Monthly Archives

September 2016

Graduate Student, Uncategorized

Rebuilding, Re-educating, Re-imagining

Dakota Hoska is an art history graduate student and took our summer course, “What is Native American Art,” taught by Dr. Jill Ahlberg Yohe, Assistant Curator of Native American Art at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Dakota was also a recipient of our Native American Art History Fellowship, made possible with support from the University of St. Thomas College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Office. 

 

What drew you to the study of Native American art through a graduate art history course—both personally and professionally?

As a Native person, the image that comes to mind when I reflect upon my cultural existence is that of a large Jenga tower, with many structural components missing. I feel the voids, the emptiness left by those missing pieces. One by one I’m trying to recreate those pieces and slide them back into my tower, knowing I’ll stand stronger if I can reclaim them.

All of my studies, my artwork, my job and my personal energy go into rebuilding what was lost and what was taken.  Courses like the Native American Art History class offered by St. Thomas are building blocks, helping to replace those same missing pieces.

Unfortunately, my story is not unique.  Many Native Americans are missing large parts of their cultural history—including information related to their artistic heritage, because many of their artistic endeavors were closely tied to their traditions and practices. Those traditions and life ways were attacked on multiple fronts.  The stated goal was to obliterate a Native person’s cultural identity and to assimilate them into the culture of the conqueror.

This class and others like it are important on a personal and professional level for Native students like myself, but also for Non-native students.  They help to build appreciation and equanimity for the beautifully rich cultural and artistic histories of Native Americans, while schooling Euro-Americans on alternative modalities and motivations for making. Additionally, they bring awareness to beautiful works of historic art that were almost lost, while showcasing progressive Native artists who rely on a broad array of influences—traditional, European, political, familial—to produce works unlike others known in the Western canon.

What research project did you pursue and why do you think this research is important?

For my research project, I chose to delve into the career of one of the most prolific, political and popular Native American Art figures of our time—Jaune Quick-to-See Smith. I was interested in her because within the artistic world, she was hit with a double “handicap”:  She is Native and she’s a woman.

The Red Mean, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Indian Nation, 1992, Acrylic, Newspaper collage, Shellac and Mixed Media on Canvas, 90 X 60 in., Smith College Museum of Art

The Red Mean, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Indian Nation, 1992, Acrylic, Newspaper collage, Shellac and Mixed Media on Canvas, 90 X 60 in., Smith College Museum of Art

I was inspired by Jaune’s steady commitment to her artistic calling as well as to her Native community. I learned a great deal in my research about Jaune’s choice to continually engage her audience in important dialogues around the issues of being Native, of being a woman in a male-centric field, and of being a committed environmentalist.  I came to respect her deeply as a person of great strength and character, who continually chose her path, when others tried to tell her she had no choice.

Because of the research I completed on this artist, I was able to advocate for greater representation of her artwork in an upcoming exhibition I am assisting with. (I work as a research assistant at the Minneapolis Institute of Art.) I have also been inspired, within my own artistic process, to utilize more printmaking and collage in my work. Finally, throughout her career Jaune never forgot her ties to her community.  The struggle between the Western world and our own cultural heritage is real and Native artists deal with this struggle in a spectrum of ways, from creating work that is completely culturally embedded to striving for only Western recognition in their careers.  I respect the balance Jaune found on that spectrum.

3) How will this course continue to have an impact on you moving forward? 

For me, this course will be one of the most important I will take at St. Thomas as I strive to focus my Art History studies on Native American Art History.  I wish I had many more courses along these lines to choose from. Unfortunately, these classes can be few and far between in all institutions of higher learning, which gives me an even deeper appreciation for the importance of this class. I’m always thankful when I find something that so directly relates to my future aspirations.

The House of Little Moon, Dakota Hoska, 2015, Monoprint, 19.5 X 24 This work discusses my journey back to my birth family, the Little Moons.

The House of Little Moon, Dakota Hoska, 2015, Monoprint, 19.5 X 24
This work discusses my journey back to my birth family, the Little Moons.

