Department of Art and Art History Publication

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:


white paper cut out on pink
Mary Evans, Ship Shape, 2011, cms paper, 30 x 37 inches.

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.

Strange Pilgrims featured in The Alcade

Wed. November 11, 2015

pink and blue trapezoids overlapping

The Alcalde discusses the immersive and physically engaging aspects of Strange Pilgrims, an exhibition organized by The Contemporary Austin, in the Nov/Dec issue of the magazine.

Stephennie Mulder co-authors article in Huffington Post

Mon. November 2, 2015

Green cube with white graphic design overlay

Dr. Stephennie Mulder co-authored the article Subverting the Script: 'Homeland' Graffiti Artists Use Same Techniques as Native Americans for Huffington Post with Dr. Erika Bsumek of the Department of History at UT Austin

Excerpt / Julia Guernsey and Michael Long, “Middle Preclassic figurines and ancient antecedents for themes of embodiment, fragmentation, and social order"

Thu. October 29, 2015

photo of circular stone carved with mesoamerican glyphs
The Coyolxauhqui Stone, c. 1500. Templo Mayor, Tenochtitlan (Museo del Templo Mayor, Mexico City), photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The following excerpt is from a paper by Dr. Julia Guernsey and Ph.D. candidate in Art History, Michael Long entitled, “Middle Preclassic figurines and ancient antecedents for themes of embodiment, fragmentation, and social order." The paper will be published in an upcoming volume on witchcraft in Mesoamerica, forthcoming in 2016 from University Press of Colorado.


Even at La Blanca, where figurine fragments associated with Mound 1 were obviously not cached with care, but instead deposited along with domestic refuse, it is interesting that the structure itself — a massive symbol of the body politic — was constructed of fill that included body fragments that were linked to other disembodied parts scattered throughout the domestic space of the site. We think it possible that such practices linked the community together, not only by means of the broken fragments, but through the memory of their once complete wholes, which symbolized the communal labor necessary to construct the massive structure….

Fragmentation was also envisioned and shared by all levels of Mesoamerican society already by the Preclassic period, and enacted in both the public and private sectors. We believe that the domestic evidence of figurine fragmentation is particularly important to emphasize, because it underscores the “folk” or community-based ritual practices that served to sustain issues of personhood, embodiment, and the disassembly/fragmentation of the self. Many of the ideas documented ethnohistorically or ethnographically in later years engage with strikingly similar notions of bodily fragmentation and social integration/disintegration that are presaged by the patterns of Preclassic figurines but that, nevertheless, must be problematized within a conceptual matrix that was influenced by a European fascination with similar concerns.


Julia Guernsey received her Ph.D. from The University of Texas at Austin in 1997, and has taught ancient Mesoamerican art and culture history in the Department of Art and Art History at the UT Austin since 2001. Her research and publications continue to focus on the Middle and Late Preclassic periods in ancient Mesoamerica, in particular on sculptural expressions of rulership during this time. She also continues to participate on the La Blanca Archaeological Project, which is exploring this large site that dominated the Pacific coastal and piedmont region of Guatemala during the Middle Preclassic period.

Michael Long is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Art and Art History. His dissertation research focuses on the development and role of stairway monuments in Classic Maya art and politics. In particular, he investigates how the writing and imagery included with these monuments create theatrical contexts for elite interaction. In addition to his interests in Classic Maya architectural spaces, Michael also maintains research interests in the phenomenological analysis of Mesoamerican sculpture and the interaction between memory and artefact in prehistoric art.

Read an excerpt from Ann Reynolds’ essay for the catalog Joan Jonas: They Come to Us without a Word

Sun. August 30, 2015

two women look up at painting
Ann Reynolds and Joan Jonas at the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, Venice, looking at Jacopo Tinotetto’s Massacre of the Innocents of 1582-87. Image courtesy of Ann Reynolds.

Professor Ann Reynolds wrote the main essay for the catalog accompanying Joan Jonas’ exhibition at the U.S. Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. The essay commission comes after more than a decade of her work with Jonas and the following is an excerpt from her essay, How the Box Contains Us.


Brilliantly lit by a world located outside the primary interior space depicted in the painting, this rectangle competes for attention with other, equally well-lit portions of the foreground and middle ground and seems to suggest not only another space within the painting or alter¬nate interpretations of the internal logic of the painting’s space, but also, perhaps, opportunities to consider Tintoretto’s painting in space. One might imagine Tintoretto’s bright rectangle as a discrete picture of an alternate event, time, or place, hovering like an apparition in an ambiguous relation to the space occupied by the biblical story of the Massacre of the Innocents. Or it could be a mirror reflecting a space beyond the physical confines of the painting. In any sense, Tintoretto’s painting may be experienced as a more open, fluctuating palimpsest of spaces that don’t always coalesce even as they coexist within a shared set of physical limit terms: the length and width of the canvas and the three dimensions of the room in the Scuola Grande.

It is quite a simple gesture, one that Joan Jonas often makes in her performances. She stands in front of a large, prerecorded video pro¬jected onto a wall or screen and holds up a piece of white paper or cloth, sometimes shifting it from side to side, tipping it slightly left to right, then right to left, shaking it, or using it to track or momentarily frame the movements of something in the projection behind her. Some¬times she makes drawings on the paper or holds it close to her body and traces her body’s contours onto it with a marker or crayon. The visual effects are subtle. Just a slight change in the distance or angle between the projector and the surface of the projection brings the por¬tion of the video image Jonas is capturing a bit closer and isolates, frames, and magnifies it slightly, in or out of focus, transforming the rest of the projected image into background. If the paper she holds up is black, Jonas’s gesture produces the opposite effect; it almost obliter¬ates part of the projected image and substitutes a black void or a white-on-black drawing for this temporarily “lost” portion.

During these actions, Jonas wears simple white or light-colored clothing, across which the projected video image also visibly extends, simultaneously absorbing her into it as she extends parts of it, her drawings, and herself outward. Through her gestures and these visual transformations, she subtly disrupts the internal logic of the prerecorded, projected image’s space and its figure/ground relationships by weaving them into her space and into the present, a space and time she also shares with her audience. These spatial effects are quite fleeting, as eventually Jonas drops the paper or cloth to the floor and moves on to something else, but during those moments, she is self-consciously challenging the viewer’s reflexive relation to viewing images of space in a manner that is similar to the potential experiences that Tintoretto’s paintings allow.

A few days after visiting the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, Jonas asks: “Why do we make these spaces?”


Ann Reynolds, “How the Box Contains Us,” Joan Jonas: They Come to Us Without a Word. United Sates Pavilion, 56th International Art Exhibition - La Biennale di Venezia. Edited by Jane Farver. Cambridge: MIT List Visual Arts Center, New York: Gregory R. Miller & Co. and Ostfildern, Germany: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2015, 18-27.

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