Graduate Work

    Frontpage of “India in America”: East Indian Furnishings between Ahmedabad and Bryn Mawr by Katie Loney


    Digital Exhibition Maps Agency and Identity through Furnishings

    Author: Katie Loney

    PhD Student in History of Art and Architecture and Graduate Student Assistant in Public History

    How can furniture help us understand the world and its connections? As the Graduate Student Assistant in Public History at Pitt’s World History Center, I have developed a digital exhibition that shares the 19th century furniture from India which I study as an art historian beyond my discipline. “India in America”: East Indian Furnishings between Ahmedabad and Bryn Mawr traces the movements of a set of artistic furnishings produced by the Ahmedabad Wood Carving Company in Ahmedabad, India to explore important questions about agency and identity. In the late nineteenth century, the American heiress, philanthropist, and suffragette Mary Garrett purchased this set for her Baltimore estate, later moving it to Bryn Mawr College’s Deanery with the help of the American designer Lockwood de Forest—one of the Ahmedabad Wood Carving Company’s founders.

    Through virtual “galleries,” visitors are able to explore the transnational histories of these Indian furnishings, tracking their movements from Ahmedabad to de Forest’s New York showrooms, Garrett’s Baltimore mansion, and the Deanery, where Garrett lived with her partner, M. Carey Thomas, the then-president of Bryn Mawr College. Looking to period photographs, correspondence, inventory reports, and other archival materials, the digital exhibition reexamines the company’s artistic furnishings and their position within Orientalist interiors, which evoked an imaginary “East” for Western consumption. At each stage, issues of agency and exchange come to the fore by registering the company’s furnishings as objects of skilled craftsmanship, commodities, and exotic luxury furnishings. Taken together, these galleries illuminate the ways nineteenth-century Americans and Indians used luxury goods to navigate their identities and social relationships in an increasingly interconnected world characterized by colonialism and imperialism.

    Almost serendipitously, my project coincides with a new exhibition of de Forest’s work at Bryn Mawr College, “All-over Design:” Lockwood de Forest between Ahmedabad and Bryn Mawr, curated by Nina Blomfield (Ph.D. candidate at Bryn Mawr College). This led to a series of collaborative events at Pitt and Bryn Mawr college where we were able to discuss both our exhibitions with the public. At Pitt, we hosted a curatorial conversation in the India Nationality Room. We not only discussed our approaches to work of de Forest and the Ahmedabad Wood Carving Company but were able to compare this de Forest’s design as a turn-of-the-century venture with the twenty-first century Indian Nationality Room modeled after the Buddhist Monastic University, Nalanda (active from ca. 500-1200 CE). This comparison raised questions about the global circulation of materials, goods, and aesthetics and how they are used in places deemed new and foreign. Comparing de Forest and the Indian Nationality Room also highlighted the processes of appropriation and inequity on which nineteenth-century Orientalist interiors relied and perpetuated, while illuminating the ways in which the Indian Nationality Room negotiates issues of identity formation for Indian communities in Pittsburgh.

    This event was followed by an object study session at Bryn Mawr College, where Nina and I led an interactive tour of her physical exhibition. Bryn Mawr Special collections provided us with hand lights and gloves to share with attendees, so everyone had the opportunity to engage with the objects visually and tactically. 

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  • Fletcher Martin, Contract Miner, 1947


    Who are the Workers?

    Author: Joshua McDermott

    PhD student in Sociology and Work Forces workshop participant

    There’s a long and stubborn tendency among scholars and activist to narrowly define workers and the participants of labor movements as only those workers formally employed by a firm. In recent years, concepts such as “precarious workers,” “the precariat,” and others have been employed to claim to give theoretical salience to a supposedly new type of worker in the developed world whose work is defined by intermittent and unprotected employment. 

