• Gallery discussion: Art History in the #MeToo Era


    From #MeToo to What Now?: Coping with Sexualized Violence in Art History

    Author: Nicole Scalissi, HAA graduate student

    In mounting This is Not Ideal: Gender Myths and Their Transformation the curatorial team wisely produced a slate of public programming to create space for community processing, discussion, dissent, and response to the challenging and often difficult content in the exhibition. The first of these events was an open discussion for us—students, instructors, curators, artists, and members of the public—to talk about what it means to engage with artworks that show gender-based and sexualized violence in the era of #MeToo.

    In 2017, #MeToo became a viral hash-tag following high-profile and celebrity disclosures of sexual abuse, and spawned a public referendum on sexualized violence. Me Too was originally founded by Tarana Burke and had been helping survivors, especially women and girls of color, find pathways to healing since 2006. Our open discussion was intended to be a space for offering up questions and sharing knowledge about how can we rethink how we (or do we) include—in our galleries, research, and classrooms—artworks that directly engage with gender-based and/or sexualized violence in the Me Too moment? With contributions from Sylvia Rhor, Curator and University Art Gallery Director, and artist Sarika Goulatia, the discussion was provoked by the sophisticated curation process of the Museum Studies students who produced This is Not Ideal, and it’s a big question that some museums, artists, and universities are only starting to grapple with publically. 

    On the one hand, that seems like an over-due question: isn’t it about time? On the other hand, this is a profoundly difficult question to take on for people who curate, teach, or learn about art history: throughout time, and especially in the Western tradition, the history of art is full of images of naked women and scenes of their victimization—sexual and/or otherwise. Women’s bodies have been pressed into service not just in but asnational histories and identities, myths and cautionary tales. Thinly veiled as “allegory,” women’s bodies have been made vulnerable, exposed, restrained, and consumed as art history. So, how then, are we as students and instructors, curators and artists, to deal with a culture of images that so often takes the female body not as subject but as object—i.e. not as people but as things—as a material, form, or concept to be mined and manhandled, gazed upon and fetishized? If we understand #MeToo or #TimesUp to be a reckoning, a cultural point-of-no-return where survivors, especially women—anatomically and not, cis-gendered and otherwise—can speak up and be believed, then what do we do with works of art that illustrate or are the real world product of actual gender-based violence or oppression?

    We panelists got the conversation started with our own research and concerns. As the historian on the panel, I wanted to get a few things to the surface and sketch out the recent national dialogue surrounding sexualized violence, especially as it has intersected with the universities and art world since over the past 5 years: 

    • controversial changes to Title IX under Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos (more ‘protections’ for those accused of sexual assault, closeddoor adjudication processes) [1]
    • remember Emma Sulkowicz, who carried a 50lb mattress around Columbia University campus for their 2014 senior year in artistic dissent of how CU (mis)handled their rape case? [2]
    • a listing of men’s names, including artist Chuck Close, who have been publically shamed and/or fired—or should be—for sexual misconduct [3]
    • and on the day after the portentous midterm elections and just days after Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony in the US Senate (that the nominee to the Supreme Court Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her), it was right to note the ways in which we have recently witnessed what are perhaps the highest stakes for this nation’s understanding of sexualized violence and its ability, or inability, to believe its bravest survivors. [4]

    Sylvia and Sarika shared with us how presenting Prosecuterix, an interactive exhibition based on real disclosures of sexualized violence, in a university setting impacted upon their work as curator, artist, and as citizens. Sylvia showed us how wading into the difficult territory of public display and sexualized violence produced new questions, ethical considerations, and the building of empathy and support networks, and how that experience shaped how she imagines an audience and her work most broadly as both a educator and curator. For example, how to envision and install an exhibition that allows for varying levels of engagement with problematic content, or how to loop in the Title IX office to support viewers and student curators at different levels in the exhibition process. Even still, the question arose again of how to handle problematic or potentially triggering images in the classroom.

