We’re pleased to announce an upcoming roundtable panel that we will be co-sponsoring with the Association for Critical Race Art History (ACRAH) at the annual College Art Association Conference in Chicago this February. Over the decade that the Material Collective has been operating, we’ve seen a significant shift in the CAA’s willingness to engage with a more inclusive and often politicized version of visual studies and we applaud that. As medievalists like Matthew X. Vernon, Geraldine Heng, Cord Whitaker, and others have shown, the narrative that perpetuates the idea of “race” as a purely modern invention can be disputed. Race-making can clearly be traced to the medieval period, and even earlier, in both texts and visual imagery.
We approached ACRAH specifically because we hoped this roundtable might be a good venue to discuss those connections among pre- and post-modern art historians. As our abstract states:
Pre-modern fields of art history are often viewed as operating anterior to, or even outside of, considerations of race, racism, diversity, and inclusion. The classical and medieval worlds in particular have long been taken (by both specialists and those working in other areas) as primarily European, in which unexamined whiteness is too often the default position for understanding patrons, artists, and subjects. This neglect of racialized histories has allowed many art historians (especially white scholars) to occupy a privileged position of ignorance, choosing to avoid the contemporary impact of their scholarship and (even passively) upholding biased and racist narratives in publications and curricula.
We hope that the session, Unlearning Art History: Anti-Racist Work in Pre-Modern Fields, will be an opportunity to bring the important discussions happening in medieval studies into the art-historical conversation. Speakers include Nina Rowe, who will talk about resources, projects, and objects that can expand the discourse on race in the teaching of medieval art history. Dr. Rowe’s new research on illuminated World Chronicle manuscripts introduces evidence that can complicate our understanding of medieval European conceptions of Africa, and essays in a volume she co-edited, Whose Middle Ages?, introduce accessible discussions of whiteness and medieval intercontinental trade contacts that can disrupt traditional art historical narratives. Roland Betancourt (University of California, Irvine) will present on “Byzantine Intersectionality: Sexuality, Gender, and Race in the Middle Ages,” and we are very pleased to include Earnestine Qiu (PhD Candidate, Princeton University) on her work with the Armenia! show at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Qiu’s paper is titled “Displaying Armenia.” Our discussant, Adriana Zavala (Tufts University and founding director of the US Latinx Art Forum (USLAF)), will consider how historians of pre-modern and modern/contemporary art approach race and colonialism, how our questions differ, and what we might learn from cross-temporal conversations.
The session takes place on Friday evening, February 14, from 6:00-7:30pm. Come join us for Valentine’s Day!