    In reality, there has never been a neat dividing line between workers and precarious workers, except, perhaps in the exclusionary strategies employed by some forms of trade unionism. From a historical perspective, what today we might identify as precarious workers, informal workers, household workers and the like have always been important, if not central, to labor struggles. In other words, radical worker’s movements have always been comprised of individuals who many scholars, to this day, fail to recognize as workers, due to their lack of formal employment, or the degree(s) of separation of their labor processes from direct commodity production. 

    This view is not only empirically and historically inaccurate, but also exclusionary. Through my field work in the cities of the Mano River Region of West Africa, it’s clear that informality has always been a feature of the labor movement in West Africa, where upwards of 90% of workers are either casually employed or self-employed as petty traders. Despite their lack of formal employment (i.e. employment regulated by the state, ensuring a semblance of worker protections), these workers are essential to the functioning of not only their national economies, but the global capitalist economy. 

    Pittsburgh’s labor history is no exception. My week-long immersion into the visual and archival history of Pittsburgh’s labor history during the Work Forces workshop only reaffirmed this fact. It was often in the most maligned and excluded portions of the working class that I found the most radical and coherent programs for social change. Indeed, it is on the margins of the working contract where the workers are usually the most vulnerable to mistreatment, but also the most consciousness of the injustices of the prevailing order.

    Painter Fletcher Martin’s Contract Miner, stands out as a piece within the University’s art collection that calls for direct acknowledgement of marginal workers, depicting a lone, faceless coal miner, explicitly lacking union protection. The archive’s collection of pamphlets and flyers from black workers’ and communist groups, and from feminist and women’s rights organizations, further attests to the priceless insights and holistic considerations that marginalized workers gave to the history of labor struggles in Pittsburgh. It is through the struggles and actions of the most overlooked and exploited workers that labor activism has often drawn its most profound and powerful lessons, strategies, and victories. 

    Labor historians and labor activists in Pittsburgh, and around the world, would do well to remember that. 

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    Collective Book Launch for Jennifer Josten, Caitlin Bruce, Harris Feinsod

    Author: Rebecca Giordano 

    PhD Student in History of Art and Architecture

    On October 25th, Pitt’s Humanities Center hosted a collective book launch for three scholars whose work draws out transnational networks of creative practice. Bridging three disciplines, multiple media, and several different decades, the authors each spoke about their book projects with nods to each other’s work followed by a generous and lively Q&A. HAA associate professor Jennifer Josten presented her book Mathias Goeritz: Modernist Art and Architecture in Cold War Mexico alongside Pitt Department of Communication assistant professor Caitlin Bruce who shared her book Painting Publics: Transnational Legal Graffiti Scenes as Spaces for Encounter. Chronicling different decades and locations, each presented Mexican artistic production as sites within hemispheric and transnational networks from distinct methodologies and disciplinary vantages. Harris Feinsod, now an associate professor of English at Northwestern, discussed The Poetry of the Americas: From Good Neighbors to Countercultures, a supranational history of poetry and politics he worked on while an Early Career Specialist at the Humanities Center (2015-2016). 

    Throughout the talk, the authors referenced the conversations they shared while developing their projects at Pitt. From the discipline-specific approaches to translation to the art historical methodologies designed to give principle weight to the art object, each voiced what they borrowed and what they shared. Hearing how such cross-disciplinary conversations advanced their projects shed light on the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration and the spaces which host it. During her presentation, Josten gave a close reading of all three book covers which each have artworks made in Mexico, noting that Feinsod’s book featured a work by Mathais Goertiz, the subject of her book. Feinsod and Josten both focus on the movement of ideas and people within geopolitical realities that defined Cold War cultural production. Bruce’s work brings these concerns into the present while capturing the personal and living nature of such networks through observation and interviews. 

    During the Q&A, Feinsod recounted to the audience that revered Mexican writer Octavio Paz had once graced the Cathedral of Learning for a year in 1969 during his exile in protest of the Mexican government’s actions in the 1968 Tlatelolco Massacre. Feinsod read from a letter Paz wrote during his time in Pittsburgh, which Feinsod translated into English. Paz’s witty and sharp letter is filled with funny barbs about the Cathedral’s “purest Gothic brick and cement” and quips about industrialist Andrew Mellon and poet Robert Bly. A pitch-perfect capstone to the event, the letter illustrated Pitt’s long history as a hub of hemispheric thinking, marked by intelligent criticism, a commitment to broad inquiry, and scholarly humor. 

