Q+A with Emily Edwards (B.A. in Art History, 2015)
Tue. November 24, 2015
Emily Edwards (B.A. in Art History, 2015) is a graduate student at Georgetown University. She answered questions by email.
Margaret Conyngham: After you finished your B.A. in Art History at UT Austin, you were accepted into the Art and Museum Studies graduate program at Georgetown University. What is your research focused on?
Emily Edwards: I am primarily focusing on contemporary art. I am also taking a few curatorial studies courses that focus on exhibition planning.
MC: Congratulations on your internship at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. What kinds of projects have you been working on there?
EE: Thank you! I am currently developing a video podcast for their website. I also work with the curatorial staff on exhibition research for future catalogs.
MC: How did your undergraduate work prepare you for graduate school and the work you are doing at the Hirshhorn?
EE: I learned how to do in-depth research through my undergraduate classes, especially while writing my undergraduate thesis. I really fine-tuned my writing skills in my four years at UT. I also learned how valuable it is to form relationships with professors. They all want to get to know you and help you succeed!
MC: Do you have any advice for students thinking about applying to graduate Art History programs?
EE: My biggest piece of advice is to thoroughly research the graduate programs. I remember thinking one program was perfect but then looked at their course offerings to find they did not offer any contemporary art classes. Since that is the area I want to specialize in, I quickly crossed it off my list! I also advise looking into the programs well in advance of application deadlines. I spent the summer before my senior year drafting a list of the schools I wanted to apply to so I could spend the fall of my senior year actually working on the applications. Those deadlines sneak up faster than you think! Finally, take advantage of the career services available in the department. I had no idea how to write a statement of purpose initially. Visiting career services helped me focus my ideas.
Maggie Conyngham is a recent graduate of The University of Texas at Austin with a B.A. in Art History and French. She currently lives in Austin, Texas.
An excerpt from Eddie Chambers’ paper entitled “We Might Not Be Surprised: Visualizing Slavery and the Slave Ship in the Works of Charles Campbell and Mary Evans”
Tue. November 24, 2015
Associate Professor Eddie Chambers contributed a chapter to the book, Visualizing Slavery: Art Across the African Diaspora (Liverpool University Press, December 2015). An excerpt from Chambers’ chapter entitled “We Might Not Be Surprised: Visualizing Slavery and the Slave Ship in the Works of Charles Campbell and Mary Evans” follows:
One of the most fascinating aspects of contemporary artists’ attempts to visualize slavery is the extent to which such images relate as much to the present-day, as they might to the historical traumas and experiences they seek to reference. Though contemporary artists may lay claim to, or may utilize, 18th or 19th century imagery in their work, the resulting pieces often speak as much, if not more, to late 20th or early 21st narratives of history and identity, than to the historical subject matter the original images depict. There is perhaps a certain inevitability to this, substantially reflected in television or cinematic interventions into narratives of slavery and the slave trade.
The television production of Alex Haley’s Roots probably told us more, or as much about race in mid 1970s United States, as it did about the particular saga of Haley’s family tree. More recently, films such as the biopic Amazing Grace (directed by Michael Apted, and loosely based on the life of antislavery MP William Wilberforce) probably told us more, or as much, about the climate of benevolent liberalism and partiality that by and large characterises the British people’s attitudes to matters of slavery and abolition. The fascinating set of postage stamps issued by the Royal Mail in 2007 probably told us as much as, or more about the Blair government’s questionable Abolition 200 project, as the stamps did about the historical figures they sought to memorialize. Much more recently, Steve McQueen’s own biopic 12 Years a Slave (loosely based on the vivid recollections of Samuel Northup, a free Black man kidnapped into slavery, and his subsequent nightmarish existence) probably told us more, or as much, about the United States in the era of Obama, as it did about slavery in 19th century America. Time and time again, we see the ways in which images of slavery and the slave trade have this fascinating ability to shuttle between considerations of both the past and the present.
Eddie Chambers joined the Department of Art and Art History in 2010, teaching African Diaspora art history. His education includes a Fine Art (Honours) degree from Sunderland Polytechnic (1983) and in 1998 a Ph.D. in History of Art from Goldsmiths College, University of London. Chambers authored Black Artists in British Art: A History Since the 1950s, published in 2014 (I. B. Tauris), now in its second edition.
