Situating Sovereignty: Art and Indigenous Experience in Sixteenth-Century Mexican Missions

Savannah Esquivel
Ph.D. Candidate, The University of Chicago

Wednesday, March 11 at 5:15pm
ARTS Seminar Room  333


How did Indigenous Mexican communities experience the art and architecture of sixteenth-century missions? I situate monastic mural painting in the broader discourse of Indigenous sovereignty and local knowledge systems to displace the traditional narrative of European colonial hegemony that dominates the study of art and religious conversion. Through analysis of the relationship between murals, architecture, and their viewers, I argue Indigenous artists drew on their experiential knowledge of their land to structure new social and political relations through Christian art. This new account of colonial Mexican art thus challenges modern notions of the Mexican missions as primarily places for religious conversion and European colonization.












Woven Silk as Embodiment: Tapestry and Imperial Portraiture at the Yuan Court from a Mongol Perspective
Yong Cho, Ph.D. Candidate, Yale University

Thursday, February 20, 2020 at 5:00pm
ARTS Seminar Room 333

The Mongol ruling house during China’s Yuan dynasty (1271-1368) enshrined portrait images of deceased emperors and empresses along with tantric Buddhist mandalas intended to represent their ritual embodiments. Interestingly, these images— portraits and mandala—were woven completely in silk using the technique of tapestry with slits (kesi). This was a dramatic departure from established tradition in China and North Asia, where such images were either painted or sculpted.

What accounted for this transition in medium, with Yuan rulers opting to produce images of their own bodies as silk tapestry? Examination of the available visual and textual evidence suggests that Yuan rulers understood the process of weaving silk as an especially efficacious means to producing embodied images, where the subject was understood to be present, rather than merely represented. Evidence also shows that such woven images were a product of collaboration among artisans from different corners of the Mongol Empire —a testimony to the cosmopolitan outlook of rulers who, even as they rose to power in China, did not relinquish their ties to the steppe.




Engaging Objects: Looking at Art With Malcolm Baker

Looking at art with Malcolm Baker is always an adventure. This conference celebrates Distinguished Professor Emeritus Baker’s scholarship and his time at UCR. Baker is an eminent authority in the history of sculpture, especially in 18th-century Britain, France, and Germany. Within that field, he developed a keen interest in portraiture and the history of collecting and display. Professor Baker had an important career as a curator in the UK, first as Assistant Keeper of the Department of Art & Archaeology at the Royal Scottish Museum in Edinburgh, then as Keeper, Deputy Head of Research, and Head of the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries Project in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. He taught at the Universities of York, Sussex, and at USC before joining UCR’s Department of the History of Art as Distinguished Professor. As chair of the Art History department at UCR he was a key figure in developing and consolidating its ties with the Huntington Library and Gardens and the Getty Museum and Research Institute. Professor Baker’s joy in front of works of art colors and informs his research as much as his teaching, and students love his classes. During the conference, we will look with friends and colleagues at some engaging objects to honor his career and his unique approach to art and its display.

Join us as we celebrate the career of Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Malcolm Baker. 



Download the full program

Honoring the Paintings of the Past. Art history scholar selected to present research at the Getty Graduate Symposium

By Melissa Sagun, Student Writer/CHASS Marketing & Communications |


Cynthia Neri Lewis, Ph.D Candidate in UC Riverside’s Department of the History of Art, was selected as an emerging student to present her research at the second annual Getty Graduate Symposium. The symposium will be held Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020, at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

The Getty Graduate Symposium highlights the high-caliber art historical thinking that is taking place all over California. The event will include nine individual presentations, as well as panel discussions, question-and-answer sessions, and faculty mentor moderators. Participating universities include Stanford, Berkeley, Irvine, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and Southern California.

“I’m excited to be interacting with other graduate students who are also in the midst of their writing,” Lewis said. “It’s a chance where we can be open-minded before coming to our conclusions. I’m interested to see how the conversations will go in terms of the type of feedback and questions I will get, particularly in regards to the decolonizing and indigenizing methods I have employed in this chapter of my dissertation.”

