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Tappan Flash Talks

"Negotiating Offense of Rhodesian Proportion" - Daniel Herwitz

The essay on which this talk is based explores the multiple positions of offense across
racial and artistic lines in Cape Town's Rhodes Must Fall Campaign of 2015, raising questions about how offense might best be negotiated.

What Can You Actually Accomplish During an Epidemic? Art at the Venetian Plague Hospitals, 1450–1750 - Jennifer Gear

During the Early Modern period, it was widely believed that visual art could offer powerful protection against disease, both preventing it and hastening recovery for those who were already sick. Following the Black Death in the 1350s and through the eighteenth century, the creation of countless works of art and material culture registered the importance of images to fight the plague. Knowing this, one would expect that the two Venetian lazzaretti—the most sophisticated hospitals devoted to the management of plague in the Early Modern world—would have been sites where visual art proliferated. In fact, the opposite appears to be true. This talk will explore what we know about visual art at the Venetian plague hospitals, from graffiti to state-commissioned works, to consider what this suggests about productivity and motivation during major outbreaks of disease and afterwards.

Jennifer Gear is a Lecturer in the Department of the History of Art at the University of Michigan, where she received her PhD in 2018. She specializes in Early Modern Venice and its regional cities in the 15th–18th centuries. Her research and publications examine the relationship between plague and art production, particularly commemorative works that engage with the disease as an historical phenomenon.  

Dust Bowl Murals: Environmental Disaster and Settler Colonialism on the American Plains - Michaela Rife

Dust Bowl Murals: Environmental Disaster and Settler Colonialism on the American Plains

What does a community want from their public art in the midst of an environmental disaster? To begin to answer that question, Dust Bowl-era post office murals in towns and cities on the American Plains offer compelling case studies. With settler faith in local industries and agricultural productivity frayed by environmental and economic woes, government-sponsored artists designed murals intended to mend that faith through scenes of pioneers, bountiful harvests, and working oil fields. In this talk, I will discuss how these public artworks functioned in the context of an environmental disaster, but I will also explain how the 1930s Dust Bowl was but one symptom of the condition of settler colonialism, a long and ongoing “disaster.”

Michaela Rife is a postdoctoral fellow in the Michigan Society of Fellows and an assistant professor in the Department of the History of Art. Her research focuses on the art and visual cultures of the American West, particularly surrounding resource extraction and settler colonialism. She is also interested in the larger fields of environmental art history and ecocriticism. She earned her PhD from the University of Toronto in 2020. 

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