Tag Archives: art history

‘What makes work meaningful?’: Q&A with ‘The Social Life of Inkstones’ author Dorothy Ko

The following interview originally appeared at Barnard News and is adapted and used with permission. (Courtesy of N. Jamiyla Chisholm, Barnard College, New York City.)


To honor Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, Barnard College professor of history Dorothy Ko offers a peek into ancient and modern-day Eastern culture and politics.

According to the Library of Congress, Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month takes place in May for two reasons: May 7, 1843, marked the immigration of the first Japanese citizen to the U.S.; and on May 10, 1869, the transcontinental railroad was completed, mostly by Chinese immigrant workers.

Credit: Marvin Trachetenberg

Dorothy Ko explores the subjects of gender and body in early modern China. In her books, Ko unravels the complex worlds of Chinese footbinding (Cinderella’s Sisters: A Revisionist History of Footbinding), fashion (Every Step a Lotus: Shoes for Bound Feet), and feminism (Teachers of the Inner Chambers: Women and Culture in Seventeenth-Century China). Her latest, The Social Life of Inkstones: Artisans and Scholars in Early Qing China, introduces the West to the world of ancient Asian stones and includes close to 100 images (see slideshow below). Ko explains the significance of this highly specialized art form.

What exactly is an inkstone and what is its significance in East Asian culture?

An inkstone is a piece of polished stone about the size of an outstretched palm. Before the invention of fountain pens, let alone laptops and iPads, every student, writer, or painter in East Asia had to grind a fresh supply of ink at the desk by dipping an ink-stick in water and rubbing it on the surface of the stone. This process was as instinctive to them as recharging our iPhones is to us. Day in and day out, the writers and painters developed deep attachments to their implements. More than an instrument for writing, the inkstone was a collectible object of art, a father’s gift to his school-bound son, a token of friendship, and even a diplomatic gift between states.

Why is this tool so unfamiliar to Western civilizations when it has represented so much for the East for more than a millennium?

Europeans drew ink from an inkpot so they had no use for an ink-grinding stone. Nor did the early European collectors appreciate its subtle beauty as the Chinese connoisseurs did. The color of the inkstone tended to be deep purple or black; it is small and does not display well in a stately home or fancy apartment. So it is no wonder that there is no notable collection of inkstones in Europe or America.

Your book shines a light on craftswoman Gu Erniang who became famous for her inkstone-making skills, which were refined between the 1680s and 1730s. What made her such a standout?

Her extraordinary skills. Gu Erniang was a remarkable woman who thrived in a field dominated by men; she became more famous than her male colleagues. Her name was associated with technical and artistic innovations as well as refined taste. It is also interesting to mention that she enjoyed more gender freedom than her genteel sisters in that she could receive male patrons in her studio to discuss commissioned projects face-to-face.

How has the significance of inkstone artisans changed over time?

Gu Erniang was one of the first inkstone makers in China to attach her signature mark on her work, suggesting a heightened respect that exceptional artisans like her enjoyed. Today, because the inkstone is no longer a functional object, all inkstone artisans have to present themselves as creative artists.

What interests you most in this topic area and what are some of the biggest “ah ha!” moments you had conducting research for the book?

I love all the modern conveniences we enjoy but increasingly feel the need to look back and reassess the heavy price we pay for such “industrial development” or “progress.” I became interested in the craftsmen because theirs was a sustainable livelihood that was environmentally responsible. Through their eyes, I arrive at tentative answers to my big question at the moment: What makes work meaningful? The craftsman’s answer: Making one-of-a-kind objects with attention and skill in a collaborative environment. Craft makes us more human by inspiring us to strive for perfection.

How does the research conducted for this book connect to research from your previous publications on footbinding and Chinese feminism?

As a historian of gender, I’m sensitive to power inequalities and trained to analyze the operations of power. In the same way that I had retrieved women in Chinese history in my earlier books, I set out to retrieve the artisans from erasure in the hands of male scholars. Little did I know that the latter turned out to be a far more difficult project.