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  • Arushi Sahai introducing the director Avijit Mukul Kishore


    Nostalgia for the Future

    Author: Arushi Sahai

    PhD Student in History of Art and Architecture

    Homes are machines that we live in. 

    Last month, the Department of History of Art and Architecture co-sponsored a screening and discussion with director Avijit Mukul Kishore about his documentary, Nostalgia for the Future. The film tells the story of Indian modernity through the lens of domestic architecture, exploring the bonds and ideals of the ambitious postcolonial nation and its citizens. Using four examples, the film shows how the newly-independent nation would weave a new narrative of progress and development using the idealized concept of the home.

    The film opens in 1890 focusing on the architectural language of the time by looking at Lukhshmi Vilas Palace in Baroda, the largest domestic architecture in India and a leading example of modernity in its time. The European statues and fountains which adorned the interiors of the house evoked progress and status for educated class of colonial India. The definition changed in the 1950s, where the film opens its second act. The first decade of postcolonial India reflects the vision of a new nation-state as was projected by its leader, the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru. Nehru believed in a country liberated from history: to be modern was to be new. This ideology manifested in the conception of Chandigarh – the first ‘planned’ city in India designed by Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier. Nehru ardently believed that by living in modern architecture the citizens of India would become modern. The modern had to be made of steel, concrete and sans history. The third chapter explores public housing in Delhi which was designed by the Indian government with the intention of housing refugees from Pakistan as well as bureaucrats. Designed to promote the nuclear family, the houses had a set floor plan of a living room, bedroom, kitchen and toilet: a set mechanical production of domestic space for new India. The film concludes with the present-day Gurugram where high towering domestic apartments juxtapose makeshift slums which together make the city’s landscape. Through these four places and times, Kishore weaves parallels of architectural history within broader cultural histories to elaborate on India’s aspirations for modernity and its projection on to its people. 

    An invigorating Q&A session followed the film screening where students from various departments joined the director to reflect on the film. The questions addressed a range of medium concerns including Kishore’s mixing of poetic black-white film and digital video with found footage from state propaganda films and mainstream features. Others addressed his use of unadulterated Hindi (rather than the more colloquial Hindustani) for narration. The Q&A session proved to be enlightening by highlighting the use of filmmaking as a medium to reflect on architecture. Through Kishore’s confluence of mediums including those originally used as propaganda, the film shows how architecture has been embedded in a various media and social worlds. 

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    Terry Smith, Iva Čukić, Milica Pekić, and Luka Knežević Strika


    Contemporary Art Practices in Serbia

    Author: Ilhan Ozan

    PhD Student in History of Art and Architecture

    On October 17, the Department of History of Art and Architecture and Pittsburgh’s Office of Public Art held a public lecture on Serbian contemporary art by art historian and curator Milica Pekić, photographer and visual artist Luka Knežević Strika, and architect and urban planner Iva Čukić. Moderated by HAA Professor Terry Smith, the guest speakers built on their 2018 collaboration with the Pittsburgh artist Edith Abeyta for “Keyword: International,” an initiative of the Carnegie International in 2018.

