VMPEA: May 25, Lillian Tseng

Lillian Tseng

Associate Professor of East Asian Art & Archaeology

Institute for the Study of the Ancient World

New York University

Absence and Presence: The Great Wall in Chinese Art

Built and rebuilt many times since the third century BCE, the Great Wall has remained culturally significant and monumental in China. However, it did not become an object of pictorial representation in China until the twentieth century. Examining both modern and pre-modern examples, this paper argues that it is from the interplay of absence and presence in various cross-cultural contexts that we may better grasp the role of the Great Wall in Chinese Art.

Friday, May 25, 4-6 p.m.  CWAC 153

VMPEA: May 11, Satoko Shimazaki

Shades of Jealousy: Gendered Ghosts and Gendered Actors
in Early Modern Kabuki

Satoko Shimazaki

Assistant Professor
University of Colorado, Boulder


The female ghost of Oiwa in Tsuruya Nanboku’s canonical kabuki play Ghost Stories at Yotsuya (Tōkaidō Yotsuya kaidan, 1825) was constructed as a sort of visual montage of images deeply rooted in gendered religious and cultural discourses. While the performance of female ghosts was the provenance of female-role actors or onnagata, nineteenth century kabuki reinvented the role for male-role actors. Focusing on Ghost Stories at Yotsuya, my talk will explore the gendered resonances behind the construction of ghosts on the early modern kabuki stage and the meaning of the actors’ body in kabuki. I will propose a revision of earlier critical discourse on the meaning of the body of the kabuki actor, especially the gender make-up of actors in the kabuki theater, which has centered on the discussion of female-role actors. I move away from the actor and his body as the prime site for interpretation, focusing instead on kabuki theater as an ideological structure and a cultural system that manipulated the viewer so that the real life gender and sex of the actor were made irrelevant.

Friday, May 11, 4-6 p.m.  CWAC 153


VMPEA: April 20, Dai Xiaoyun

Dai Xiaoyun

Associate Research Fellow, Beijing Luxun Museum
Visiting Scholar of Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, Harvard University

Shuilu Paintings (水陆画) and the Ritual Text  of “Tiandi mingyang shuilu yiwen (天地冥阳水陆仪文)

The talk will be given in Chinese.    

Friday, April 20, 4-6 p.m.  CWAC 153


Spring Quarter Schedule

April  20 Fri.  Dai Xiaoyun (Associate Research Fellow, China Central Academy of Fine Arts) : “Shui lu Paintings of Buddhism”

May 11 Fri.  Satoko Shimazaki (Assistant Professor, University of Colorado, Boulder) : TBD

May 25 Fri.  Lillian Tseng (Associate Professor, New York University) : TBD

June 1 Fri.   Mia Liu (Ph.D. candidate, The University of Chicago) “The Legend of Tianyun Mountain: Xie Jin’s Literati Recluse”

March 9, Catherine Stuer

The Rhetoric of the Trace: Photography, Place, and History in Republican Nanjing


Catherine Stuer

PhD candidate, University of Chicago

Friday, March 9, 4-6 pm


This paper discusses an expansive photographic project undertaken by Zhu Xie (1907-1968) to record and publish Nanjing’s material remains at a time when the city was redesigned as the modern capital of the new republican state. Conceived as a total representational project of the city’s past, this publication integrates over three hundred photographs taken in situ by the author into a geo-historical study of Nanjing. I unpack how Zhu’s camera links modern metropolitan construction to the destruction of historical traces in a project that is explicitly activist in intent. As professor at the Central University in Nanjing and son of the prominent historian Zhu Xizu (1879-1945), Zhu Xie’s work is situated on the forefront of intellectual and ideological debates of his time. I show how the author actively engages with pre-modern representational genres and projects, while framing his subject at the center of contemporary public and academic discourse. I argue that Zhu Xie deploys these discursive and representational strategies to locate Nanjing’s past traces unapologetically in their fragmented present while rhetorically reconstituting them into an integral vision of Nanjing as temporal and spatial whole. His work thus represents a move against the grain of photographic constructions of the city since the turn of the century, when Nanjing became subject of heightened foreign and factional strategic desires, and ultimately instituted as capital of the modern nation-state. I parse this difference in relation to pre-modern visualizations of the city’s traces, and vis-à-vis contemporary scenic, archaeological, and propagandistic photography of Nanjing.

VMPEA: Feb. 24, Insoo Cho.