Fifth Member of Fine Arts Faculty Wins Hamilton Book Award
Tue. November 10, 2015
Associate Professor Stephennie Mulder’s book on medieval Syrian shrines took the $10,000 top prize at the 2015 University Co-op Robert W. Hamilton Book Awards. Announced November 2, Mulder is the fifth recipient connected to the College of Fine Arts to receive the university-wide award.
College of Fine Arts Dean Doug Dempster said Mulder’s receipt of the Hamilton Book Award is another great credit to the original scholarship coming out of UT Austin's Art History program.
“Our Art History faculty, one of the most productive research faculties in the humanities at UT, now accounts for five of the twenty Hamilton Book Awards ever given—an unparalleled winning streak for any department,” he said. “The Art History program is one of the research gems of The University of Texas at Austin.”
Mulder’s book, The Shrines of the ‘Alids in Medieval Syria: Sunnis, Shi’is, and the Architecture of Coexistence, is the first illustrated, architectural history of these shrines, increasingly endangered by the conflict in Syria. Mulder, a specialist in Islamic architectural history and archaeology, holds a joint appointment in the College of Fine Arts’ Department of Art and Art History and the College of Liberal Arts’ Department of Middle Eastern Studies. She is the fourth Middle Eastern Studies professor to take home the Hamilton Award.
“It is enormously meaningful for me to have my work recognized among my peers at the university,” said Mulder. “I think that culturally, we tend to think of Art History as being less serious than some other fields. We tend to see images and works of art and architecture as aesthetically pleasing, but only worthy of study as a luxury or as a leisure activity—as only worth thinking about on a weekend visit to an art museum,” Mulder said. “But nothing could be further from the truth. Throughout the history of humanity, art has been at the forefront of how we have communicated about who we are and what we believe. Even before humans invented the first alphabet, created the first city, wrote the first history book, or conducted the first scientific experiment, we made art.”
During her career, she’s spent years in the field in Syria and throughout the Middle East and works on the conservation of antiquities and cultural heritage sites endangered by war and illegal trafficking. She is a founder of UT Antiquities Action, a group dedicated to raising awareness of the loss of cultural heritage.
“I have worked as an archaeologist in Syria since 1998, and fell in love with the country upon my first visit,” she said. “I began the research for this book in 2004, when I lived and worked in the vine-covered, winding streets of the ancient city of Damascus for a year and a half.”
During that research period, she never imagined that as she completed the book between 2011 and 2013, Syria would descend into a warzone.
“As this was unfolding, it was painful to write about a time in the medieval era when Syrian rulers used architecture to emphasize coexistence and sectarian harmony,” Mulder said. “My Syrian friend Ubayda lost his life during the time I wrote the book, and I dedicated the book to him and to the broadminded, cosmopolitan and democratic Syria in which he wished to live.”
Mulder has served as an expert for media reporting on the losses of those antiquities she studied. In September she was quoted in the International Business Times about the destruction of a 2,000-year-old temple in Palmyra. In 2014, she wrote an opinion piece for Al Jazeera arguing that the West’s desire to purchase ancient artifacts is the cause for looting, not the Islamic State.
She also used her expertise on the Middle East to co-write an op-ed for the Huffington Post with the History Department’s Erika Bsumek about the textual subversion techniques used by Middle Eastern artists in Western pop culture—particularly for the TV series, Homeland.
“Stephennie’s research may revolve around the 12th century, but it could not be more relevant to our current moment,” said Jack Risley, chair of the Department of Art and Art History. “The overwhelming reception to her book and her presence in the media, show that her research has consequence in the contemporary world, and that there is a role for scholars in public discourse.”
As her book gains recognition and support, Mulder said she hopes it illuminates those beautiful qualities of Syria that she researched, instead of the war-torn country in the news.
“Syria has always been a place where people of many faiths and beliefs lived together and created pragmatic systems of coexistence,” she said. “We can see in that picture a model for how coexistence can one day return to the region. Syria was and remains a beautiful country, with a rich and ancient past as one of the world’s great crossroads of human knowledge and civilization. I hope to see the day that it becomes so again.”