    The discussion was built and shaped by members of HAA at all levels, undergraduate students in HAA and/or Museum Studies, graduate students, and faculty—including the Chair of the department. Undergraduate students who co-curated This is Not Ideal shared the debates they had in selecting objects and writing wall captions, and making decisions about which images would represent the exhibition to the public—issues that emerged from close—and sustained looking in this current social context. Most important, they provided feedback to the instructors in the room about what they felt would help them grapple with such images in the classroom, including what has worked and how they felt they could be better supported. (For this, we are grateful.)

    As new ideas emerged, so too did new questions: if content warnings are utilized on the walls of the UAG to support a diverse audience in navigating the difficulty in This is Not Ideal, might we also use these at the start of lectures, on a syllabus? How specific a warning? How to do we prepare as a learning community to handle unforeseen, unwarned triggers that emerge in a class? How can we help our students beyond the “warning,” how can we direct them toward survivor resources, and build a community of support that outlasts the class? How can we as a university community embed this in our culture, not just in specific lectures that engage with this content? 

    Maybe it is not just warnings and support, but enriching our content. For example, if we teach Alexandre Cabanel’s Birth of Venus (1875), or any of the thousands of female nudes in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum, then perhaps we must also teach The Guerrilla Girls Do Women Have To Be Naked To Get Into the Met Museum? (1989)—and also that the Met does not own it or any work by the Guerrilla Girls.[5] If we teach the paintings of Chuck Close or Pablo Picasso, ought we also teach about the multiple allegations of sexual misconduct made against them, and the art made in response such as Emma Sulkowicz’s nude performances in front of their paintings at the Met and MoMA? 

    Sylvia and Ellen Larson, Curatorial Assistant at the UAG, convened a panel surrounding a knotty and difficult question, one that is perhaps not answerable in one, final way. A way to begin answering it, however, and to continue the reckoning #MeToo set into motion is something like this discussion: it is navigating this terrain together, responding to the question with more questions, drawing on ideas from other fields, and dialoguing as a community across and through different roles at the university. 


    [1] See Megan Cerullo, “Betsy DeVos Proposes Sexual Misconduct Rules that Would Protect Alleged Offenders,” Los Angeles Times (August 29, 2018),

    [2] Note: Sulkowicz has used gender-neutral pronouns publically since 2017. See Soraya Nadia McDonald, “It’s Hard to Ignore a Woman Toting A Mattress Everywhere She Goes, Which is Why Emma Sulkowicz ss Still Doing it,” The Washington Post (October 29, 2014)

    [3] Claire Voon and Jillian Steinhauer, “For More Women Allege Sexual Misconduct by Chuck Close,” Hyperallergic (January 16, 2018),

    [4] See published transcript, “Christine Blasey Ford’s Opening Statement for Senate Hearing,” [National Public Radio] (September 26, 2018),

    [5] As the Guerrilla Girls pointed out in the artwork—which surely seemed overdue in 1989, too—“Less than 5% of the artists in the Modern Art Sections [of the Metropolitan Museum] are women, but 85% of the nudes are female.”


    If you feel you are a survivor of sexual harassment or assault, the University of Pittsburgh has support resources, some of which can be obtained anonymously. For more information and to report, see the Office of Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Education (SHARE)



    • Graduate Work
    • UAG
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    Andy Warhol, Ladies and Gentlemen (Wilhelmina Ross), 1975, Acrylic and silkscreen on canvas. The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.


    Ladies and Gentleman: Queer subjects at the Warhol and the UAG

    Author: Rebecca Moser, HAA1030 Museum Studies Exhibition Seminar student – Fall 2018

    The student curated University Art Gallery exhibition This is not Ideal: Gender myths and their transformation focuses on themes that revolve around idealized beauty and gender norms as well as the subversions of these ideals by queer subjects. It is no surprise that there is a huge collection of art at the Andy Warhol Museum that can be discussed in regards to gender and sexuality. One of Warhol’s series of works that best fits into such discussions is his Ladies and Gentlemen series.These works are currently on display in conjunction with the Warhol’s forthcoming solo exhibit of the work of Devan Shimoyama, curated by Jessica Beck.

