Feminist Optics: Gender and Visual Studies

IRW Seminar Fellows

Patricia Akhimie, English, Rutgers-Newark
“Monument to Virtue: Gender, Tourism, and the Politics of Sightseeing”

Patricia AkhimieThis chapter will examine legal restrictions on women's travel and advice books on (or against) women traveling, and the figurative transformation of traveling women into monuments in period drama and travel narrative to illustrate the pervasive and negative connotations of women’s travel in the early modern English cultural imaginary. The chapter argues that, while women’s travel is associated with their literal or spiritual death, the space of the tomb (or monument) is linked with the domestic space and female virtue.

Sylvia Chan-Malik, Women’s and Gender Studies & American Studies, Rutgers-New Brunswick
“Four American Moslem Ladies": Locating Blackness, Feminism, and Transnationalism in Early U.S. Islam”

sylvia chan malikThis project seeks to begin a conversation around the role of Muslim women in movements of Black nationalism and internationalism, trajectories of religious localization and delocalization, and the emergent geographies of race and gender as articulated in the early-20th-century U.S. Through analysis of a photo of four African American Muslims taken in 1923, I argue that the lives of these women constitute a critical component in understanding Islam as both a political, religious, and ethical presence in the United States.

Elin Diamond, English, Rutgers-New Brunswick
“Preparing for Action: Affect and Feminist Performance”

ellin diamondThe wave of affect theory recharges an old avant-garde performance idea about revolutionary action through and by the body. For affect theorists, that intensity is enabled by doing and end run around intentionality and ideology critique, two vital components of feminist optics and critique. I am contesting this trend. There is much to be learned from affect theory, especially in the context of “feminist optics” and neoliberalism’s spectacle, in which, “the commodity [has] complete[d] its colonization of social life.”

Laura Fabris, MSE/School of Engineering, Rutgers-New Brunswick
“Multiplexed Platform for the Identification of Breast Cancer Circulating Tumor Cells: How a New Approach to Imaging Can Save Women”

laura-fabrisThe major reason for mortality from breast cancer is metastasis. Metastasis is caused by few cells that have shed off the tumor mass and have entered the blood stream. These cells are called circulating tumor cells (CTCs) and have been deemed to be the only independent marker of metastasis that can be identified. We propose a novel sensing platform capable of identifying CTCs with high phenotype differentiation ability, holding the potential of becoming a personalized approach for the early detection of breast cancer.

Jeff Friedman, Dance, Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers-New Brunswick
Look, Don’t Touch/Touch, Don’t Look: The Rhetoric of the Body in Performance

jeff friedmanWhile performance is primarily constructed around the transaction of the audience’s visual gaze and the reception (and return) of that gaze (glimpse/wink, et al) by engaged human bodies, that visual transaction also literally in-CORPOR-ates multidisciplinary elements such as sound and haptic perceptions. Critiquing visual emphasis, a current turn toward immersive performance events emphasizes an explicit, rhetorical approach to the body that acknowledges multidisciplinary performance perceptions and audience receptions. I propose a series of readings and works that trouble this nexus of interest.

Donna Gustafson, Zimmerli Museum
“Perspectives on a Collection: Photographs, Documents, Peripheries”

donna gustafsonMy plan is to investigate the Zimmerli Art Museum’s photography collection (a collection without form, acquired through donation) to pull cohesive studies out of chaos (not in the sense of collection care; my intention is to empty all the boxes and pull a new order out). My approach is based in a feminist perspective; my interests are de-constructing the canon, exploring the peripheries, expanding the view of photography in the museum by judicious inclusiveness.

Fakhri Haghani, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Rutgers-New Brunswick
“The 'New Woman' on the Stage: The Making of a Visual Public Sphere in Iran and Egypt”

fakhri haghaniI trace the historical roots of the emergence of the “new woman” as an interlocutor of a visual public sphere, and as symbols, carriers and actors for continuity and change, an instrumental part of the 2009 Iranian uprising and the 2011 Egyptian revolution in the making. I argue that this sort of activism was not the result of women’s direct participation in political endeavors but came through their interest in and involvement with culture.

Temma Kaplan, History, Rutgers-New Brunswick
“The Seduction of Color: Political Cartoons and Trade Cards in the Cuban and Filipino Wars of Independence”

temma kaplanAt the turn of the last century, richly colored chromolithographic illustrations permeated the Spanish and American illustrated press to such an extent that the wars that marked the decline of the Spanish empire and America’s rise to world power became jokingly known as the “comic book wars.” I argue that visual meaning was historically constructed in so-called democratic and democratizing societies in which colonialism was contentious, and that the sexual and racial preoccupations of some of the most famous Spanish and North American cartoonists of the turn of the century was shaped by related political and gender preoccupations.

Kathleen E. McCollough, Journalism and Media Studies, School of Communication and Information, Rutgers-New Brunswick
“Using Scrapbooks to Cultivate Greater Intimacy”

katie mccolloughThis project utilizes participant observations, textual analysis, and themes from the literature to identify ways that scrapbooks succeed and fail in their quest to build greater intimacy. Two emerging themes addressed in this project are the use of mediated reflexivity to produce heightened affect and the importance of taking into consideration the broader media experience. This project revises current theory on scrapbooks as malleable personal media assemblages to assert that contemporary scrapbooks are best understood as intimate individuations.