    In their talk, they shared a number of examples from the collectives they are involved, highlighting the importance of using art and culture to enhance civic dialogue and participation for local communities. In addition to their collaboration, each of the speakers is also involved in other collectives in their own field. These initiatives include Pekić in KIOSKAssociation of Independent Cultural Scene of Serbia; Strika in Belgrade RawOstavinskaMagacinMultimadeira; Čukić in Ministry of SpacePlatform for Theory and Practice of CommonsStreet Gallery

    As this event revealed, their artistic activism seeks to engage with social, political, economic issues. Pekić introduced several projects, including “Project Yugoslavia” realized by KIOSK in partnership with the Museum of Yugoslavia which explores the premise that the former Yugoslavia is not a closed chapter in history and aims to utilize this past to open up possibilities in the present and the future. In short video interviews, 100 participants contemplate key political concepts. Instead of posing specific questions, however, the participants were given a card with information about an object from the museum’s collection with its description, date or period, and origin. The project presents a dematerialized and unconventional mode of working with a museum collection. It currently exists in a digital platform, but will take place as an exhibition at the museum in December 2019. 

    Strika discussed the history of the collective Belgrade Raw, exploring social aspects of the city of Belgrade through photography, a project that significantly contributed to the development of fine art photography in Serbia. Using internet as the primary medium of communication with the public, this artist collective began on Flickr in 2009 and expanded their platforms through exhibitions and print publishing. Pursuing alternative display formats, Strika explained in his presentation that photographs were edited by the group of participants, promoting a collective decision-making process.

    Urbanism is central to Čukić’s practice. She critically approaches Belgrade’s rapid transformation, gentrification, and privatization under neoliberal policies. As she explained, her projects follow two strategic paths: to defend the existing commons and to create new commons in terms of spaces, services, and resources. In this process, they work closely with local communities as well as city government and municipal authorities, intervening and redefining the political spectrum, even influencing policy. They transform spaces and open them for public use, often temporarily, and implement horizontal decision making among their publics.

    While the individual work and practices of this trio are highly embedded in local and regional contexts, they also tackle global issues through contemporary art grounded in everyday life. As the variety of the projects reveals, their collaborations are built on a constellation of art and knowledge from their own fields through different initiatives.

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  • Carolyn Wargula, Karen Gerhart, Mimi Yiengpruksawan and Michelle McCoy


    Wilkinson Lecture Series: Reconsidering the Agency of Pre-modern Japanese Women

    Author: Carolyn Wargula

    PhD Student in History of Art and Architecture

    Dr. Mimi Yiengpruksawan, Professor of Art History at Yale University, was this year’s speaker for the annual James and Susanne Wilkinson Lecture held on September 26. This lecture series invites esteemed scholars of pre-modern art each year to discuss their research. Professor Yiengpruksawan, a historian of eleventh- and twelfth-century Japanese Buddhist art, gave a public lecture titled “TWILIGHT WORLD OF SCREENS? REALLY? Women, Art, and Agency in Late Heian Japan,” in which she explored how modern analysis and interpretation of Heian-period (794-1185) literature has skewed and even obscured our view of the political and social agency of Japanese aristocratic women.

    Previous scholarship often assumed that Heian-period aristocratic women were cloistered within their residences and were denied the rights to participate in society at large. Visual and literary sources from this period were used as corroborative evidence that court women were simply passive recipients of the male gaze. 

    In her lecture, Dr. Yiengpruksawan underscored the importance of using new exegetical methods and interpretive strategies, such as those developed by David Summers on the use of space, to recontextualize the agency of Heian court women. She explained the influence that court women had as patrons and their contributions to religious institutions, noting that court diaries show that these women held considerable social and economic power, traveled freely, and were not simply passive figures, but demonstrative and loud about their thoughts and desires.

    One point that Professor Yiengpruksawan highlighted in her talk was that Heian women owned property and could inherit land. Minamoto no Rinshi (964-1053), the wife of the illustrious statesman, Fujiwara no Michinaga (966-1028), was actually of higher status and had considerably more wealth than her husband upon their marriage, yet most of the current scholarship focuses on his patronage activities. What becomes clear from this talk is that, despite the patriarchal nature of Buddhist institutions at the time, patronage of Buddhist art and architecture afforded women a public voice and means by which they could negotiate power and form new social identities and communities.