    Although queer subjects are rarer in the University Art Gallery collection than at the Warhol, several works in This is Not Ideal do present variations from the conventions of gender expression. Historical prints of the Chevalier d’Eon and Mary Frith, for example, register the long history of non-normative identities. A more contemporary example featured in the exhibition is the photograph titled Jennifur, by Daniel D. Teoli from his Gender Bender series. As a self-taught social documentary photographer, his goal was to assemble an archive of the people and cultures of Los Angeles street life in the 1970s. While no record of the sitter’s identity exists, their appearance suggests the sitter to be a drag performer or a transgender person.

    This photograph was taken at the same time that Warhol started shooting the Polaroids for his Ladies and Gentlemen series. In recent years, Warhol’s models have begun to be identified and credited, but Teoli’s models still remain unknown. The biggest difference between the works, however, is how each of the artists deal with the fine details of their sitters. In his paintings, Warhol erases the models features that seem less ideal to him, such as masculine attributes, obvious wigs and overdone makeup. These are characteristics that Teoli instead accentuates. Shot on opposite sides of the country, both Teoli and Warhol’s images provide important documents of queer culture in the late twentieth century.

    Devan Shimoyama: Cry Baby opens October 13. This is not Ideal: Gender myths and their transformation opens October 25.

    Rebecca Mosser was also the Milton Fine Museum Profession Fellow at the Andy Warhol Museum in Summer 2018.

    Read more about her internship experience here

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    • Undergraduate Work
    • UAG
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    Student Journal: Teamwork

    Cyd Johnson, 18 December 2017

    After leaving the archives for the first time at the very beginning of the semester, I remember thinking to myself that working in a group with twenty-five other people with a time limit of just a few months to pull off an exhibition was going to be a nightmare. And honestly, for most of the early planning stages—it was, at least for me. Groupwork in an academic setting has never been my forte, and doing research without any sense of direction irks me to no end because I never feel like I’m being productive.

    But now that it’s all over, I realize that those two concerns ended up canceling each other out, rather than adding together as I had expected. While I felt frustrated and unproductive in the planning stages, other people were excited about scouring the boxes of archival documents to search for photographs, letters, or news clippings that could help shed light on some of the objects from our list. The more concrete tasks like writing and editing labels and wall texts appealed more to me, and less to others, and so it goes. I have never worked with so many other people to create anything, and despite all odds, it was the best experience I have had functioning in a group setting.

    It’s only now that the semester is coming to a close, and the gallery has been stripped of the Narratives of the Nationality Rooms, that I realize how well we operated as a team, each contributing different areas of knowledge and distinctive interests that helped create an amazing final product, and maintain a supportive work environment.

    • Undergraduate Work
    • UAG

    Student Journal: Art History through Exhibition Making: Planning and Installing Narratives of the Nationality Rooms

    Katie Loney, 18 December 2017

    As a first-year graduate student in History of Art and Architecture, I didn’t know quite what to expect from an exhibition seminar with such a large number of undergraduate students. Before coming to Pitt, I had worked in museums and art galleries installing exhibitions, researching artifacts, giving historic house tours, and working in a museum registrar’s office. The opportunity to contribute to a single exhibition through the planning, installation, and programming stages, however, was an experience missing from my curatorial training. It was this aspect of the course that first drew me to the seminar. The exhibition’s focus on the Nationality Rooms made it too interesting to pass up, as the topic parallels my research in American decorative arts, collecting practices, and the reception of objects across different cultures and time periods. The show’s emphasis on immigration revealed itself to be a fruitful lens for examining the Nationality Rooms. As a class, we aimed to produce a show that highlighted the Nationality Rooms’ desire to link immigrant communities together across six decades.

