Feb.8 & 9, Jin Xu

***This is a mock job talk. The same talk will be given twice in order to suit different schedule of the faculty. Participants are welcomed to attend either one. ***

Wednesday, Feb.8, 12 PM to 1 PM, CWAC 157

Thursday, Feb.9, 5 PM to 6 PM, CWAC 157

“Persian Brocades:” World, Community and Self in Chinese Sogdian Art

Jin Xu,Ph.D. Candidate, Art History, University of Chicago

Sogdians were an Iranian people originating in Central Asia. From the 3rd to 9th century CE, Sogdian merchants traveled extensively along the Silk Road, dominating the trade between the East and the West before the advent of Islamic civilization. Focusing on some best-known examples of their ritual and religious art, this talk discusses how Sogdian immigrant merchants in 6th-century China used “Persian Brocades” to express their cosmopolitan vision of the world, shared identity as a community, and individualistic view of the self. It is hoped that, through the eyes of Sogdian immigrants, we can gain confidence to handle the challenges the world is facing at the moment.

Wednesday, Feb.8, 12 PM to 1 PM, CWAC 157

Thursday, Feb.9, 5 PM to 6 PM, CWAC 157

Persons with concerns regarding accessibility please contact Yunfei Shao(yunfeishao@uchicago.edu) or Zhiyan Yang (zhiyan@uchicago.edu)


Friday, Feb.3, 4:30 to 6:30pm, CWAC156

Artists, Protesters, Museum Administrators: Singapore and Hong Kong

Mechtild Widrich,

Professor of the Department of Art History, Theory and Criticism at School of Art Institute of Chicago

(photocredit: Sampson Wong)

How do the globally positioned art hubs of contemporary art engage native and visiting audiences? How do institutions like museums and universities negotiate the tension between national politics and global art and intellectual discourses? And how do artists engage in local struggles and broader circuits of publicity? I investigate these questions by comparing two art geographies, that of Singapore and Hong Kong, that have much in common culturally and economically (former colonies and vibrant trade centers) but also radically divergent political structures and art communities.


In Singapore, I focus particularly on the trio of the recently opened National Gallery Singapore, with its simultaneous claim to pan-ethnic national and regional coverage; the NTU Center for Contemporary Art at Gillman’s Barracks, which stakes a claim to cosmopolitan art discourse within an art-gallery and university setting; and the Freeport, a for-profit art storage concept originating in Switzerland. In the case of the NGS and the Gillman’s Barracks, the reuse of British colonial buildings adds to the complexity of the image of a post-ethnic city state; I accordingly pay attention also to critiques of this ideal in the work of Singapore and foreign artists.

In Hong Kong, the recent ascent of the art scene to global prominence (with, e.g., the opening of the Art Basel Hong Kong) has taken place at the same time as the tense transition to Mainland Chinese political sovereignty. This is important to the city’s most dynamic art institutions, notably the M+ museum in the Kowloon Culture District (already operating, the building to be opened in 2019). Indeed, the Umbrella Movement, an activist Hong-Kong based democratic student movement, introduced a conscious merging of art and activism to East Asia. Sampson Wong, urbanist, artist, and writer, and Wen Yau, cross-media artist, curator, writer were involved in the movement and in the production of activist props now being archived by Wong. These items are design pieces, memorabilia, and potent political props, as discussion around the potential incorporation of these items into collections, notably the M+, shows.

Friday, Feb.3, 4:30 to 6:30pm, CWAC156

Persons with concerns regarding accessibility please contact Zhiyan Yang (zhiyan@uchicago.edu)

Jan. 20, Elizabeth Lillehoj

Friday, Jan.20, 4:30 to 6:30pm, CWAC156

Art, War, and Hideyoshi: The 1596 Ming Investiture of a King of Japan and an East Asian Diplomatic Disaster

Elizabeth Lillehoj

Professor of the Department of History of Art & Architecture at DePaul University

The largest war anywhere in the world in the sixteenth century was the Sino-Japanese-Korean War. It began in 1592 when Japanese forces serving under Toyotomi Hideyoshi invaded Korea, where they were met by allied Joseon and Ming armies. The war resulted in horrific destruction to Joseon culture. Libraries were looted, religious centers razed, treasured heritage destroyed. Tens of thousands of Koreans were abducted and many more died. Not only were Koreans victimized, but Chinese defenders also paid a terrible price for intervening to save their neighbor and vassal state. Recent research reveals that Japan suffered a great loss, as well, a fact that few Edo-period sources acknowledged.

