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Visual + Material Culture Research Seminar Series – Winter/Spring 2024

This interdisciplinary seminar series is for anyone with interests in visual and material culture across different departments at UBC and beyond. The seminar provides an opportunity to share research and exchange ideas, usually followed by conversations over a drink at Koerner’s Pub. Open to students, staff, faculty and community members in and around UBC.

The seminars will be held in-person at MOA.

Participation is free and no registration is required.

Where: MOA’s Community Lounge (Near the administration reception and opposite the MOA Library and Archives).

Note: The Museum will be closed to the public due to seismic upgrades, but the administration area remains open. Please enter through the administration entrance, which is past the courtyard on your right, facing the Museum’s main entrance.

When: Select Thursdays, 4 – 5 pm

Conveners: Dr. Fuyubi Nakamura, MOA Curator, Asia and UBC Asian Studies, Dr. Nuno Porto, MOA Curator, Africa + South America and UBC Art History, Visual Art & Theory and Dr. Yasmin Amaratunga, Curator of Collections, UBC Art History, Visual Art & Theory.

Winter/Spring 2024 series

[Schedule subject to change]

February 1: Disrupting Education with Generative AI
Patrick Parra Pennefather, assistant professor, Department of Theatre and Film, UBC

February 15: Transculturalism and the Architectural Legacy of the Mongols in Post-Conquest Iran
Atri Hatef Naiemi, postdoctoral fellow, Department of Art History, Visual Art & Theory, UBC

February 29: Beyond Species Boundaries: Moche Animal Representations and Non-Human Relationality” Aleksa Alaica, assistant professor, Department of Anthropology, UBC

March 7 (date changed from January 18): “Beading Memory: Testimony after Atrocity
Erin Baines, associate professor, School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, UBC

March 14: Respect and Replication in the Work of Resurgence: (re)conceptualizing Salish weavings” Alison Ariss, PhD candidate, Department of Art History, Visual Art & Theory, UBC

March 28: De-suturing trauma: re-enactment and verbatim in Asiatic and Transpacific documentary” Mila Zuo, associate professor, Department of Theatre and Film, UBC


© Patrick Parra Pennefather

February 1: “Disrupting Education with Generative AI”

Speaker: Patrick Parra Pennefather, assistant professor, Department of Theatre and Film, UBC

Generative AI represents a new chapter in a series of technological advances that have historically prompted educators to reevaluate their teaching methodologies. From the earliest instances of using writing surfaces in ancient Greece, through successive innovations like the printing press, the telegraph, radio, television, calculators, computers, the internet, and now AI, each technology has reshaped how we interact with, capture, and understand reality. These developments have progressively decentralized the locus of knowledge creation. Gen AI extends this trajectory of disruption, urging us to recalibrate what we know, the ways in which we disseminate this knowledge, and how we think people learn.


Tomb of Ilkhan Öljeytü surrounded by the ruins of the Ilkhanid city of Sultaniyya, near Zanjan, Iran. © Atri Hatef Naiemi

February 15: “Transculturalism and the Architectural Legacy of the Mongols in Post-Conquest Iran”

Speaker: Atri Hatef Naiemi, postdoctoral fellow, Department of Art History, Visual Art & Theory, UBC

In 1256, while conducting military operations in Western Asia, Hülegü Khan, a grandson of Genghis Khan, established the Ilkhanate in Iran as the southwestern sector of the Mongol Empire. In contrast to the initially destructive Mongol presence in Iran, both textual and physical evidence attests to the fact that the Ilkhans actively pursued the foundation and development of urban centers as a central objective during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. In this seminar, Hatef Naiemi looks at the most famous city constructed by the Ilkhans in Iran, Sultaniyya, and examines how the court-sponsored urban projects in this city reflected the transcultural interactions between Perso-Islamic sedentary concepts and Mongolian nomadic traditions. Questioning the earlier reductive scholarly framework that positioned the Mongols as uncultured barbarians, she highlights the active role of the Mongol elite not only as agents, but also cultural donors in the Perso-Mongol cultural zeitgeist of post-conquest Iran.