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Q&A with ‘Queering Contemporary Asian American Art’ editors Laura Kina and Jan Christian Bernabe

This Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month we are excited to share special features with authors and editors of new and recent titles that celebrate Asian and Pacific Islanders in the United States.

Today we speak with Queering Contemporary Asian American Art editors Laura Kina and Jan Christian Bernabe about their groundbreaking volume, published this spring, and corresponding website.

Queering Contemporary Asian American Art takes Asian American differences as its point of departure for bringing together artists and scholars pushing back against normative assumptions, expectations, critiques, and practices within Asian American art and visual culture. Taken together, these nine original artist interviews, cutting-edge visual artworks, and seven critical essays explore contemporary currents and experiences within Asian American art, including the multiple axes of race and identity; queer bodies and forms; kinship and affect; and digital identities and performances. The interdisciplinary and theoretically informed frameworks in the volume engage readers to understand global and historical processes through contemporary Asian American artistic production.

Why did you want to put together this book?

Laura Kina and Jan Christian Bernabe: Most of the contributors of Queering Contemporary Asian American Art met at a 2012 National Endowment for the Humanities supported summer institute entitled “Re-envisioning American Art History: Asian American Art, Research, and Teaching” at the Asian/Pacific/American Institute at New York University. There we discussed the ways in which we could advance the field of Asian American art history through our teaching, writing, and curatorial projects.

We were very fortunate to have listened to a lecture on “doing” Asian American art history by the late Karin Higa. In her lecture, she described those of us invested in the field as “the termites of art history.” It was a call to critique and nibble away at what we call in the book “the white hegemonic pillars of art practice, history, and criticism.”

We wanted to heed Higa’s call to find innovative and timely ways to work on Asian American art history and thus formed a group at the seminar called “Que(e)rying Asian American Art,” for which the title of our book is named. We saw intense interest by the members of the group to think about the ways in which queer theory could inform Asian American art criticism.

In many ways, the discussions we had during the seminar and at many conferences after the seminar had ended informed the creation of our book. We like to think that our book is a product of our termite activities.

What was it like writing and putting together this kind of volume?

LK & JCB: The process of writing the book was extremely intense but exhilarating! We invited seven authors to write critical essays for the anthology and in total we interviewed 17 artists, from emerging to established in their careers. We started the process of interviewing during the summer of 2014 with genderqueer and transgender artists in Chicago: Kiam Marcelo Junio and Greyson Hong, respectively.

We worked together virtually and in coffee shops throughout Chicago in the two years of the book’s production, and we made a point of organizing panel discussions at academic conferences with the various artists and scholars involved in the book as. There was a lot of transcription of interviews involved as well as selecting artwork to be in the book. Our last interview was in spring 2016 with Tina Takemoto, a San Francisco based artist who self-describes as a “queer, gender queer, gender nonconforming, Asian American dyke.”

What do you hope is the book’s most important contribution?

LK & JCB: We hope our book builds on a queer of color critique and advances the field of Asian American art and contemporary art. The book is a call to build queer coalitions of resistance, to push back against the dominant “model minority” paradigm in Asian America of assimilationist “good” behavior—of not making waves and being silent and complicit in the face of anti-blackness, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, and so forth that pervades US culture.

What is your next project?

LK & JCB: We are currently curating a virtual exhibition inspired by our book for the Center for Art and Thought called “Queer Horizons.” In this current moment of political and cultural transformations, especially affecting people of color and LGBTQ communities, the show seeks to envision what a queer futurity looks like. This idea of a queer horizon, borrowed from the late Jose Muñoz, proposes what he calls “a greater openness to the world.”

What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

LK & JCB: The artwork is the most important thing. On a basic level, we just want to introduce the important work of the artists and scholars in this book to a wider audience. On a broader level, we want to inspire readers to form their own queer coalitional politics; we are writing to bring together feminists and queer of color artists and scholars to take up our “termite activities” and keep on nibbling at the hegemonic foundations of art history.