Many important documents on the Sino-Japanese-Korean War have been overlooked because they are images not texts. Yet, paintings, printed books, garments, and other works of visual culture tell us a great deal about the war and the diplomacy meant to end it. Several particularly meaningful works reveal the perspectives of the combatants—perspectives so disparate that rulers were deceived and diplomacy completely failed. Among these works are two portrait paintings with potent ideological messages, one capturing the Japanese warlord Hideyoshi and the other depicting Ming Emperor Wanli. Another significant but lost painting documents diplomatic efforts: Soga Chokuan’s Goshawk, which bears an inscription dated 1596 by Yang Fangheng, the deputy Ming investiture envoy. Yang had arrived in Japan during a truce to secure peace, and it is said that he nearly lost his life when Hideyoshi realized that the Ming investiture did not confer upon him the spoils of war he expected.

Also central to the story of Ming diplomacy are investiture robes and handscrolls with appointments from Wanli presented to Hideyoshi to install him as King of Japan and thus signifying his status below the Ming emperor. Hideyoshi was duped; he thought the envoys had arrived to concede a Ming loss in the war. Soon he learned that the envoys had just pronounced his vassalage to the Ming emperor. The diplomats who arranged the truce had lied to both Hideyoshi and Wanli in their attempt to settle the costly military engagement. Although the Ming envoys escaped with their heads, Hideyoshi immediately ordered a resumption of hostilities and Korea was plunged into carnage once again. The war only ended in 1598 with Hideyoshi’s death and Japan’s withdrawal from Korea.

After the demise of Hideyoshi, the purpose and nature of his campaign was obscured—whitewashed, really—but in the late eighteenth century scenes of the war were published in printed pages of the Taikōki (Chronicles of the Regent Hideyoshi), with a romanticized focus on the heroism of Hideyoshi’s generals. About the same time, a number of shrine tablets was painted with scenes of ancient Empress Jingū launching her legendary invasion of Korea, a theme Hideyoshi had employed as a call to arms in the 1590s. One such tablet, from the early nineteenth century, retells for late Edo-period audiences the tale of Jingū’s aggression, glorifying the samurai ethic associated with Hideyoshi and pairing it with a notion of sacred imperial authority.

Artworks can tell us things that written documents do not in visually representing the state of East Asian relations in the sixteenth century, along with constructed memory of the Sino-Japanese-Korean War. More than mere reflections of the war, artworks helped to build the conceptual platform based on which the seven-year war was fought.

Friday, Jan.20, 4:30 to 6:30pm, CWAC156

Persons with concerns regarding accessibility please contact Zhiyan Yang (zhiyan@uchicago.edu)


Tuesday, Dec.6, 4:30 to 6:30pm, CWAC156

An Interpretation of Yatsuhashi (‘the Eight-plank Bridge’): Space and Memory in Edo Political History

Timon Screech, 

Professor of the History of Art at SOAS, University of London


The Japanese landscape is filled with ‘famous places’, also known as ‘poetic pillows’, meaning sites that figures from the past wrote compellingly about in words that were remembered ever after. Naturally, most sites were near Kyoto, but areas to the East are not entirely devoid of them. Some sites were specific locations, some generic, and others had a specificity that was lost over time.

This talk will be centered on Yatsuhashi, which is in Mikawa, though no one knew quite where. It opens the ‘Decent to the East’ section of the Tales of Ise, which continues with a journey past Shizuoka, over Hakone and to Musashi, Since Musashi was where the Tokugawa family created their shogunate 600 years later, Yatsuhashi acquired special meaning in Edo times.

We will consider the wider meanings of this site, and also of others that the new shogunate sought to associate itself with.

Tuesday, Dec.6, 4:30 to 6:30pm, CWAC156

Persons with concerns regarding accessibility please contact Zhiyan Yang (zhiyan@uchicago.edu)

Dec.2, Josh Yiu

Friday, Dec.2, 4:30 to 6:30pm, CWAC156

Lui Shou-kwan (1919-1975) and Modern Chinese Art

Josh Yiu, Director of the Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong


This will be a case study of a marginalized mid-century Chinese artist who pioneered the ink movement that came to be known as ‘contemporary ink’ today.  Born and raised in mainland China, Lui Shou-kwan 呂壽琨(1919-1975) spent most of his adult life in Hong Kong, and his life hardly revolved around the momentous events that shaped the developments of art academies and artists in mainland China.  As modern Chinese art history is largely subsumed within the fabric of political history of modern China, it is understandable that artists outside of mainland China, especially those who were active in Hong Kong and Taiwan, may not sit well in this narrative.  While they are not neglected, they are often portrayed as regional artists in outlying chapters.  Therefore, some of them, including Lui Shou-kwan, have been art historiographically marginalized, even though their work and thinking may be no less progressive than their contemporaries working in the mainland.  My talk will explore Lui’s theoretical thinking that led him to negotiate the classical tradition and Abstract Expressionism, as well as to investigate his unique perspective on contemporary art that was global yet Sino-centric.  The presentation will conclude with the suggestion that the modernism in Chinese art is not–and should not be–simply be defined by visual elements and ‘innovative’ styles.