Moche Vessel of Anthropomorphized Deer Prisoner. Linden Museum, Stuttgart, Germany

February 29: “Beyond Species Boundaries: Moche Animal Representations and Non-Human Relationality”

Speaker: Aleksa Alaica, assistant professor, Department of Anthropology, UBC

The Moche cultural phase (100-850 CE) of Peru’s north coast is renowned for its material culture of exquisitely crafted ceramic, metal, shell and stone belongings depicting elaborate scenes of ritual and performance. Extensive scholarly attention has been dedicated to interpreting the role of supernatural entities and elites, with less focus on non-human animal beings as agentive forces. In this presentation, Alaica examines the relationality between humans and other-than-human beings in Moche iconography and their material record. She argues that in order to effectively interpret the meaning of Moche belongings that depict animals and other non-human entities, we must move beyond Western Enlightenment taxonomic categories. Instead, we are better suited to reorient our interpretive frameworks towards local practices and autochthonous ontologies defining the natural world. In the end, when we are able to recognize the role of non-human beings as companions, agents, and kin, we can truly move towards inclusive interpretations of the past.


Beading Memory, the Women’s Advocacy Network, Uganda. Photo by Diane Ajok 2022.

March 7: “Beading Memory: Testimony after Atrocity”

Speaker: Erin Baines, associate professor, School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, UBC

The concept of transformative memory offers ways to think about testimony after atrocity as a process of regathering relationships and reclaiming stories. Thinking with the beaded memory of women tapestry makers who endured abduction and forced detention for more than a decade during the war in northern Uganda, it considers how beadwork is also collective and intergenerational memory-work that opens new ways of being together in war’s wake and in the context of ongoing structural violence.


Anabel Stewart, untitled, hand-spun hand dyed sheep’s wool, circa 1972, House of Commons #O-3022, © House of Commons Collection, Ottawa.

March 14: “Respect and Replication in the Work of Resurgence: (re)conceptualizing Salish weavings”

Speaker: Alison Ariss, PhD candidate, Department of Art History, Visual Art & Theory, UBC

The criminalization of Indigenous cultural practices in Canada between 1884 and 1951 disrupted the circulation, production and practice of Salish weaving. Amidst the 1960s resurgence of Salish weaving, Stó:lō weavers such as Mary Peters and Anabel Stewart turned to museum collections as sources of knowledge and inspiration in the absence of human teachers. Two of their weavings, installed in Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s renovated offices in 1975, are described as “replicas” of a blanket collected prior to 1833. However, each weaving is distinct, undermining the concept of “replica” in art historical discourses. This presentation will query the notion of replication and its problematic application in discourses of twentieth and twenty-first century Salish weaving. How might this query work to reconsider the concept of replication, its application, and Salish weaving’s situation in the canon of Northwest Coast Indigenous arts? What other concepts may present themselves in the process?


Zuo’s parents in her home movie Christmas Cruise ’09. Still provided by Mila Zuo.

March 28: “De-suturing trauma: re-enactment and verbatim in Asiatic and Transpacific documentary”

Speaker: Mila Zuo, associate professor, Department of Theatre and Film, UBC

This presentation explores the aesthetic dissonances of re-enactment and verbatim cinemas centered on Asiatic and transpacific trauma. Could the gaps between event, memory, and re-enactment give birth to new subjectivities? How do the formal slippages of such films resonate with Trinh T. Minh-ha’s idea of “speaking nearby” whereby intimacies are forged through indirection? Can the restaging of fantasy borne from historical and personal trauma forge new political affiliations and participation? Drawing upon Asian and Asian/American films Starring Jerry as Himself (Lawrence Chen, 2023) and S21: The Khmer Rouge Death Machine (Rithy Panh, 2003), Zuo contends that not only are these revisited modes of alienation therapeutic for the film’s subjects but that they also constitute a mode of intersubjective stitching that Bracha L. Ettinger describes as a return to the matrixial “wit(h)nessing.” Finally, Zuo reflects on methods for her forthcoming hybrid docu-fiction, Mongoloids, which centers on her family’s memories of the Cultural Revolution and which repurposes home videos and archival footage.