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Student Colloquium: Our House

A painting of the assumption hanging on an orange wall

Reimagining “Art” and “The Artist”

Hybrid event, in-person and virtual

Inspired by the exhibition Bob Thompson: This House is Mine, this colloquium will foreground presentations by three University of Chicago undergraduate and graduate student speakers who will each present their own research on the topics of artistic reimagination, genre and form, subversion and resistance, and healing and empowerment. Presentations will be followed by a moderated panel discussion and broader group conversation. Lunch will be provided for in-person attendees. 

This workshop is organized by the Feitler Center for Academic Inquiry at the Smart Museum of Art and is moderated by Kassie Sarkar, the Graduate Curatorial Intern for Bob Thompson: This House is Mine and a student of the Master of Arts Program in the Humanities. 



  • Teddy Sandler (AB ’23), “Blowing Bubbles with Death: Destigmatizing—Decriminalizing—Care with Teresa Margolles”
  • Layla Khazeni (AB ’23), “Thangkas in Context: Framing Ancient Healing in Contemporary Spaces”
  • Brandon Sward (PhD Candidate), “The colonization of media”


Blowing Bubbles with Death: Destigmatizing—Decriminalizing—Care with Teresa Margolles
En El Aire by Teresa Margolles utilizes bubble machines in the ceiling to create a cascade of floating almost clear circles that refract light in a multicolored array across its surface as it drifts and undulates, an allure that awakens innocent wonder. Unlike most other artistic pieces the bubbles are open to touch, opening the body to experience the piece more fully than most other works that are mediated through sight. As the allure pulls the viewer to reach out and feel, the piece introduces death with the information that the water keeping the bubbles alive was sourced from morgues in Mexico City. Even though this water is purified, death has already touched the bubble complicating the choice to feel. The bubbles become alive through the corpses touch, emphasizing the bubbles fragility. Its pop shatters visual beauty as the bubble is pierced and air once held inside escapes, leaving its skin without surface pressure to support it. In an instant the bubbles existence ceases, its death mediated through its surroundings. Margolles’ use of bubbles complicates euphoria through the choice of a multisensory experience to create bodily memory of violence that the state works to abject in cultural memory. 

Thangkas in Context: Framing Ancient Healing in Contemporary Spaces
The 21st century of healing knowledge is one of the most globally conflicted in human history. Saturated by unique renditions of universal narratives, equipped with the most modern methods of translation and communication, and struggling alongside one another in a global pandemic should provide plenty support for the synthesis of an integrative medical system applicable across cultures, regions, and their public and private spheres. Despite these conditions, however, we still neglect to find common ground between the ancient and modern knowledge of our species. Why? Because historically, the only narratives sustained have been those intelligible to the white man: responsible for the division of science and humanity, mind and body, internal and external; we risk the permanent separation of not only our subtle and physical bodies, but also our roles as caretakers or exploiters inhabiting this quickly deteriorating planet. 

This presentation will suggest greater attention given to, and an exhibition of, the Regong art of Thangka painting traditional to Tibetan Buddhist culture and education. A learning of Tibetan practices can not only inspire autonomy in our own healthcare, but deliver an implicit knowledge of our body’s functional components. Encouraging a deeper awareness of the self made possible by visual imagery is perhaps the apotheosis of Visual Language, and where it intersects with healing knowledge, anatomical archives, and cultural syncretism allows for a blossoming of possibilities for an open-minded audience looking to learn more about themselves and the world they inhabit. 

The colonization of media
This paper compares the approaches of Franz Boas, Claude Lévi-Strauss, and Pierre Bourdieu to different visual media. All three photographed Indigenous communities and engaged with many mediums but treated lens-based mediums as “self-evident” images, without the need for interpretation. I contrast this to how Lévi-Strauss and Bourdieu treat painting, which they refuse to treat as “self-evident.” Rather than blame technological differences, I link them to photography. Indigenous cultures have long been assumed simpler than modern societies, a bias encouraging the idea they could be “captured” through photography. Once made, this association began to exert its own influence, explaining Bourdieu’s disdain for television, which lacked the “autonomy” of painting. By explaining the preference of Lévi-Strauss and Bourdieu for French painters, I suggest that freed of the expectations of “self-evidence,” painting allowed Europeans to engage in self-reflection. Turning to Boas’s use of performance, I find that performance is less exoticizing than lens-based mediums. 

Image: Bob Thompson, The Assumption, 1964, Oil on canvas, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC. Gift of Joseph H. Hirshhorn. Installation view, Bob Thompson: This House Is Mine, Smart Museum of Art, The University of Chicago, 2022. Photo by Michael Tropea.