    Reflecting on the course, it has been both challenging and rewarding. Planning, installing, promoting, programming, writing a catalogue, and de-installing a show in the University Art Gallery (UAG) over the course of three months is no easy feat. Fortunately, Professor Shirin Fozi, UAG curator Isabelle Chartier, and UAG curatorial assistant Ellen Larson were brilliant guides who did a great deal of organizing before and during the semester. They structured the course in such a way that allowed for students to play a vital role and have an active voice in the planning and installation of the show, while ensuring that it was thoughtful, issue driven, and accessible.

    Working in the Agency group, which was responsible for curating the displays in the UAG hallway vitrines, gave me a powerful platform to think about selecting and arranging objects on the theme of ritual and sacred space in the Nationality Rooms. The Syria-Lebanon Room came to be a significant feature of our displays. The room dates to the eighteenth century and used to be a private library in Damascus. The Syria-Lebanon Room committee purchased the room as a gift to the University of Pittsburgh, where it was repurposed as a classroom. For preservation reasons, it no longer functions as a classroom, but still plays an important role in the Nationality Rooms where it has become part of a system that aims to represent Pittsburgh’s identity. It sits in the Cathedral of Learning next to the Chinese Room, the Indian Room, the English Room, and the African Heritage Room, just to name a few. For my group, the inaccessibility of the Syria-Lebanon Room as a classroom acted as a useful foil for the other Nationality Rooms and their artifacts as we considered issues of agency, sacredness, and ritual.

    While the Agency group gave me an opportunity to select and arrange objects for an exhibition, my involvement in the publications group provided a crash-course in designing promotional materials and editing wall texts. Providing these opportunities is precisely what the course is designed for, and why it is such an asset to undergraduate and graduate students alike. For me, as someone who has been studying art history and working towards a curatorial career for several years, the class also offered something more. Working with Professor Fozi and some fantastic undergraduates over the course of the semester gave me the opportunity to consider innovative ways to engage the public in collections. How might I open an art collection to high school, college, or graduate students? In what ways can I create programs that allow the public to take ownership in museum exhibitions? How can the museum be a place that facilitates conversations about social issues? The exhibition seminar allowed me to explore these questions in concrete ways. Working collaboratively with faculty, curators, and undergraduate students, we created an exhibition that engaged the public in discussions of agency, identity, and visual knowledge through historical artifacts.

    • Undergraduate Work
    • UAG
  • Bombed Mihrab


    Student Journal: Behind the Photograph

    Ryan Lewis, 14 December 2017

    The photograph of the bombed mihrab created a mystery that took multiple people to solve, and it took several weeks before we arrived at what we believe to be the most logical answer to the riddles it posed. The mystery began with the hand-written label on the photograph itself. The label claims the picture was taken in the “Hamidra Quarter” that was destroyed by a French bombardment in 1924. Immediately after finding the photograph I tried to figure out where the site was located within the country of Syria, but no research I did was able to even identify “Hamidra” as a place.

    After some failed research I reached out to a friend from Syria to see if she knew anything about it. I asked if she had heard of the place, or had any idea where it would be located and luckily, the name was familiar to her. She told me that it was in Damascus, but it was only a place that she had heard about; she had never been there. I asked why it was only a place people hear about but do not visit, and she suggested that this might be because it was a place associated with elite or very wealthy individuals. She said it seems to have been a secret chambers place that only people with relatively high power could access, and that maybe this was why my research could not find anything on it. She compared it to Area 51 in the United States, suggesting that this was something that people know about, though it is still considered secret or sensitive.

