Decolonizing Art History with Mexico’s “Tenth Muse,” Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

Speaker: Charlene Villaseñor Black - Professor of Art History and Chicana/o Studies and Central American Studies, University of California, Los Angeles

Painted in 1750, Miguel Cabrera’s posthumous portrait of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz portrays Mexico’s renowned writer, scholar, and muse at her desk, surrounded by her books and other scholarly accoutrements. Created fifty-five years after Sor Juana abdicated her life as a scholar, this portrait by renowned Novohispanic artist Cabrera functions, I argue, as a painted vindication. What pictorial strategies did Cabrera employ in defense of the colonial muse? How do we today and how did the eighteenth-century viewer understand this portrait? This talk addresses these questions by reading colonial portraits of Sor Juana in dialogue with analogous depictions of scholars, nuns, and holy women. Literature of the period, most notably Sor Juana’s own writings, helps us unravel both the dangers of intellectual desire as well as its symbolic potential. I then turn to modern and contemporary Mexican and Chicana (Mexican American) portrayals. What can these contemporary depictions of Sor Juana reveal about the risks, dangers, and benefits of bringing together art history and Chicanx studies? Can the tools of Chicanx studies decolonize art history?  

Charlene Villaseñor Black is Professor of Art History and Chicana/o Studies and Central American Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, editor of Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies, and founding editor-in-chief of Latin American and Latinx Visual Culture (LALVCUC Press). She publishes on a range of topics related to the early modern Iberian world, Chicanx studies, and contemporary Latinx art. To date, she has won six awards for her editing work, including most recently, two awards recognizing LALVC as outstanding new journal. Her most recent book, with Dr. Mari-Tere Álvarez of the Getty Museum, is Renaissance Futurities: Art, Science, Invention, published in 2019. She recently co-edited the new Chicano Studies Reader (2020)Autobiography Without Apology: The Personal Essay in Latino Studies (2020); and Knowledge for Justice: An Ethnic Studies Reader (2019); in addition to editing Shifra M. Goldman’s final book, Tradition and Transformation: Chicana/o Art from the 1970s to the 1990s (2015). Her monograph on colonial saints, tentatively entitled Transforming Saints: Women, Art, and Conversion in Spain and Mexico, 1521-1800 is forthcoming from Vanderbilt University Press in early 2022Her 2006 book, Creating the Cult of St. Joseph: Art and Gender in the Spanish Empire won the College Art Association’s Millard Meiss award. In 2016 she was awarded UCLA’s Gold Shield Faculty Prize for Academic Excellence, bestowed annually on one faculty member in recognition of exceptional teaching, innovative research, and strong commitment to university service. She has held grants from the Fulbright, Mellon, Borchard, and Woodrow Wilson Foundations, the NEH, the ACLS, and the Getty. Currently, she is PI of “Critical Mission Studies at California’s Crossroads, a $1.03 million dollar grant from the University of California’s Multicampus Research Programs and Initiatives; in addition to serving as PI of “Verdant Worlds: Exploration and Sustainability across the Cosmos,” funded through the Getty Foundation’s Pacific Standard Time initiative, Art x Science x LA. She will be at Oxford University next year as the Terra Foundation Visiting Professor of American Art.  

Organised by Professor David Peters Corbett (The Courtauld). 

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11 May 2022

Wednesday 11th May 2022, 5pm - 6.30pm BST

Free, booking essential

Vernon Square, Lecture Theatre 1 and Online via Livestream

Please note this event will be live streamed to allow those outside London access to the event. All those who wish to access the event via this online method should book a ‘Livestream’ ticket rather than ‘Lecture Theatre’ ticket.

Booking closes 30 minutes before the event start time.

Painted portrait of a figure in a white robe and black head covering sat at a desk writing, surrounded by books and christian symbols
Miguel Cabrera, Portrait of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, 1750, oil on canvas, 207 x 148 cm, Mexico City, Museo de Historia
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