Silhouhette of a Black person's profile laid over a monorchome image of prisoners

Envisioning Identities

A Fall 2020 First-Year Tutorial

Kara Walker, "Confederate Prisoners Being Conducted from Jonesborough to Atlanta," from Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated), 2005 (detail), screen print, offset lithograph, lithograph. Grinnell College Museum of Art Collection. © Kara Walker.

Envisioning Identities: Self, Subgroups, “The Other,” and Belonging

A First-Year Tutorial offered fall 2020, taught by Jeremy Chen, assistant professor of studio art

The art critic Thomas McEvilley stated in Art & Otherness, “Art’s primary social function is to define the communal self, which includes redefining it when the community is changing. Its images, however varied, arcane, or abstract, coalesce in the communal mind into a kind of face hovering in a mirror.”

Silhouhette of a Black person's profile laid over a monorchome image of prisoners
Kara Walker, "Confederate Prisoners Being Conducted from Jonesborough to Atlanta," from Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated), 2005, screen print, offset lithograph, lithograph. Grinnell College Museum of Art Collection. © Kara Walker.

This tutorial researches the manifold ways visual artists represent identity and position identities within local, regional, national, global, or cyber contexts. Our focus is on artists working in the United States, but transnational comparisons can be made with artists working outside of a U.S. context. Some of our working questions include: What tactics do visual artists use to envision and represent identity? In what ways do artists conceptualize and visualize the self and/or “the Other”? How do artists describe multifaceted, intersectional identities based on categorizations such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion, class, ability, politics, geography, culture, or history? When and how are these categorizations effective, slippery, or problematic? How does representation of identity work to include, exclude, connect, separate, categorize, or define? What is the reception of these images by various constituencies?

 

“What Makes Identity So Interesting to Study”

This tutorial is all about investigating and recognizing the complexities of identity, especially racial identity and especially in the U.S. Sometimes topics don’t get resolved in class or we are left with multiple possible answers, but that’s really what makes identity so interesting to study. The other part of the class is how art specifically explores themes of identity. Through this class I have been exposed to so many different artists through self-driven research.
 
– Carly St. Martin-Norburg ’24

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