    What makes Professor Yiengpruksawan’s research so innovative and inspiring is her interest in framing the patronage activities of Heian women within a cross-border perspective. She concluded the talk by comparing the patronage practices of Rinshi and her daughter Shōshi (988-1074) with those of Khitan princesses on the continent, arguing that these women saw themselves as crucial figures within a larger Buddhist cosmopolis. It is rare and even refreshing for a scholar of Heian-period Japanese art to bring attention to the exchange between Japan and the continent. This talk offers new perspectives on the religious lives of Japanese aristocratic women and serves as an exemplary model for the idea-driven research of the Constellations program.

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    Workshop session at the University Art Gallery with selected works from the Gimbel collection

    Work Forces and Devising an Archive Theatre

    Author: Emma Squire 

    PhD student in Theatre and Performance Studies and Work Forces workshop participant

    On October 25th, 1915 a fire at the Union Paper Box Company in Pittsburgh’s North Side neighborhood killed thirteen and left an estimated fifteen injured. Twelve of these fatalities were women under the age of twenty-four. Archives and Special Collections at The University of Pittsburgh holds the Allegheny County Coroner’s Office records of the inquest into the fire at 207-209 Sandusky Street. This collection of press reports, proof of identity forms, and verdicts from the coroner’s jury provide a narrative of a city reckoning with its lack of enforced fire codes and underfunded firefighting infrastructures. Additionally, these institutional documents contain glimpses of the individual traumas experienced by the community in the aftermath of the tragedy. These papers contain precisely the sort of information that would be necessary for an attempt to create a devised theatre piece around the Union Paper Box Company fire.

    As a PhD student in the Theatre Arts department, I co-founded the Archive Theatre Project in partnership with Archives and Special Collections at Pitt. Our mission is to devise and stage performances, free to the public, constructed from content found within local archival collections. In February 2019 we produced SALK: The Man Behind the Vaccine a staged-reading created from the Max A. Lauffer Papers housed at Pitt. After SALK, University Archivist Zach Brodt suggested that Archive Theatre Project might look into the fire at the Union Paper Box Company as a possible subject. I had hoped that participating in Work Forces would allow me to research the local tragedy from a variety of different institutional perspectives and archival mediums. While I was able to collect information like the coroner’s office records, what I left the workshop with was a heightened sense of the atmospheric conditions in which the event itself occurred. A painting of slag running down a local hill, a conservator explaining the continuous cleaning-up of industrial grim in early twentieth-century Pittsburgh, photography showing the massive construction sites of buildings still standing downtown; these understandings have brought me closer to the sensory experiences of 1915 Pittsburgh. It becomes easier to imagine the smells, sounds, and sights of daily life for the workers of the Union Paper Box Company. It became clear to me throughout the workshop that accumulating specific information regarding the tragedy of October 25th, 1915 was only one part of the story. In order to create a more nuanced devised theatre piece, an understanding of the atmospheric elements of Pittsburgh’s environmental and labor histories would be necessary.

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  • Maria Lis and other workshop participants at the University Library System, Archives Service Center, during the Work Forces workshop


    Work Forces Workshop: The City of Pittsburgh as Pedagogical Tool

    Author: María Lis Baiocchi

    PhD student in Anthropology and Work Forces workshop participant

    The history of Pittsburgh as a center of the Industrial Revolution in the United States, its relevance to the history of the labor movement in this country, and its identity as a distinctly working-class city are some of the most interesting things that any non-Pittsburgh native gets to learn about this city when deciding to move here. At least that was the case for me when I decided to move here to do my PhD in Pitt’s Department of Anthropology. At the time, my work did not involve addressing issues of labor at all. It has been fortuitus that my research trajectory changed to put labor, and specifically household labor, at the center of my doctoral project while doing my PhD in a city where labor has historically taken center-stage.