Friday, Dec. 2, 4:30 to 6:30pm, CWAC156

Persons with concerns regarding accessibility please contact Yunfei Shao(yunfeishao@uchicago.edu) or Zhiyan Yang (zhiyan@uchicago.edu)

Nov.18, Zhenru Zhou

Friday, November.18, 4:30 to 6:30pm, CWAC156

Recarving the Dunhuang Grottoes: A study on the roles of architecture in the process of copying Buddhist Pure Land landscapes

Zhenru Zhou, Ph.D. Student, Art History, University of Chicago


This project focuses on the roles of Chinese Buddhist architecture in the process of image-making, which may exist beyond the boundaries of media, regions and eras. Based on a close formal reading of the Contemplation Sutra painting on the north wall of Mogao Cave 172 (705-770 AD) – one of the best-known Western Paradise depictions among the Dunhuang murals – the study reveals key parallels between the imaginary Chinese Buddhist architecture and the imitative Pure Land landscapes. A theoretical reconstruction of the Pure Land architecture in the painting’s main scene interprets the viewing experience of the painting, wherein the representational techniques enhance the engagement of the viewers. An integrated installation then explores how architecture evokes viewers’ imagination of a Buddhist utopia by using multiple light sources and scaled spaces, in view of the narrative and instructional functions of the side paintings.

Friday, November.18, 4:30 to 6:30pm, CWAC156

Persons with concerns regarding accessibility please contact Yunfei Shao(yunfeishao@uchicago.edu) or Zhiyan Yang (zhiyan@uchicago.edu)

Nov.11, Dongshan Zhang

Friday, November.11, 4:30 to 6:30pm, CWAC156

Word and Body, Dharani and the Buried: Tang Amulets and Liao Coffins

Dongshan Zhang,

Ph.D. Student, Art History, University of Chicago

There are a few different Chinese transliterations/translations of the word Dharani, including tuoluoni陀羅尼, ming明, zhou咒, miyu密語, and zhenyan真言. As incantations or spells, the dharani-s written in Chinese script are not sentences that conform to grammar. Nor is their religious efficacy achieved through the Buddhists’ grasping of their literal meaning. As the Liao-dynasty monk Daochen explains in xianmi yuantong chengfo xinyao ji (The Compendium of Essential Matters for the Heart of Unifying the Revealing and the Secret regarding Becoming Buddha):
“…that is why people say that zhou are the secret laws of buddhas. They transmit between buddhas and do not communicate to others. (Therefore, as ordinary people, we) should only recite and uphold them, and need not to scrape through the meaning. ”
In this light, as words, the form of dharani is more important than the textual content. There are two ways to understand the form of dharani. Firstly, as spoken words, people would generate sound when they recite dharani-s. The Chinese translations of dharani, zhenyan, or miyu, clearly show how essential the auditory form is to dharani. However, due to the elaborate work done on this by many scholars, I will not spend much time in this regard. My focus is the form in the other sense: as written words, the visual forms that dharani presents.
In the first half of the presentation, we will examine several so-called dharani amulets excavated from tombs dated to as early as 8th century, and as late as 10th century. The paper amulets, whose dharani inscriptions display visual forms of high complexity, are essentially attempts to reconstruct the three-dimensional mandala-altars on two-dimensional surfaces.
The second half of the presentation will compare dharani amulets to the coffins bearing dharani inscriptions over the surfaces from the Liao-dynasty tombs in Xuanhua.
I will argue that the Xuanhua dharani coffins are attempts of a “backward transformation”: their makers took elements from the mandala-altars on two-dimensional amulets and transformed the coffins into three-dimensional mandalas.


