Global Bodies

Wednesday 5th July, 18.00 to 19.30 BST / 13.00 to 14.30 EDT.

Online, booking via Eventbrite

Global Bodies, 1700-Present: Art, Race, Identity, Encounters. A roundtable discussion between Natasha Ruiz-Gómez, Keren Hammerschlag, Tania Cleaves (née Woloshyn), Rebecca Whiteley and Sonia Favi.

James McNeill Whistler, Variations in Flesh Colour and Green: The Balcony, c.1864-70, Freer and Sackler Galleries, Washington, D.C. Source: Wiki Commons, public domain.

Global Bodies examines closely and collaboratively a range of representations of the human body produced in a variety of national, cultural, political and religious contexts from the eighteenth century through to today. It prioritises critical cross-disciplinary and transnational analyses of different objects and images from a range of geographies that engage with the themes of: typologies of the body; racialised bodies; bodies and identity; encounters between bodies; bodies in transition; bodies and mobility; and the body with and without borders. A global perspective on depictions of the human body produced for the purposes of artistic and medical education, aesthetic edification, and scientific and professional advancement serves as a timely disruption of assumptions about the normative human body (white, male, healthy, etc.) perpetuated through the Western (anatomical) tradition. These three contributions, looking at painting, photography and medical publications, highlight the project’s diversity of approaches in interrogating representations of the human body across the globe.

Natasha Ruiz-Gómez, “Introducing Global Bodies.”

Keren Hammerschlag, “Variations in Flesh Colour: Whistler and Race.”

In his essay ‘The Red Rag,’ published in The Gentle Art of Making Enemies (1890), James McNeill Whistler stated that ‘Art should be independent of all clap-trap—should stand alone, and appeal to the artistic sense of eye or ear, without confounding this with emotions foreign to it, as devotion, pity, love, patriotism, and the like.’ But it is important to look beyond the rhetoric. To view Whistler’s art solely in formalist terms is to overlook the significant gendered, raced and classed implications of his numerous studies in race, including his experiments with whiteness. Starting with Whistler’s ‘Symphonies in White,’ and progressing to a discussion of his painting Variations in Flesh Colour and Green: The Balcony (1864-1870), I seek to peel back the painterly layers of Whistler’s aestheticised surfaces to reveal the obscured but foundational hierarchies of race. Variations in Flesh Colour and Green: The Balcony is an intimate and easily overlooked painting of four women of different races and ethnicities, draped in kimonos, sitting, standing, and lounging on a blue-green balcony. This work invites analysis of Whistler’s complex working method, his Japonisme of the 1860s, and his fraught national and racial identity as a white American southerner living and painting in Europe at the time of the American Civil War.

Tania Cleaves, “Anatomising Skin Colour: Nudes of All Nations.”

My talk centres on a little-known book, Nudes of All Nations, published in 1936 as part of George Routledge and Sons’ ‘Seen by the Camera’ series. The book takes the armchair traveller on a journey from Britain to New Zealand through 48 black-and-white photographic studies of nude, retouched bodies representing the ‘national types of female beauty’. Presenting to the reader a delectable range of female flesh of varying tonal values, it is a book implicitly about colour that teases us in greys.

Focusing on plates in the book featuring a recognisable mixed-race model, Gillian John, I argue that Nudes of All Nation is an ambiguous and troubling publication. Traversing art photography, nudism, pornography and anthropology, the book erodes the boundaries of these genres, occupying the in-between.

Rebecca Whiteley and Sonia Favi, “Global Phantoms: Shibata Kōichi’s Models, Midwifery and Race in Late Nineteenth-Century Medical Culture.”

This talk will explore the global cultures of midwifery, obstetrics and race in the late nineteenth century through a case study of the Japanese obstetrician Shibata Kōichi (柴田耕一, 1860-?), and his booklet titled Geburtshülfliche Taschen-Phantome (Obstetrical Pocket-Phantom; Sanka mokei: kamisei shūchin 産科模型: 紙製袖珍).