    The Work Forces Workshop was an in-depth exploration of Pittsburgh’s rich labor history and culture through the prism of archival collections and art exhibitions. It is not an understatement to say that taking part in it transformed my view of the city. Work Forces underscored the potential of Pittsburgh for labor-related research projects through a range of onsite experiences. For instance, we looked into the Left Ephemera Collection in the Frick Fine Arts Library. Visiting the archive in the Bost Building of the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area, we examined (among other notable materials) notebooks documenting the accidents of workers in one of Pittsburgh’s steel mills which revealed the laboring conditions in this city at the height of its industrial age. I was struck by an interview with a household worker who used to work at Fallingwater kept in the Heinz History Center. 

    Perhaps most interestingly, Work Forces showed the ways in which the city itself and its surroundings can serve as pedagogical tools for teachers addressing the topic of labor broadly conceived in their classroom. An instructor teaching an introductory social theory course covering foundational Marxist concepts could benefit from taking students on a field trip to the Carrie Furnace or the Tour-Ed Mine to drive home abstract ideas about labor conditions imparted in the classroom. Anyone teaching on the anthropology of labor could very successfully draw from the University Art Gallery collection to discuss material covered inside the classroom. In sum, labor scholars and labor teachers of any background, including and especially anthropologists, stand to benefit from engaging with Pittsburgh’s rich material culture not just in research but also in teaching. Work Forces served as a fantastic invitation to do just that.      

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  • Emily Mazzola and undergraduate research collaborator Gabriela Schunn at the Detre Library and Archives


    Raising a Pittsburgh Glass

    Author: Emily Mazzola

    2018-2019 A.W. Mellon Fellow in Curation and Education and PhD student in History of Art and Architecture

    On February 25, 1972 the people of Westmoreland County proudly took part in a major diplomatic mission occurring halfway across the world when President Nixon concluded his historic trip to China by raising a Lenox Crystal glass filled with California champagne. With the delicate chime of clinking of glasses, Western Pennsylvanian manufacturing was, for a moment, at the center of international diplomacy. Nixon’s toast calling for a “new world order,” was memorialized for the president’s Chinese hosts with gifts of the acid-etched lead-glass champagne coupes, baring the Great Seal of the United States, that were offered as souvenirs of the momentous occasion.

    In the days that followed, the national press highlighted the west-coast origins of the sparkling wine, but failed to acknowledge the Pittsburgh glassware that had made it all possible—an oversight that the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and the Mount Pleasant Journal eagerly corrected for local readers. Tribune staff writer Dell McCloy lamented the media’s focus on California’s contribution to the event writing:

    "What hasn’t been widely publicized is the fact that Westmoreland County, although not as exotic as the coastal bikini country, also played a part in the drama and diplomacy of the ceremonies. Mainly, a county firm supplied the glasses that held the bubbly that eased the tension that…" [1]

    Following the author’s humorous trailing off, the article details the efforts of the Lenox Crystal production team to manufacture 60-dozen flawless coupes under a significant time strain. McCloy concludes, “Local industry had a hand in making history. And although a glass may not sound as exciting as perishable oranges and grapefruits flown in by special jet, who ever heard of drinking champagne without one?”[2] McCloy’s sarcasm belies the pride local glass workers felt in providing an essential element of a major diplomatic ceremony—regardless of how easily the rest of the country overlooked their contribution. The glass workers’ sense of achievement was echoed by the broader community when President Nixon raised a Pittsburgh glass on the international stage.

    Nixon’s famous toast using Lenox Crystal produced in Mount Pleasant is just one example of the stories tying Western Pennsylvania manufacturing to the material culture of the American presidency, diplomatic gift exchange, and the politics of national taste that I have uncovered while researching at the Heinz History Center’s Detre Library and Archives for the past year. As the A.W. Mellon Fellow in Curation and Education, I am developing a digital project that highlights these moments of intersection between local production and presidential politics, contextualizing them within the broader concerns of American material culture studies and the decorative arts. My project is rooted in the Detre Library and Archive’s Bryce Brothers Company and Lenox Incorporated Records 1828-2002. My work with this collection has been made possible by the support of the Heinz History Center and the dedication of my undergraduate research collaborators. 