Insoo Cho

Associate Professor, Korea National University of Arts

From Spirit Tablets to Portraits: Ancestor Worship and Portraitures in Korea


During the Chosŏn dynasty, the art of portrait painting enjoyed great prominence and was valued with high esteem. Often the most famous and skillful painters were hired to execute these venerable images. These portraits have been closely associated with ancestral worship and served their functions effectively in Confucian rites.

From the early Chosŏn period, Neo-Confucianism was adopted as the national ideology in Korea, and Confucian scholars made wooden name tablets inscribed with wishes for the spirits of the deceased ancestors to stay around even longer. With the elapse of time, however, the use of portraits in ancestor worship was allowed and gradually adopted as a social custom. The portrait paintings, as a result, were considered important objects for descendants to communicate with ancestors and express their filial piety.

This lecture will discuss the relationship between ancestral name tablets and portraits as well as the significance of portraits in rites of homage to deceased ancestors during the Chosŏn Dynasty. It also examines the process of adaptation and modification of Western painting style via China which enabled Korean painters to produce more realistic effigies.


Friday, Feb 24, 4-6 p.m.  CWAC 156

VMPEA: Chelsea Foxwell

Angels and Demons: Toshio Aoki (1853 -1912), A Japanese Artist in California

Chelsea Foxwell

Assistant Professor, Art History Department, Chicago University

Feb 17, 4-6 pm

In the 1880s, a little-known Japanese painter named Aoki Toshio traveled from Yokohama to California, where he would spend the rest of his life practicing art -broadly defined- at the margins of painting, illustration, room decoration, and theater. His subsequent career and artistic development were molded by the harsh conditions endured by Asian immigrants in San Francisco and by the complex, contradictory, and heavily gendered images of Japan that circulated in America more broadly. At the same time, his works, which are just now coming to light, bear similarities to contemporaneous paintings made in Tokyo and later cited as landmarks of nihonga (Japanese-style painting). This talk examines several of Aoki’s images to ask what the twice-marginal can tell us about the potentials for visual communication and understanding in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

January 27, Rob Linrothe

From Colonial Travel Album to Altar:  The Circulation of Late 19th Century Photographic Portraits of Tibetan Incarnations in the Indian Himalayas and the Problems they Pose for Photo Theories of Portraits as Memento Mori

Rob Linrothe

Associate Professor, Department of Art History, Northwestern University

Friday, Jan 27, 4-6 p.m.  CWAC 156


Two unusual photographs from an otherwise rather conventional travel album documenting a trip to India in March of 1908 offer the opportunity to reconsider some of the fundamental assumptions about photography.  The album, in the Getty Research Institute collection, contained a surprising number of images of Ladakh and Zangskar, two culturally Tibetan and Buddhist regions incorporated into the territory of state of Kashmir and Jammu.  The two photographs depict a prominent religious teacher born in Zangskar who resided in Ladakh, but is also known to have visited Srinagar and Jammu.  While many of the album’s handwritten labels are accurate, these incorrectly identify the teacher, and it is doubtful the album’s compiler’s actually met him.  Fieldwork in Ladakh and Zangskar enabled the identification of the subject of the photographs, and the discovery that these two photographs also circulated locally.  Copies of them were owned along with similar photographs by the teacher in question, as well as by his successor, his reincarnation, also a prominent figure in 20th century India who became ambassador to Mongolia.  This article attempts to suggest that the functions of the photographs in Ladakh and Zangskar (and in Tibetan culture widely) call into question the universal relevance of western theories of photography which associate portrait photography with the apprehension of death, loss, and memory.  While I make no claims to represent a distinctive culturally Tibetan understanding of photography, here I record my own observations of these and other photographs operating within Tibetan networks of meaning.


VMPEA: Winter Schedule.‏

The workshop will be held in room 156 on Fridays, from 4 PM to 6 PM.

Jan 27. Rob Linrothe (Northwestern University):  “From Colonial Travel Album to Altar:  The Circulation of Late 19th Century Photographic Portraits of Tibetan Incarnations in the Indian Himalayas and the Problems they Pose for Photo Theories of Portraits as Memento Mori”

Feb.17 Chelsea Foxwell ( University of Chicago): “Angels and Demons: Two Works by Toshio Aoki (1853-1912), a Japanese Painter in California”

Feb. 24 Cho Insoo (Korea National University of Arts): “From Spirit Tablets to Portraits: Ancestor Worship and Portraiture in Korea”

Mar.9  Catherine Stuer (PhD candidate, University of Chicago):  “The Rhetoric of the Trace: Photography, Place, and History in Republican Nanjing”