    I thought that this information had finally helped to solve the mystery, though it still seemed odd that there was nothing online about a “Hamidra Quarter.” Professor Fozi also found it odd that none of the research had led to any information. She was able to discuss the topic with a few colleagues who specialize in studying the Ottoman Empire and they had also not heard of it, which was unfortunate and very strange to hear. She then did more research on the Great

    Syrian Revolt and soon discovered that there was a Hamidiyya neighborhood that had been bombed by the French in 1925. The neighborhood is also spelled Hamidiyah, and sometimes referred to as al-Hamidiyah Souq. It seems like the original handwritten label had most likely misinterpreted this name, and mistakenly recorded the photograph with a misspelling and the wrong year for the bombardment. Since this neighborhood was in the Old City of Damascus, it makes sense that my friend would have associated it with the elites of the city, and given the great tragedy of the bombing that led to so much destruction in the 1920s, it is also understandable that she would think of it as a kind of a secret: it was probably a topic that older members of the Syrian community would have avoided out of a sense of loss.

    After going through multiple attempts at research and speaking to those close to the subject, it appears we have come to the best solution in solving the mystery. The challenge of properly identifying what the label on the photograph meant helped shine, even more, light onto how cultures and histories can easily be forgotten through a simple mistranslation. That is why the archives of the Nationality Rooms are an essential part of the University and why research opportunities like this exhibition are important: preserving and exhibiting information becomes a way to ensure cultures and histories do not get lost.

    The photograph of the bombed mihrab was originally picked to be a part of the “Culture, Conflict, and Cohesion” section of the exhibition because it fit the theme of conflict and the need to preserve culture. It was eventually installed together with the materials from the “Sacred Space for the Spiritual and the Scholarly” section, however, because it also fit in well with those materials. This also had the added benefit of presenting the bombed mihrab with other objects from the Syria-Lebanon Room, which helped to create a more powerful message.

    • Undergraduate Work
    • UAG

    Student Journal: A History Behind the Rooms

    Jaime Viens, 11 December 2017

    While our exhibition, Narratives of the Nationality Rooms, has primarily focused on the social and cultural significance of the Nationality Rooms, I find it just as important to understand their history and how it has affected, and continues to change, the Rooms’ meanings. The Nationality Rooms are a series of 30 classrooms within the Cathedral of Learning at Pitt.  Each pertains to a specific cultural or ethnic community that contributes to Pittsburgh’s population. Each room is designed and funded by individuals within that community who form a Nationality Room Committee, and the University only becomes responsible for the Room’s maintenance in perpetuity after its completion.

    The program was started by Ruth Crawford Mitchell in 1926, the same year the construction of the Cathedral of Learning began, at the request of Chancellor John Bowman. Chancellor Bowman wanted the campus’ surrounding community to have as much of a say in the development of the Cathedral as possible, while still providing a foundation rooted in creativity and education.  The Great Depression hit the U.S. just four years after the first of the Nationality Room Committees were formed, delivering a serious blow to their fundraising efforts. When World War II began, conflicts abroad further complicated fundraising efforts and the advancement of new Rooms.

    As the project continued, some rules were established as a baseline in the committees’ development of each Room. All of the Rooms should represent a nation accorded diplomatic recognition by the U.S. government; the content of each Room should be exclusively cultural with political reference only permitted in one position, carved in stone above the room’s entrance; no living person could be portrayed; and finally, the Room’s design must represent a period of time pre-dating Pitt’s official founding date of 1787. Committees for each Room were also formed abroad to serve as counterparts to the ones in Pittsburgh.  Their main tasks were to assist in consulting on design, recommending architects, and selecting materials and artists for space.  However, it eventually became clear that the requirement for “nations” to be recognized by the U.S. government denied many ethnic groups the opportunity to create their own Rooms and define their own identities. A less restrictive definition of “nationality” allowed for the creation of new Rooms that would display the cultural history of populations whose traditions don’t align with political or geographical borders such as the African Heritage Room or the Welsh Room.

    Various fundraising efforts eventually provided the amounts necessary to build nineteen Rooms by 1957. The first four to be dedicated were the Scottish, Russian, German and Swedish Rooms, which all opened in 1938. The most recently dedicated rooms are the Welsh (2008), Turkish (2012), Swiss (2012) and Korean (2015) Rooms. Plans for a future Filipino Room are in development, while Finnish and Iranian Rooms are both in fundraising stages. The history of the Nationality Rooms shows how World War II, the Great Depression, and other historical events, on both the national and international stage, have greatly influenced the creation, meaning and growth of the Nationality Rooms — and will continue to do so in the future.

