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2020 Undergraduate Theses

Image from Nicholas Liou's thesis: Kimura Tsunehisa. Cola, 1970. Black and white photomontage. Published in Kimura Camera: Visual Scandal (PARCO, 1979). 

Art History 2019-20 Departmental Honors Recipients 


What if optimism was all around us? And not just in our heads, but on farms, in our soils, flying with chickadees and butterflies, and swimming with horseshoe crabs and Asian carp? By tracking the work of Midwest-based eco-art collectives Compass and Deep Time Chicago, I've tried to capture a more-than-human optimism, one that imagines multispecies futures where hope can be found in the wake of environmental disaster. Their work, in the form of writing, sculpture, installation, and performance, illustrates what I call ecological optimism, a hopeful mode of thinking about a more just ecological future and the current activist practices that will lead there. This “eco-optimism” is centered around three poles: collectivity, non-specialist forms of knowledge, and multispecies collaboration. Drawing inspiration from the work of Donna Haraway, Timothy Morton, and Anna Tsing, I piece together what an aesthetics of eco-optimism might look like: messy, ever-evolving, communal, hyperlocal, and rich with companion creatures of all varieties.

Meghan C. Considine

Despite its unique position within Kerry James Marshall’s celebrated body of work, the public mural Knowledge and Wonder (1995) has received little scholarly attention. By tracing a longer history of the work, or what theorist Arjun Appadurai would name its “social life,” I argue that this mural is resoundingly site-specific, responding to the unique space and history of the Henry E. Legler Regional Library. By elaborating on the library's history and that of its surrounding community of West Garfield Park, collecting and synthesizing oral histories from key participants in the commission, and critically engaging the logics of the 2016 exhibition Kerry James Marshall: Mastry, I endeavor to demonstrate that the mural presents a formal anomaly within the artist's broader body of work, one that can be accounted for by the fact that it was forged within a network of relations for a specific community, not a museum industrial complex comprised of galleries, collectors, curators, and other institutional actors. This mural’s eventual confiscation from West Garfield Park marks a particular violence in that it emblematizes the exploitation of Black labor and extraction of value from Black communities that is, and has been, a constant feature of American life.


Elizabeth Hawley

Water in the White City: A New Approach to the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago

This thesis explores the role of water in the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Both the behind-the-scenes, engineered water infrastructure and the aesthetic waterscape deepen conventional understandings of the Fair in terms of its political and social objectives. Understanding water technology helps us to grasp the Fair’s relationship to the City of Chicago and its 1893 endeavor to prove itself a success to the nation. Water in the White City helped to bolster its racial and social utopic ideals, while it also enhanced the electric light so famous in this exposition. Investigating the many dimensions of water in 1893 Chicago provides insight into the key aspirations of this ambitious modern city.

Isabella Ko

The slogan “Yellow Peril Supports Black Power” grasps at a revolutionary spirit that has resonated with many Asian Americans today. It traces back to Howard L. Bingham’s 1968 photograph of political firebrand Richard Aoki and a fellow Asian American Political Alliance comrade at a Free Huey demonstration. Using this photograph as an entry point into a larger exploration of lesser-known images and archival materials materials, this thesis seeks to begin art historical and visual cultural studies approaches to studying the complex histories of Asian-Black solidarity in the 1960s. 

Nicholas Liou

My thesis explores the 1970 photomontage of Japanese graphic designer Kimura Tsunehisa (1928-2008) and the artist's preoccupation with imagery of the Second World War. I argue that Kimura returns to the violence of WWII in order to reveal the devastation that a particularly American brand of capitalist consumerism continues to enact on Japanese society in the 1970s.

Xueyang (April) Peng

Yongzheng Emperor’s Falangcai Porcelain with Painted Enamels: Authorship, Identity, and Medium

 This thesis examines Yongzheng falangcai vessels (porcelain with painted enamels) made after 1728 as carriers of intricate, personalized messages and references that speak to the self-conception, wishes, and concerns of the Yongzheng Emperor (1678-1735, r. 1723-1735). Using methods of formal analysis, iconology, and social art history, I focus on the contents of the Three Perfections (painting, poetry, calligraphy) and seals on Yongzheng falangcai vessels to demonstrate that the seals play a central role in the construction of such messages. I also contend that these vessels likely became suitable carriers for such messages and references because of the special significance porcelain as a medium may have held for the Yongzheng Emperor.

A salient yet perplexing feature of Yongzheng falangcai vessels made after 1728 is that two bowls in a pair have slight variants of the same theme, marking a turn away from the longstanding tradition of having identical patterns painted on both objects in a pair. I propose a hypothesis for this unexplained shift, suggesting that perhaps this was because the Yongzheng falangcai vessels in question were valued and collected both as porcelainwares and as paintings. Pushing this line of inquiry further, I suggest that Yongzheng falangcai vessels could be considered as examples where the dynamics between the pictorial image and the image-bearing object are reversed—the image-bearing object becomes valuable enough to be worthy of collecting in its own right in addition to the pictorial image itself.


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