Faculty

Living in China: Some FAQ 

Dr. Heather Shirey, Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, Art History, spent the spring semester at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China. Her semester is China was made possible by support from the Fulbright-Terra Foundation Award in the History of American Art.  This is the final of three blog posts from Dr. Shirey. 

Dr. Shirey responds to some FAQ about her semester in China. 

Wow, China. How is your Chinese? Fortunately for me, no one really expected me to speak any Chinese at all. Therefore, the bit I can speak made me a huge success. “I am an art history professor at Tsinghua University” flowed off my tongue easily because I said it so often. I had moderate success with casual conversations with other adults at the playground, although I occasionally had to call on my children to help me out. I can order food and get around an unfamiliar city with the help of a translation app. People in China are generally exceedingly patient with foreigners and very open to any attempts to communicate, no matter how feeble.  I’d describe my skills as “low functional” in that I could probably go about living the rest of my life in China at the survival level, but I would struggle to develop deep social relationships that didn’t rely on English. That said, I am nearly illiterate, as I can only read a few hundred characters, if that. The day before we left, reading started to kick in—I noticed that I was suddenly able to read some street signs! But then it was time to go home. I enjoyed the daily struggles and triumphs of communicating in Chinese and I aspire to continue my studies now that I am back in Minnesota.

The Brooks-Shirey family at Tiger Leaping Gorge near Lijiang

The Brooks-Shirey family at Tiger Leaping Gorge near Lijiang

Where did you live? My grant provided us with housing on the campus of Tsinghua University. The campus itself is huge and there are many beautiful natural areas.  The apartment we lived in was simple, and much larger than we expected—we even had office space in the apartment. It was a 5th floor walk-up so we got a lot of extra exercise!  The other residents of the building block we were all Chinese and we normally did not encounter other foreigners in our neighborhood. We had a lovely fruit and vegetable market nearby, making life very convenient. It was about a 15-minute walk to the nearest subway station, so although we were sheltered by the tranquility of campus, we were also well connected to the rest of Beijing.

How did your kids like China? Our children, ages 6 and 11, enrolled in an international school where English was the primary language of instruction. They made friends from all over the world, and I think they really got the travel bug as a result. Now they are always planning trips to Malaysia, India, Micronesia, and Poland, and I know this is because of the great bonds they formed with kids from these places. Prior to the trip, my daughter spoke some Chinese as a result of having previously attended a Chinese immersion school. Her Chinese really kicked in when it came to day-to-day transactions. She loves to shop and she really mastered bargaining. She usually paid a quarter of the starting price of any given item at a market. My son was something of an international superstar. He has cute curly hair and big round eyes, and I think he looks something like an anime character come to life. Everyone wanted to take a selfie with him, much to his chagrin.  He did not speak any Chinese when we arrived, but he got to be quite competent in 5 months. He really wants to keep learning now that we are home.

What about the food? Since we lived in an apartment, we usually cooked at home. We had access to great produce at the local market. There was also a lovely stand with hand-made noodles just around the corner. There are markets that specialize in imported groceries all over Beijing. Food safety is actually a major concern for people in China, so there were some things, like milk, that we always bought imported. There are many great restaurants specializing in Western food in Beijing. We often ate Indian food and pizza. Interestingly, it took a trip to China for my kids to fall in love with the Caesar salad—who knew, but Pizza Hut in China has a fantastic Ceasar salad! As for Chinese food, our entire family absolutely loves hot pot. This is like a Chinese version of fondue, take away the cheese. Meat and vegetables are cooked in a delicious pot of boiling broth, accompanied by an amazing array of sauce options. Another favorite was dim sum in Guangdong Province and in Hong Kong. And street food in the Muslim Quarter in Xi’an. And Jianbing, a kind of savory Chinese pancake sold by street vendors. Ok, street food anywhere. And dumplings, dumplings everywhere and of every variety.