    • Undergraduate Work
    • UAG

    Student Journal: Weaving Stories into Woven Garments

    Raka Sarkar, 10 December 2017

    The garments that people choose to wear each day symbolize many things: personal taste, social attitudes of the day, or the wealth and prestige of the wearer. Because clothing can be so heavily loaded with cultural relevance, it comes as no surprise that many garments worked their way into our exhibition. The fact that these objects have been donated to the Nationality Rooms shows a conscious awareness about how cultural identity is ingrained into the fibers of their cloth. The Yugoslav Child’s Jacket, the Slovenian Wedding Bonnet, and the Japanese kimono were all presented in our show as objects that carry historical significance. Their fine craftsmanship can give some hints as to how important clothing and costume was to the Slavic and Japanese people that owned them almost a century ago.

    When thinking of finery today, “fancy clothing” often carries associations of bespoke suits and red-carpet fashion. In an almost refreshing fashion, the Yugoslav Child’s Jacket gives an idea of what a child could have worn in the past. The intricate red embroidery shows a great deal of technical skill, and the adorable silver buttons add a nice, intimate touch. Though our class has speculated about whether the color and patterns bear any significance, the depth of research that would shed light on this question was beyond the scope of our exhibition – which had to be planned and installed within just eight weeks. One thing that remains certain, however, is that this garment suggests a sense of pride in traditional Slavic costumes.

    The Slovenian Wedding Bonnet is another magnificent example of fine clothing from twentieth-century Central Europe. Donated by the lady-in-waiting of the queen’s mother, its rich ornamentation reveals its noble origins. The delicate lace over the crown, the sequins and gold thread, the velvet brim, and the floral silk ribbon are all extremely opulent materials. This speaks to not only the aesthetic tastes of its culture of origin, but also the wealth of the commissioner who procured rich materials like velvet and silk, and the skill of the craftsperson who combined these objects to create the delicate floral embroidery of sequins and gold silk.

    In Japan, the word kimono is an amalgamation of two words, ki, from kiru, “to wear,” and mono, “thing.” In short, the kimono is “that which is worn,” or “clothing.” Kimono was the standard dress of the Japanese people until the Meiji government proposed a rapid Westernization of the country and Western clothing came into fashion. This splendid green and black kimono, dating to either the late Taishō or early Shōwa era, in the 1920s, with its geometric spots offset with wave motifs, is an example of how artistic trends can influence textile design. Art Nouveau and Art Deco came into vogue at this time, and the juxtaposition of swirling waves, geometric cutaways, and interposed dots seems indicative of these movements. At the time, the importation of Western fashion worldwide led to the rise of modern girls, like American flappers, who chose skirts and trousers over traditional wear. However, despite the fears of the past that the art of the kimono would disappear, and despite the fact that it is seldom worn today, quintessential “Japanese-ness” is still heavily associated with the kimono. The inclusion of it in our show displays that it was consciously donated to the Rooms by the Japanese Room Committee, and we are glad that we can appreciate it as a piece of both history and culture today.

    These objects showcase the technical skill and aesthetic tastes of the societies that produced them, but looking at them, it is also clear to see how much pride cultures have taken in clothing over the years. The fact that we can examine these today and understand them to be emblematic of traditions stretching back into the past provides an amazing perspective to us, viewing them now, as they are garments still worn today, in such beautiful condition that they almost beckon viewers to don them properly.

