published an article in Herfeh: Honarmand on the works of the prolific Iranian artist Barbad Golshiri.