    [1] Dell McCoy, “Crystal in China: Lenox? Vel-l-ly Good…” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, March 2, 1972.Bryce Brothers and Lenox Incorporated Glass records, 1828-2002, MSS 0800, Thomas and Katherine Detre Library and Archives, Senator John Heinz History Center.  This collection has been made accessible as part of the Basic Processing and Documenting Democracy grants funded by the National Historical Publications & Records Commission (NHPRC).

    [2] Ibid.


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    Leslie Rose


    Curatorial Movements at the University Art Gallery

    Author: Leslie Rose

    2019 Hot Metal Bridge Diversity Fellow in History of Art and Architecture and University Art Gallery intern

    As someone with a deep interest in museum display, curation, and education, I saw my internship in the University Art Gallery (UAG) as a chance to gain a greater understanding of what it means to work in an academic gallery. I was most excited to learn how a strong focus on education influences the UAG’s mission, from day-to-day operations to exhibition planning and public programming. Though there are many components of my internship that introduced me to the unique role of a teaching gallery, my experiences curating for the UAG have been the most illuminating. 

    As part of my internship, I was given the opportunity to curate a small exhibition to complement the traveling exhibition, Africans in India: From Slaves to Generals and Rulers, on loan from the Schomburg Center of African American Culture, which was on view in the gallery in February – March 2019. For inspiration, I was asked to think broadly about themes present in this show, such as migration and exchange, agency, and representation. Using these themes as a starting point, I curated Movements, an exhibition exploring the representation and expression of people of the African Diaspora in the transatlantic world. My exhibition explored three different definitions of the term ‘movement’: movement as migration; movement in relation to musical composition; and political and civil rights movements. The show incorporated a variety of works ranging from 17th century prints related to the Atlantic slave trade and portraits to the Black Panther newspaper and contemporary zines. 

    The first difficulty I encountered in the curatorial process related to the UAG’s holdings. In every collection, there are bound to be gaps. Initially, this frustrated me: how could I create a dialogue around the people of the African diaspora when these artists were not well represented in the UAG collection? However, it was with the guidance of faculty, graduate students, and UAG staff that I began to see how to work with these “gaps” in a way that would help build the conversation with the viewer and as a way to better underscore the important points of the exhibition. These gaps also reinforced my belief that this type of show is needed and it offered me an opportunity to think more creatively. I turned to the University Library System (ULS) and the Heinz History Center in search of more material, forcing me to reevaluate my own expectations of what objects belongs in an art gallery. So much of my previous museum and gallery experience insisted on the separation of art objects and archival material; however, within an academic gallery setting, I was able to place the unconventional material in conversation with art in order to create a larger dialogue on visual culture. Movements grouped together maps, prints, comic books, music sheets and more to encourage visitors to see various representations and expressions of people of the African diaspora and consider the weight and influence of images in the world. 

    Through this project, I was also able to expand my understanding of curation and exhibitions. Rather than thinking of an exhibition as a visualization of an academic essay, which is where I began, I started to think of it as a space where discussions begin. Curating was not a way to talk at the audience, similar to an essay, but to talk with them. I began to imagine an audience and potential dialogues as a part of my process, altering my selection, arrangement, and labeling of objects. For example, I juxtaposed a stained glass image of a minstrel-inspired character from the Stephen Foster Memorial with a photograph of the Pittsburgh Community Choir, both from the mid 1930s, to encourage the audience to look closely at each work and think on how they operate within a larger system of representation. Rather than dictate this relationship through lengthy didactic labels, I felt that it was important for the audience to question this grouping and perhaps speculate in a conversation with a friend or fellow visitor.

    These experiences allowed me to see first-hand the ways a teaching gallery differs from public museums and galleries, and how the emphasis on education and dialogue informs all aspects of the UAG’s work. This experience also drastically changed my perception of my role as an emerging curator. Rather than seeing myself as solely a source of information, I now see my role as a facilitator for a broader conversation with our audience. As I hope to pursue a career in academia and curation, this is a lesson I plan to take with me throughout my career. 

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