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Seeing Empires

Pier Celestino Gilardi
A Visit to the Gallery
oil on canvas
48 in x 40 3/8 in (121.92 cm x 102.55 cm);48 in x 40 3/8 in (121.92 cm x 102.55 cm)
Bequest of Henry C. Lewis

Visual culture plays a powerful role in shaping our beliefs and ideas. Images can seem neutral while in fact they present particular points of view, interpretations, and judgments. Throughout history, people have used visual culture to create and broadcast disturbing and dangerous representations and stereotypes that persist even today.

 This installation explores the visual language of European colonialism and empire through the lenses of race, class, and gender. The selected artworks allow students from a variety of disciplines to work with different methods of analyzing visual culture, including those of postcolonial studies, intersectional theory, and animal studies. The goal is to enable students to explore the ways that empires represent people and depict them according to a particular, hierarchical, worldview.

We invite you to explore these works yourself. You can start anywhere. Pick something that catches your eye. Take a deeper look and let your eye move where it will. Consider how the meaning of the first point of encounter shifts. Here are some questions for you to consider as you follow your own path:

  • What similarities and differences do you see in the subjects’ poses, dress, interactions, and surroundings?
  • What do the works alone and in combination say about the race and ethnicity, gender, and social class of the subjects?
  • What stories of control, fascination, and appropriation do these historical misrepresentations tell?
  • How are depictions of animals implicated in the cultural politics of identity and power?

Works included in this collection

This section of Curriculum / Collection 2022 developed in collaboration with AAS 290, AAS 271 / ENGLISH 274, HISTORY 222 / JUDAIC 224 / WOMENSTD 224, HISTART 323 / HISTORY 350 / JUDAIC 323 / NEAREAST 383 / RELIGION 324, AAS 458 / AMCULT 601 / HISTORY 698 / JUDAIC 617 / MIDEAST 590, AMCULT 330 / ARABAM 330, GERMAN 731 / HISTORY 796, AAS 395 / GERMAN 396 / HISTORY 396

Exhibition Support

Lead support for this exhibition is provided by the University of Michigan Office of the Provost, Erica Gervais Pappendick and Ted Pappendick, and the Eleanor Noyes Crumpacker Endowment Fund.

Click to Continue Exploring Curriculum / Collection 2022