    • Undergraduate Work
    • UAG
  • Czechoslovakia handkerchief


    Student Journal: Czechoslovakia: Past and Present

    Heather Alvarado, 5 December 2017

    Working with an exhibition for the first time I witnessed some of the joys and some of the pains of the experience, though these were mostly joys. We were given a list of about seventy-five objects at the start of the semester, and told that we could choose items from this list for the show. I went through the list a few times trying to find something that spoke to me, and found a Czechoslovakian book of lace samples. I researched bobbin lace, and it was interesting, but it just was not what I was looking for. We were also given the option of looking into the online database of Nationality Room artifacts ( to see if we found anything in there that we wanted to exhibit. It was also made clear, however, that nothing was a guarantee if we tried to request the use of something from the Nationality Rooms that wasn’t already on the pre-approved list.

    I decided to test my luck. I scoured the database for all the Rooms of interest to me, or Rooms that were not greatly represented already, and then I found it! It was small Czechoslovakian kerchief. I knew that was the object I should choose. Even though I knew this was “my” object, I still did not attach any strong feelings to it. At that point, I thought it would be good to use but I did not think we’d be missing anything if the loan request fell through. Writing a loan request for an item I believed would add to the show, but I did not even feel strongly about it, changed the moment I hit the send button to turn in the written request. Waiting for the acceptance or denial was hard. It was always in the back of my mind. The change from finding it to asking for it was dramatic. I knew that this would fit perfectly with Visual Knowledge’s idea of conflict changing the world. I knew after asking for it, the kerchief was something that needed to be in the exhibition. I did receive my requested object, and a small silk kerchief from the former nation of Czechoslovakia was ours to display!

    The excitement of the receiving the object for the show continued once I saw the actual article. It somehow was not the same as the photo in the database that I looked at fifty times before. The colors were more intense even on the faded fabric. The silk threads make it almost shimmer under the light. Seeing the blue, red and white that both the Czech Republic and Slovakia still use on their flags and seeing cities I know to be from the separate countries combined together into one country made me feel slightly awkward. I wasn’t sure if I should feel good about how the nation has become two independent countries, or feel bad that were broken apart. I never felt like that before even though I know a good deal of Czech history. I am so glad I found it in the database and took the risk of writing a loan request even when I wasn’t sure the request would be granted. My hope was that this object would make others think about identity and nationality and what conflict can do to these concepts. The message inscribed on kerchief reminds me that even in the worst times, we have to have hope, and have faith that things will get better in time.

    • Undergraduate Work
    • UAG

    Student Journal: A Conversation with the Chinese Nationality Room Committee, and the Mystery of the Lost Hu Vase 

    Zoe Creamer, 21 November 2017

    Giving a gallery talk for the Chinese Nationality Room Committee seemed like a big undertaking. How was  I, as an undergraduate student, supposed to sound relatively knowledgeable on a subject that these women have been closely engaged with for years, or maybe even decades? At the same time, however, this specific audience was also a perfect opportunity for me, because I had written the loan request and the labels for  the newspaper clippings regarding fundraising for the Chinese Room that are in the exhibition.  I knew I wanted to talk to the women who keep this particular Room running smoothly. As I learned from the newspaper clippings, it was no small feat to raise sufficient funds to build the Chinese Room back in the 1930s. I did not want to miss the chance to speak with the people who are in charge of the Room today, and to learn more about its history from them. Although the class has been developing  gallery talks, these are not scheduled to be offered regularly until after Thanksgiving break—this meant that the students conducting this special tour, myself included, were a bit on our own in generating the content of the tour. This was not a problem, however, as all four of us had interest in the Chinese Room. We decided to give a talk based mainly on Chinese objects, while also paying attention to the broader themes of the exhibition. 