Nancy Rao, Music, Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers-New Brunswick
“Spectators and Spectacular: Chinatown Opera Theaters during the Chinese Exclusion”

nancy raoDuring the Chinese Exclusion Era, Chinatown's opera theaters were tied closely to the symbolic formation of Chinese America. Yet both sonic and visual aspects of Chinese theater have played a crucial role in the production, dissemination and re-inscription of the gendered racial stereotypes and identities of Chinese Americans. This project will consider three cases: (1) Chinese audiences that framed 19th century drawings of Chinatown theaters; (2) the 19th century female impersonator and falsetto on Chinese opera stage; (3) images of female figures in advertisements of Chinese opera records in New York City of the early 20th century.

Cyril Reade, Fine Arts, Rutgers-Camden
“Gay and Lesbian Visual Culture in the Early Twentieth Century”

cyril readeMy proposal is to research and prepare visual, filmic, musical, literary, historical and theoretical material on lesbian and queer culture, beginning in the late 19th century up to the present. My objective is to present, contextualize, interpret and analyze formal visual representations, (painting, sculpture, photography) and film, augmented by the discourses of visual culture, and music (especially lyrics but also performance), informed by the literature or poetry of the period, lesbian and gay social histories, and theoretical approaches, including psychoanalysis and queer theory, to explore the intersections and divergences between lesbian and gay visual cultures.

Monica Rios-Vasquez, Department of Spanish & Portuguese, Rutgers-New Brunswick
“Death Throes, Poisons, and Damnations: Recuperating the Films of Two Early Chilean Women Directors from the National Archives”

monica riosThis project aims to reconstruct three lost films that were directed by Chilean women between 1917 and 1929 through archival research, and to examine the processes through which their work was excluded by a filmic archive built in accordance with the consolidation of a national ideology. I pursue an intertextual approach to evaluate Gabriela Bussenius’s and Rosario Rodríguez’s contributions to film production in dialogue with larger issues of gender, modernity, and economy, by analyzing the institution of the archive as a place of production and circulation of knowledge.

Kathe Sandler, Women’s and Gender Studies, Rutgers-New Brunswick
“Cinematic Black Feminism”

kathe sandler I explore a distinct and diverse Black feminist spatial imaginary created by Black feminist artists, intellectuals, and activists who challenge hegemonic gendered racism, homophobia, and sexism through cultural production including cinema. I hope to develop the third chapter of my dissertation, “Black Feminism and Cinema,” and the concluding chapter, "How Black Feminism Takes Place."

 Additional Seminar Participants

Annie Fukushima, IRW/WGS Mellon Fellow, Rutgers-New Brunswick
“Migrant Crossings: Unsettling Witnessing of Asians and Latinas/os in the United States”

annie fIn 2000, the United States passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act to combat what was being popularly dubbed as “Modern Day Slavery,” legally codifying human trafficking as encompassing, slavery, debt bondage, servitude, forced labor, and trafficking into sexual economies. Important questions are addressed in Migrant Crossings: who is seen as trafficked? And how does a person cross into being visible as a trafficked person / trafficker? Migrant Crossings examines the sociopolitical and cultural landscape that enables migrants to cross into visibility as: victim/criminal, legal/illegal, citizen/noncitizen, and even, human/subhuman or as “dead to others.”

Laurie Lambert, LHCS Mellon Fellow, Rutgers-New Brunswick
“Surviving Empire: Postcolonial Revolution and Trauma in the Caribbean”

LaurieLambertphotoSurviving Empire is a literary and cultural history of the Grenada Revolution (1979 - 1983) and U.S. imperialism in the postcolonial Caribbean. It examines accounts of the revolution by poets, novelists, journalists, and politicians from Grenada and across the African Diaspora. These authors contested distinctions between history and literature, creating a polyvocal archive of twentieth-century Caribbean revolution and trauma.

Maya Mikdashi, IRW/WGS Mellon Fellow, Rutgers-New Brunswick
“Sex and Sectarianism: Citizenship, Secularism and Religion in Lebanon”

maya mMy research is broadly concerned with exploring the ways that people organize, govern, and create meaning. What interests me most is the relationship between law and individual and group identity. I have conducted research in Lebanon, a country with eighteen legally recognized religious sects and fifteen different religious personal status laws. Each of these laws legislates “the family” differently, and my research examines the different gendered subject positions that such a legal system produces. In my work I seek to understand and relate how historical, economic, and religious factors inflect law, and how the law, in turn, inflects and transforms secular and religious practices of life in contemporary Lebanon.

Ghassan Moussawi, IRW Undergraduate Learning Community Coordinator
“Queering 'Progress,' Interrogating the 'Modern:' the Construction and Narration of Lebanese Sexual Subjectivities”

ghassan moussawiI use a feminist postcolonial approach to interrogate queer subjectivities in Beirut since the year 2005. First, I analyze the ways in which queer life in Beirut has been represented in both contemporary academic and journalistic articles. Second, I examine Lebanese non-heterosexual’s narratives around sexual identification, visibilities and queer organizing. Third, I look at forms of LGBTQ organizing by analyzing two Lebanese LGBTQ organizations’ online identity deployment and organizing strategies. I analyze the ways in which linear narratives of progress are utilized in the above three spheres and question what formations of modernities and understandings of progress are employed in explaining and framing sexual subjectivities in contemporary Beirut.

Hema Swaminathan, IRW Global Scholar
“Gender, Assets and Welfare: Theory and Empirics”

Hema SDuring my fellowship at IRW, I plan to work on two related projects that will result in a framework for theoretically meaningful interpretation of gendered patterns of household asset ownership. In the first project, I will develop normative measures of gender asset gaps, and in the second project, I will work on clarifying the relationship between asset ownership and wellbeing. Taken together these projects will result in significant extensions to current state of the art in measuring gender asset gaps.


Nicole Fleetwood
Director, Institute for Research on Women

Sarah Tobias
Associate Director, Institute for Research on Women