Laura Kina is an artist and a Vincent de Paul Professor of Art, Media, and Design at DePaul University. She is the coeditor of War Baby / Love Child: Mixed Race Asian American Art. Jan Christian Bernabe is the operations, new media, and curatorial director at the Center for Art and Thought. The contributors are Mariam B. Lam, Eun Jung Park, Alpesh Kantilal Patel, Valerie Soe, and Harrod J Suarez. Featured artists are Anida Yoeu Ali, Kim Anno, Eliza Barrios, Sita Kuratomi Bhaumik, Wafaa Bilal, Hasan Elahi, Greyson Hong, Kiam Marcelo Junio, Lin + Lam (H. Lan Thao Lam and Lana Lin), Viet Le, Maya Mackrandilal, Zavé Martohardjono, Jeffrey Augustine Songco, Tina Takemoto, Kenneth Tam, and Saya Woolfalk.

New in Art History and Visual Culture for CAA 2016

From February 3-6, we will be at the annual meeting of the College Art Association in Washington, DC. UW Press Advancement and Grants Manager Beth Fuget will be representing the Press, unveiling several new books, and meeting with partners to discuss our Mellon Foundation-funded collaboration, the Art History Publication Initiative.

Here is a taste of some recent and forthcoming titles in art history and visual culture we’ll be featuring at the conference, but be sure to stop by our booth (#322) to see our full slate of books. Follow along on social media with #caa2016.

Art History Publication Initiative Books

New and Recent Books

Forthcoming Books

Bhupen Khakhar: You Can’t Please All
Edited by Chris DeDercon and Nada Raza
Forthcoming June 2016
Published with Tate Publishing

This publication presents a fresh take on Bhupen Khakhar’s artistic, social, and spiritual interests. With personal and touching contributions by those who knew him, this richly illustrated book is an essential reference to one of the most compelling and unique voices in 20th century art, as well as a significant contribution to the field of international modernism.

Endeavouring Banks: Exploring Collections from the Endeavour Voyage 1768–1771
By Neil Chambers
With Contributions by Sir David Attenborough, John Gascoigne, Jeremy Coote, Andrew Cook, and Anna Agnarsdottir
Forthcoming Spring 2016
Published with Paul Holberton Publishing

The objects featured in this book tell the story of the Endeavour voyage and its impact ahead of the 250th anniversary of this seminal mission’s launch. The surviving illustrations are the most important body of images produced since Europeans entered this region, matching the truly historic value of the plant specimens and artifacts that will be seen alongside them.

Africa in the Market
Edited by Silvia Forni and Christopher Steiner
Forthcoming Spring 2016
Distributed for Royal Ontario Museum

The collection contains a wide range of mostly 20th century pieces that illustrate the creative achievements and cultural meanings of art objects produced and collected at a time of great international expansion of the market for African art. The objects are framed and interpreted within academic essays that highlight the significant role that African makers and dealers have played in shaping Western understanding of African art.

Chicana/o Art since the Sixties: From Errata to Remix
By Karen Mary Davalos
Forthcoming Spring 2016
Distributed for UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center Press

Davalos combines decolonial theory with extensive archival and field research to offer a new critical perspective on Chicana/o art. Using Los Angeles as a case study, she presents her most ambitious project to date in this examination of fifty years of Chicana/o art production in a major urban area.

Exhibitions on View: ‘Art AIDS America,’ and ‘Arctic Ambitions’

This fall, the UW Press is proud to co-publish a number of catalogs in conjunction with key exhibitions at museums currently on view throughout the Pacific Northwest and country.

We are pleased to share tour and additional program information for the namesake exhibitions connected to two recent releases, Art AIDS America and Arctic Ambitions.