Given your busy teaching schedule, did you have a chance to travel? Yes! We actually visited 15 cities during the spring semester. Much of this travel involved university visits as part of the Guest Lecture Program (see previous blog post). However, we also did some travel just for fun. Before the trip I asked Elizabeth Kindall for her travel suggestions, and this led us to some cities that were not part of our formal lecture program. The Master of Nets Garden in Suzhou lived up to Elizabeth’s rave reviews, and the Chengdu Panda Base delivered a high dose of cuteness. I teach the terracotta warriors from Xi’an in class, so seeing the open pits and ongoing work of archaeologists was amazing. Some of the best moments while traveling are completely unplanned. Also in Xi’an, we just happened to visit the mosque at the time of the calling to prayer on the last day of Ramadan.  What an incredible moment. Just for fun, we went to Tokyo and visited the fish market and an amazing Buddhist temple. My favorite trip was to Taipei—such a green and beautiful city and amazing food!

Faculty

Lecturing in China

Dr. Heather Shirey, Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, Art History, spent the spring semester at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China. Her semester in China was made possible by support from the Fulbright-Terra Foundation Award in the History of American Art.  This is the second of three blog posts from Dr. Shirey. 

While I was based in Beijing for the spring 2016 semester, I was fortunate to have numerous opportunities to travel to many cities, including Shanghai, Nanjing, Hangzhou, Guangzhou, Chongching, and Taipei.  As part of the Fulbright Guest Lecture I visited universities and museums in order to present lectures and workshops on a variety of topics including public art, political portraiture, the ethics of art collecting, and race and representation in American art. Normally I presented lectures on topics that are the focus of my research. This was a valuable way for me to gain new perspectives into issues I have been engaged with for some time. From the teaching perspective, I also learned a great deal about art history programs in China and the job market for art history students.

Dr. Shirey with students and faculty at National Central University in Taipei, Taiwan

Dr. Shirey with students and faculty at National Central University in Taipei, Taiwan

Poster advertising Dr. Shirey’s lecture at Central Academy of Art in Beijing

Poster advertising Dr. Shirey’s lecture at Central Academy of Art in Beijing

At the Shanghai Museum, I was invited to deliver a series of lectures as part of the World Civilizations Lecture Series. The Shanghai Museum is the leading art institution in the country, so it was an honor to participate in this series. Since these talks were delivered to a general audience rather than graduate students, I chose broad topics that also allowed for connections to the museum’s collection. For example, I expanded a lecture on the museums and collecting in West Africa to also engage with collecting practices that had shaped the Shanghai Museum. These talks were fun because the audience was so broad, and this resulted in an incredible range of topics emerging in the question and answer period. I was asked to respond to questions on everything from ancient Roman archaeology to contemporary American politics. At the end people lined up for my autograph, something that does not happen every day in the life of an art history professor!

Audience questions at Central Academy of Art, Beijing

Audience questions at Central Academy of Art, Beijing

During the course of these lectures, I typically met with graduate students who had already developed an interest in American art. The students were very eager to learn and engage in discussions. Many of these institutions—such as Central Academy of Art in Hangzhou and Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts–have very strong programs that include a focus on Western art, American art specifically. The faculty have experience doing research in Europe and North America, and this is highly beneficial to the students. Some schools have strong, sustained connections with North American universities, providing great opportunities for exchanges. I think these long-term scholarly relationships are absolutely necessary as we seek to create a broader community of scholars focused on American art.

Campus architecture at China Academy of Art, Hangzhou

Campus architecture at China Academy of Art, Hangzhou

Library at Sichuan Fine Arts Academy, Chongqing

Library at Sichuan Fine Arts Academy, Chongqing

In China, art history programs usually exist within fine arts schools. The top fine arts programs have beautiful campuses. In the case of the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou, all of the buildings on the Xiangshan campus were designed Amateur Architecture Studio under the direction of Wang Shu and Lu Wenyu. Wang Shu, the first Chinese-national architect to receive the Pritzker Prize, is also the Dean of the School of Architecture at CAA. The campus architecture is such a harmonious blend of traditional styles and materials with modern design. This beautiful campus is perhaps rivaled by the Sichuan Fine Arts Academy in Chongqing. The photograph here is of the library, designed by Tanghua Architect and Associates, which appears to float on a lotus pond. I imagine living and working on these beautiful campuses must be inspiring!