    Before I knew it, Tuesday the twenty-first rolled around—it was tour time! Three members of the Chinese Nationality Room Committee, including the chair, came to the University Art Gallery. It was truly an amazing experience because I found myself learning so much more about the exhibit than I thought possible. Prior to giving this tour, I thought it would be primarily a student-based lecture that lasted a short time, but contrary to my assumptions, the experience was very dynamic and interactive. We learned from the committee members that certain objects, like the Hu vase and the ceremonial keys, had never been shown in person before, not even to them. This made me realize the importance of our exhibition, first and foremost, for giving these objects the long-awaited visibility on campus and in the community that they deserve. Apparently, according to the chair, there is another Hu vase in the University’s possession, which confounded all of us giving the tour. We all spent a few minutes wondering aloud where this second vase might be kept, and speculating on the possibility of displaying both vases together again—the chair told us that they were both on the windowsill of the Chinese Room originally, on either side of a window. When we walked to the side gallery, all seven of us closely examined Andrey Avinoff’s watercolor depicting the Chinese room. Due to the work’s frame of reference, a second vase is not visible, but the possibility is not eliminated, which added a further layer of mystery to the whereabouts of a second Hu vase. 

    The ceremonial keys were surprising to the committee members because they had never seen any of the keys in person before, let alone the Chinese Room key. The women told us that there were only a small number  of keys—about ten—and that many of them had been lost. This idea astounded me—how were these small but unique objects allowed to be lost?—but also led me to wonder about the storage of these artifacts in general. Why are these items hidden away in storage in the first place instead of being housed in a permanent exhibition, and why do they seem so veiled in secrecy? If even the members of a Nationality Room committee had not seen these objects in person prior to this exhibition, it seems likely that many more artifacts are waiting to be discovered and put on display. 

    This also made me think about whether the Nationality Rooms will ever be allowed to change. The committee members expressed their wish that the Chinese Room had a display case, because then the valuable but fragile Hu vase could be installed as a part of the Room, but the Rooms may not be altered after their construction. I wonder if other committees have proposed such changes to the Rooms, and whether such a change in policy will ever happen. For now, I am hopeful that our exhibition will inspire future classes and curators to take an interest in the many artifacts the Nationality Rooms have to offer, as well as fostering even greater interest in the Rooms among the Pittsburgh community.

    • Undergraduate Work
    • UAG

    Photos displayed in Hallway of Exhibit


    Student Journal: Looking Back at the Begining

    Ryan Lewis, 28 November 2017

    As our exhibition is now fully open to the public, I think it is important to look back at the very beginning of the creation process. Each student was assigned to be a part of two different groups, a planning group and a working group. I was a part of the Visual Knowledge planning group and the Interpretation working group. Along with our groups, there was a list of pre-approved objects from the Nationality Rooms that we could use for the exhibition. With all of this in mind, and knowing our focus would be the Nationality Rooms, we then went to Hillman’s Special Collections to examine boxes of archival material from select rooms.

    When we got there, we were given free rein to go through as much as we could to gather pictures and documents that interested us. We worked in pairs within our planning groups to cover as much of the material available to us as possible, while still having input from a group member. This stage is where the exhibition came to life as each group began collaborating on what they discovered. Going through and seeing pictures and reading materials from the different Rooms really gave us a deeper look into their creation. 

    Since each group was working separately and we could  take the exhibition in any direction that interested us, this is where the exhibition was created. Each person had their own materials that they grew attached to through their research (mine is the photograph of the bombed mihrab that is currently on display), and the groups created themes that brought these objects together to present the overarching ideas. Visual Knowledge discussed how to connect what we had chosen, and decided upon a theme around the idea of conflict. The themes each group decided on shaped the three different parts of the gallery, while the “big idea” of the whole exhibition was always kept in mind.

    Now that the gallery is open for everyone to visit, people can see the way that all our work at the beginnings with the archives became the final product. The rooms were able to connect their themes to allow for a good flow throughout the whole exhibition. Some objects even fit better with other group’s theme to the point that they were moved to make it show the idea in the best way possible. For example, even though the photograph of the bombed mihrab That I had chosen was central to the theme of conflict in the visual knowledge group, we decided to shift it to the hallway where it could accompany other images of ritual and sacred spaces, while also being shown together with materials concerning the Syria-Lebanon Room. Seeing the exhibition develop from a simple object list and some archival documents and pictures into what it is today was a great experience, and one I was proud to be involved with.

    • Undergraduate Work
    • UAG