Call for Papers | Portraiture and the Construction of Identity

Posted in Calls for Papers by Editor on July 19, 2022

From ArtHist.net, which includes the German version:

Portraiture and the Construction of Identity / Identitätskonstruktion im Porträt
Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn, Kunsthistorisches Institut, 30 March — 1 April 2023

Organized by Helen Boeßenecker

Proposals due by 15 August 2022

Since the 1990s, cultural scholars and theoreticians of postcolonial studies such as Stuart Hall and Homi K. Bhabha have increasingly shaped an understanding of cultural identity that no longer sees identity primarily as something existent and stable, but rather, especially in diasporic contexts, as the (fluid) production of negotiation processes. Processuality, transformation, hybridity thus come into view as important factors of identity formation. As is well known, the cultural construction character of identity has also been emphasized, albeit under different premises, by gender studies. Thus, approaches of feminist theory or gender studies argued that gender identity and gender difference should not be understood as something ‘naturally’ given, but rather emphasized their social construction and performative production—a perspective that was also reflected by gender studies in art history and discussed with regard to the productivity of images.

The planned conference takes the concept of construction in the context of identity as a starting point to newly engage in portraiture and its historical and situational contexts. Although identity has always been an important question in art historical portrait research, the extent to which portraits contribute to the identity constitution of the self and to which identity is not only reproduced but constructed in and through portrait practices has not been sufficiently illuminated so far. More often, the focus has been on questions of individuality, identification, likeness (similitudo), or liveliness, and thus on the relationship of the image to the model and strategies of vivid representation. Following on from more recent contributions, which increasingly ask about the use of portraits within social and cultural practices or are dedicated to strategies of self-fashioning in (self-)portraits, the conference will focus on the question of the construction of cultural and gender identities in portraiture and would like to adopt a decidedly transcultural and transdisciplinary perspective.

The tension between the ‘self’ and the ‘other’ will be investigated on the basis of portraits and the question will be pursued as to what role the confrontation with the foreign other plays for one’s own identity construction: Which pictorial means, and staging strategies are used in portraits to show cultural origin and roots, but also cultural difference? How is the relationship between the image of the self and the image of the other expressed in portraits, and what strategies of self-assertion and -staging can be identified? When and where, on the other hand, do assimilations, cultural appropriations, transcultural encounters, spaces in between and hybrid portrait cultures reveal themselves? The question of the construction of cultural identities and the aesthetic means, visual ‘codes’, subversive transformation processes as well as imaginations and projections used in this context will be examined. In addition to body discourses (including the semantics of skin color, tattoos, makeup) and the identity-forming significance of material culture (e.g., textiles, jewelry, armor, weapons), the artistic materials, media, and techniques used also prove relevant, as well as the attributions and practices associated with them, for example with regard to ‘exotic’ materials or the adaptation of ‘foreign’ artistic techniques or styles.

In addition, by exploring portraits and their historical, political, and performative contexts as well as practices of collection and display we want to gain insights into the structures and dynamics of identity formation and -construction: What consciousness do portraits reflect in terms of individuality, collective identities and national affiliations? Do identification and community formation with ‘compatriots’ take place primarily through the nation, region or even city? Are these homogeneous entities, or can plural notions of identity and competing groups rather be identified? What is the relationship between religious confession and identity and to what extent do the dynamics of European identities shift in a global context? Does the mobility of individuals and associated experiences of foreignness or assimilation processes, for example in relation to artists’ journeys, migration and exile experiences, pilgrimage, global expansion, and mission, find expression in portrait practices, so that—to speak with Paul Gilroy—not only roots but routes are inscribed in the portrait?

Furthermore, gender perspectives are to be included in these questions. To what extent do portrait practices produce, stabilize, or undermine gender roles and attributions? In what way can portraits and portrait series express different facets of female, male or queer identities and thus the mutability of gender identities? The conference would like to encourage us not to discuss these questions in isolation, but to link them to questions of cultural identity and ethnicity, taking up perspectives from gender and postcolonial studies. Thus, following on from previous profound research contributions on portraiture from the perspective of gender studies, the interplay of race, class and gender in portraiture will be examined to an even greater extent in order to question power relations and heteronormative, Eurocentric views.

The conference would like to shed light on these research questions across time periods and cultures and thus to adopt a cross-epochal, transcultural or comparative cultural perspective, whereby portraits in all artistic genres and media (painting, sculpture, prints, photography, digital image cultures) can be considered on the basis of case studies. Also, with the aim of promoting methodological reflection, the conference seeks to stimulate an exchange between different disciplines (especially art history, archaeology, African, Asian, and Islamic studies, ethnology).

Please send your abstract (maximum of 800 words) for a 25-minute presentation in German or English together with a short CV to Helen Boeßenecker (h.boessenecker@uni-bonn.de) by 15 August 2022.

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