Faculty

Art History Graduate Students at Tsinghua University, Beijing, China

Dr. Heather Shirey, Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, Art History, spent the spring semester at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China. Her semester in China was made possible by support from the Fulbright-Terra Foundation Award in the History of American Art.  This is the first of three blog posts from Dr. Shirey. 

Just as classes at the University of St. Thomas were getting underway in the spring 2016 semester, I was packing up my family to move to China. With the support of the Fulbright-Terra Foundation Award in the History of American Art, I spent five months at Tsinghua University in Beijing. Tsinghua is one of China’s top universities, and entry into the art history graduate program is extremely competitive. The students at Tsinghua have worked very hard to earn a spot in the program, and they are confident, ambitious, and highly capable.

Dr. Shirey introducing material on the first day of Methods and Theories in Art History

Dr. Shirey introducing material on the first day of Methods and Theories in Art History

I was assigned to teach two graduate-level courses at Tsinghua. The first was Methods and Theories—a course I enjoy and feel comfortable with after teaching it several times here at UST. In this course we applied various theories and methods to gain an understanding of some canonical works of art from the United States, such as Grant Wood’s American Gothic, a painting the students found fascinating due to the context of the Great Depression. The second course focused on Modern and Contemporary art with an emphasis on African American art from the 20th century.

Students preparing for a discussion in Methods and Theories

Students preparing for a discussion in Methods and Theories

My ability to communicate in Chinese is limited—I can order dinner and carry on a simple conversation with other parents at the playground, but when it comes to speaking in an academic context, I am lost.  Fortunately for me, though, one of the goals of the Fulbright program is to help students improve their skills in English through academic work. For that reason, I taught entirely in English with occasional assistance from a student interpreter.

Graduate student Wei Haoyu holding one of his own published articles

Graduate student Wei Haoyu holding one of his own published articles

There was a great deal of variation amongst the students in terms of language abilities. I had some students who could read, write, and speak English with near-native fluency. Impressively, these students were very prepared to engage with the material at a sophisticated level. They wanted and deserved to be challenged to think critically and to write at a high level that would be accepted by academic audiences internationally. At the same time, there were also students in the class with more basic levels of English-language competency.  As would be expected, these students tended to focus on basic comprehension rather than on a critical analysis of the material. It was challenging to meet the needs of these diverse students in one class. Breaking into smaller groups for discussion activities, using peer-to-peer teaching, and harnessing technology like We Chat helped us overcome some of these difficulties.

Group portrait of the Methods and Theories students as well as faculty member Chen Anying

Group portrait of the Methods and Theories students as well as faculty member Chen Anying

Students were very interested in studying the art of the United States. Some of our best conversations focused on the role of public art in the United States as compared to China. Contrasting approaches to memorialization in China and the US, for example, led to some striking conversations. The topic of race and visual representation was also very productive. China is increasingly involved in economic and political relationships with African nations, and I think there is a problematic tendency in contemporary Chinese popular culture to summon a body of negative stereotypical imagery that emerged in 19th century America and apply it to the representation of contemporary African people. My students in China were often unfamiliar with the history of this imagery, and so together we developed a framework for critiquing negative stereotypes that appear in popular visual culture.

Students engaged in small group discussion

Students engaged in small group discussion

Art History graduate students in China, like their peers in the USA, sometimes feel tired, overworked, and concerned about their future job prospects. There are many highly educated, qualified job candidates entering the job market, and wages in the fields of museums and education are lower than in other careers. As in the United States, Tsinghua graduate students often seek internships and study abroad opportunities to help prepare for a competitive job market.  At the same time, contemporary Chinese art is increasingly popular in the global market, and the country is also experiencing a great deal of growth in museums and other educational and cultural institutions. Students generally feel optimistic about the future because of this.