As part of the symposium, the Getty asks university art departments to nominate their most promising students to give a formal presentation on some aspect of their research. At UCR, Lewis was selected to present her research, “Native Painting as a Usable Past: the Index of American Design California Mission Project (1936-1942)” Through case studies and research, Lewis has demonstrated how the Index-created archive and federally-sponsored art “restorations” have influenced our contemporary understandings of both the “mission motifs” and the Native cultures that produced them.

“Before I entered UCR in the fall of 2016, I had already been studying the art of the California missions in general,” Lewis said. “I was working primarily with 18th-century oil paintings that had been sent to the missions from workshops in Mexico City.”

When Lewis started her research with Jason Weems, Professor of Art History, she oriented her work in a different lens. Weems encouraged her to think more about the federal art projects during the time of the New Deal (1933-1939), such as the Index of American Design.

“I started to think more about something I had seen in the San Gabriel Mission, where I’m a board member of the museum,” Lewis said. “One item was a hand-painted watercolor rendering of the state of California and all the missions that were visited by the Index. They sought to define the nation’s cultural identity and provide inspiration for modern art that would be distinctly American. That they would find the California missions to be one of the most promising sources for a national art during the New Deal era, given the United States’ conflicted relationship with its Spanish, Mexican and Native American roots, is the unique situation I am investigating.”

“This is a real look at public policy at the time and what it means for us today,” said Millagros Peña, Professor Sociology and Ethnic Studies, and the Dean of the College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. “Art historians help us think about decisions made by the government to invest in art documentation and recovery, which shows the complicated and critical understanding of who we are as a nation and our relationships with native people. In many ways, they reach into the past, help us self-reflect, and tap into our inner conscience in order to move forward in the future.”

As a space for innovative and groundbreaking research, the Getty Research Institute moved forward with it’s philosophy to engage with exemplary scholars in art history and graduate level research. The initiative was to create a high-level symposium, hosted by the Getty, that would highlight the work that was taking place in art history departments and programs across the state of California. The conversation included leaders from various UC’s with the intent to give visibility not only to scholars, but the departments and programs they come from as well.

“For our department, this gives us the chance to display the kinds of research opportunities, types of mentorships, and quality of education we offer,” Weems said. “ We can demonstrate the way in which our faculty and art programs are contributing to the study of art history, locally, nationally, and internationally. This is a tremendous opportunity for us because out of the eight departments in California that offer the Ph.D., ours is certainly the youngest out of all the programs.”

Camilla Querin, last year’s candidate, felt honored to represent the art history department and UC Riverside at the first Getty Graduate Symposium. She notes that this was an excellent opportunity to present her research in such an important venue for the study and discussion of art.

“When I participated, I had just defended my prospectus, therefore it was a great way to present my project to a larger public of scholars and test my argument, its appeal, as well as my presentation skills,” Querin said. “The fact that UCR was selected as one of the universities to participate in the Getty Graduate Symposium positions the art history department within a larger academic network, which can foster positive exchanges and future collaborations.”

SAHARA Highlights: Color Film Emergency Project

Piccadilly Circus, London, England. Photo by John S. Stec, 1980.

Since 2016, a handful of Art History graduate students, as well as a few undergrads, have worked hard to advance the goals of the Color Film Emergency Project.  You can see their work by clicking through the link to Artstor found in the below announcement.

We are grateful for the continued support from the Gluck Arts Program and the Society of Architectural Historians. A big round of thanks go to our students below. We are truly lucky to have had each one contribute their talents on the project.
Charlie Arnold
Molly Bond
Danielle Brink
Heather Casseday
Karen Gudino-Flores
Tim Lithgow
Becky Luo
Rebecca Maness
Amy Spencer

Work In Progress Series

Topographical History and Architectural History in Early Modernity

Kristoffer Neville, Ph.D. Professor of Art History

Tuesday, November 5, 2019 at 5:15pm in ARTS 333

This informal work-in-progress presentation explores some strands of early modern history writing, with a particular interest in the linkage of history and topography, the latter of which routinely encompassed architecture in the early modern period. After presenting the basic outline of my project, I will look at the ways that some prominent writers integrated topography into their historical work, and how topographers incorporated history into their work. In both cases, it contained the seeds of an architectural history that was more inclusive both geographically and chronologically than the more familiar antiquarian works, for example, which tended to emphasize antiquity and a limited number of ancient sites.