Shibata, whose biography and bibliography are fully explored in this research for the first time, was an agent of the professionalising, institutionalising, globalising and masculinising medicine of the late nineteenth century. One of many Japanese doctors who travelled to the West for further professional training in the wake of the forced opening of Japan’s borders to foreign commerce in the 1850s, Shibata is remarkable because while in Germany he published Geburtshülfliche Taschen-Phantome, a booklet which comprised a brief textual and visual summary of midwifery techniques, and two obstetric paper dolls. These dolls or ‘phantoms’ are lithographs printed on both sides and articulated with metal pins, which could be used to model the different presentations of the fetus in the pelvis. They were an accessible, ‘pocket’ version of the three-dimensional models used to teach obstetrics in medical and midwifery schools all over the world. Between 1891 and 1914, several editions were published in Munich, Tokyo, Philadelphia and Montreal, as well as being copied and circulated in manuscript form, turning the booklet into a veritable ‘global’ object.

This talk reflects on the way in which the fetus is represented through Shibata’s phantoms, in connection with debates about race in the late nineteenth century. It looks at the phantoms by relating them to Shibata’s personal experience as an obstetrician operating across different medical cultures, and to a larger discussion of the place of midwifery, models and books in national political and social health projects. In doing so, it investigates how a small articulated model of a fetus could be an agent in the creation of global cultures of race and racism.

About the speakers:

Natasha Ruiz-Gómez is Senior Lecturer in Art History at the University of Essex.  She specialises in French art of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and is especially interested in the intersection of art and medicine.  She has published in Art HistoryMedical HumanitiesModern & Contemporary France,Forensic Science International, among other journals, in several edited collections and in recent exhibition catalogues for the Statens Museum for Kunst (Copenhagen) and the Tate Modern (London).  She is currently working on a book on French sculptor Auguste Rodin, tentatively entitled ‘Against Nature: Rodin and Reproducibility’, while her recently completed monograph, The Scientific Artworks of Dr Jean-Martin Charcot and the Salpêtrière School: Pathology and Visual Culture in fin-de-siècle France, is forthcoming from the Pennsylvania State University Press.  

Keren Hammerschlag is Senior Lecturer in Art History and Curatorship in the Centre for Art History and Art Theory in the School of Art and Design at the Australian National University. Her research focuses on nineteenth-century British art and visual culture, and the many intersections and frictions between art and medicine during the Victorian and Edwardian periods. In 2015 she published her first monograph, Frederic Leighton: Death, Mortality, Resurrection (Ashgate). Most recently, she published an article on depictions of the so-called Jewish race in Victorian history painting in The Art Bulletin. Her current book project, The Chosen Race: Painting Racial Difference in Victorian England, considers the ways Victorian painters both affirmed and challenged racial boundaries through the creative use of pigment. In 2021 Hammerschlag was awarded a four-year ANU Futures Scheme Award to develop the Visual Medical Humanities at the ANU.  

Tania Anne Cleaves (née Woloshyn) is Associate Fellow in the Centre for the History of Medicine at the University of Warwick. Following the completion of her Wellcome Trust-funded project and consequent OA monograph, Soaking up the rays (MUP 2017), she made a career shift; since 2016 she has worked full-time in non-academic roles at the University of Birmingham. From 2019, she recommenced researching as an independent scholar and ‘alt-ac’. Her new project looks at the photographic history of British nudism, c.1920-1960, with funding from the Paul Mellon Centre and the Association of Art Historians. 

Rebecca Whiteley is a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of History at the University of Birmingham. She is researching the history of medicine and sex in nineteenth-century Britain, through a study of printed visual culture across genres: medical illustration; satirical and ‘popular’ print; and pornography. Rebecca works on the intersections of visual and material culture, the history of medicine, and social history. She has published widely on the visual culture of early modern midwifery, and more recently has moved to study the nineteenth century, material cultures of medical education, and medicine and sex. Her monograph Birth Figures: Early Modern Prints and the Pregnant Body was recently published with The University of Chicago Press.

Sonia Favi is an assistant professor in Japanese Studies at the Department of Humanities of the University of Turin. Her research focuses on travel history and travel encounters. After publishing a monograph discussing travel encounters between Italy and Japan in the late sixteenth century (Self Through the Other. Production, Circulation and Reception in Italy of Sixteenth-Century Printed Sources on Japan), she completed a Marie Skłodowska-Curie at the University of Manchester, working on travel within nineteenth-century Japan. In her position in Turin, she is exploring diplomacy and international travel at the turn of the twentieth century. She is also collaborating with the University of Geneva as a Research Associate for the project “Early round-the-world touristic trips and globetrotters (1869-1914)”.

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