Friday, Nov. 11, 4:30 to 6:30pm, CWAC156

Persons with concerns regarding accessibility please contact Yunfei Shao(yunfeishao@uchicago.edu) or Zhiyan Yang (zhiyan@uchicago.edu)

OCT. 28, TAO Jin

Friday, October 28, 4:30 to 6:30pm, CWAC156

The City God’s New Clothes: A Brief Study on the Articulated Living Image


Tao Jin 陶金, 

Architect, Tsinghua University Architecture Design Institute, Beijing


 *the lecture will be delivered in Chinese


“The articulated living image”, a type of anthropomorphic icon with movable joints, can be widely found in all types of vernacular shrines throughout China. However, scholars have often neglected this important body of materials that could be traced back as far as the early medieval period (5-6th century). The articulated living images now housed in the famous City God Temple of Shanghai are the most-frequently-visited ones in China today. This study began with the robe-changing ritual for the icons in 2016, and then reports on an extended interview with the craftsmen who were responsible for creating the robes and icons since the 1990s. Through an investigation of the seven features of the articulated living image:human-scale, movable joints, actual attire, human hair, simulated organs, nine orifices, and buried animals, I argue that a deeper understanding of the cultural and ritual significance of such humanoid statues will allow us to gain a new perspective on the concept of human body and the relationships between soul and body, human and deity in ancient China. By employing anthropological research methods, I hope to reconstruct and retrace four major scenarios of the articulated living image: processing, feasting, holding official audiences, and dwelling, which define the spatial prototypes of Chinese anthropomorphic sacred architecture. I will also discuss the cultural relationship amongst a wide variety of cult practices related to the articulated statues, such as shamanism, magic substitute of sacrifice, tomb figurines, and Chinese medicine.


Friday, October 28, 4:30 to 6:30pm, CWAC156

Persons with concerns regarding accessibility please contact Yunfei Shao(yunfeishao@uchicago.edu) or Zhiyan Yang (zhiyan@uchicago.edu)

Oct. 7, Chelsea Foxwell

Friday, October 7, 4:30 to 6:30pm, CWAC156

Birds from Abroad and Men at Home: Copying and Classification in Late 18th-Century Japan

Chelsea Foxwell, 

Assistant Professor of Art History and the College, University of Chicago


This paper examines attitudes toward images, observation, and the social order in late-eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Japan by focusing on the paintings and woodblock-printed books of Kuwagata Keisai 鍬形蕙斎 and his better-known contemporary, Katsushika Hokusai 葛飾 北斎.


Keisai, who slightly predated Hokusai, had a notable tendency to depict things in the aggregate, in a way that showed greater concern with the ordering and manipulation of existing forms than with the production of what we would call original designs. Keisai’s lavish color-printed book Birds from Abroad (Kaihaku raikin zui, 1790-1) shows exotic specimens copied from a set of paintings of foreign birds in Nagasaki. His monumental handscroll set Artisans of Edo (Edo shokunin zukushi ekotoba, c. 1803) transcribes the customs and professions of the contemporary Japanese city. In both works, copying, a form of image acquisition, and classification, a means of making sense of the world, shape and comment on social identities.


This worldview was related to the rapidly growing market for visual information in the form of illustrated woodblock-printed books throughout East Asia. Keisai and Hokusai’s works, I argue, did not only reflect the new wave of visual information; they commented on it in a way that was subtle enough to avoid causing offense. Finally, the question remains: in the lively early modern world of woodblock-print reproduction, did “artistic originality” matter, and how?

Friday, October 7, 4:30 to 6:30pm, CWAC156

Persons with concerns regarding accessibility please contact Yunfei Shao(yunfeishao@uchicago.edu) or Zhiyan Yang (zhiyan@uchicago.edu)


May 27 Naixi Feng

Friday, May 27, 4:30 to 6:30pm, CWAC156

Stone Drums en route: Text, Thing and the Historical Narrative of Beijing in the mid-seventeenth Century

Naixi Feng
Ph.D. Student, East Asian Languages and Civilizations Department, University of Chicago

In 1403, Beiping was elevated to the capital of the Ming Empire and designated as “Bei-jing.” Later on, Beijing experienced a transformation from a military-oriented political center to a culturally significant place, representable and appreciable as a literary milieu. How was the cultural image of Beijing gradually built up in the ending years of the Ming (1368-1644) through literary sketches of urban life? I would like to use the largest book project on Beijing from the Ming dynasty, A Sketch of Sites and Objects in the Imperial Capital (帝京景物略, 1635) as the central material. Focusing on the first essay “the Stone Drums at the Imperial Academy,” this presentation will explore the role of ancient ritual objects in the creation of a legitimate and historically discursive past of Beijing in the final years of the Ming dynasty. I will pursue the following questions: In what ways did these ritual objects endow this previous capital of three non-Chinese regimes (Liao, Jin, Yuan) with an intelligible, legitimate and monumental past? What’s the power of those illegible and mythical characters inscribed on the stone surface? And how did the ritual objects balance the cultural statuses of Beijing in the whole country before and after the Yongle emperor relocated the capital to Beijing in 1403?

Friday, May 27, 4:30 to 6:30pm, CWAC156
Persons with concerns regarding accessibility please contact xizh@uchicago.edu