We hope you will be able to see these powerful exhibitions in person and that the armchair art lovers among you will find much to appreciate in the accompanying books:

Art AIDS America
By Jonathan David Katz and Rock Hushka

Co-published with Tacoma Art Museum, Art AIDS America is the first comprehensive overview and reconsideration of 30 years of art made in response to the AIDS epidemic in the United States. This book foregrounds the role of HIV/AIDS in shifting the development of American art away from the cool conceptual foundations of postmodernism and toward a new, more insistently political and autobiographical voice. Art AIDS America surveys more than 100 works of American art from the early 1980s to the present, reintroducing and exploring the whole spectrum of artistic responses to HIV/AIDS, from in-your-face activism to quiet elegy.

The exhibition is organized by Tacoma Art Museum in partnership with the Bronx Museum of the Arts and co-curated by Dr. Jonathan David Katz, director of the Visual Studies Doctoral Program at the University at Buffalo (SUNY), and Rock Hushka, chief curator and curator of contemporary and Northwest art at Tacoma Art Museum.

For more on this groundbreaking show, including details on the exhibition and artists, an audio tour, and other media coverage, visit Tacoma Art Museum’s On View page.

Exhibition Tour

Tacoma Art Museum, WA / October 3, 2015 – January 10, 2016

Zuckerman Museum of Art, Kennesaw State University, GA / February 20 – May 22, 2016

The Bronx Museum of the Arts, NY / June 23 – September 11, 2016

View this and other videos about the exhibition on the Tacoma Art Museum Vimeo channel:

Arctic Ambitions: Captain Cook and the Northwest Passage
Edited by James K. Barnett and David L. Nicandri
Preface by Robin Inglis

Co-published with the Anchorage Museum, the Cook Inlet Historical Society, and the Washington State History Museum and accompanying the namesake exhibition, this collection of essays from international scholars uses artifacts, charts, and records of the encounters with Native peoples to tell the story of this remarkable voyage. The collection also uses Cook’s voyage as a springboard to consider the promise and challenge of the North today as an unique meeting place of powerful forces.

For more details including the full program schedule, visit the Washington State History Museum site.

Program Schedule

Washington State History Museum, WA / October 17, 2015 – March 6, 2016

History Speaks, October 22 at 12 p.m.: “Correcting Cook? The Origins of the Vancouver Expedition and the Evolution of the Northwest Passage” with historian Dave Nicandri

Gallery Talk, November 6 at 3 p.m.: Redmond Barnett, Head of Exhibits

History Speaks, November 24 at 12 p.m.: “The Naval Heritage of Tattoos” with Megan Churchwell, Curator at the Puget Sound Naval Museum

Gallery Talk, December 4 at 3 p.m.

Native American Art Studies Association Conference Preview

Later this month we’re heading to Santa Fe, New Mexico for the annual meeting of the Native American Art Studies Association (NAASA) from September 30-October 3. If you are attending the conference, come by our booth in the exhibit hall to browse our new titles and to meet Senior Acquisitions Editor Regan Huff.

Take a look at our new Native American studies and Art and Art History subject brochures. Even if you can’t attend the meeting, you can take advantage of our 30% conference discount on all Native Studies titles! Just order online or call 1-800-537-5487 and use promo code WST1601.

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New Art History Website and College Art Association Conference Preview

Screen Shot 2014-02-12 at 6.44.37 AMThis is a big week for University of Washington Press art and art history books! First, along with our partners in the Art History Publication Initiative (AHPI) – Duke University Press, Penn State University Press, and the University of Pennsylvania Press – we’re delighted to launch AHPI’s new website: arthistorypi.org.

AHPI’s mission is to help bring art history publishing into the digital age by tackling some of the obstacles that have made it difficult for scholars and publishers to take advantage of evolving digital technologies. All AHPI books are being published in both print and digital form, and the website will host accompanying multimedia materials such as video clips, interviews, podcasts, interactive maps, and more.

The website will also serve as a forum for discussions of rights and permissions issues that can be particularly vexing in the field of art history, with blog posts on recent developments and case studies about problems encountered and solutions found. For more information about the initiative and the first books in it, please visit the new site!

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