Panel 1: Agricultural Imaginaries

Lesley Wolff

Paper Title: “Mister Watermelon/Señor Sandía: Fruitful Anxieties in Rufino Tamayo’s Naturaleza muerta (1954)”

Professional Title: Ph.D. Candidate, Florida State University

Bio: Lesley Wolff is an Adelaide Wilson Fellow and PhD Candidate in Art History at Florida State University. In addition to working toward the completion of her dissertation on postrevolutionary Mexican art and food, she is co-curator of the exhibition, Decolonizing Refinement: Contemporary Pursuits in the Art of Edouard Duval-Carrié, which was on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, FSU, and will now travel to other venues. In 2018, she serves as Graduate Fellow in American Art at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Florida. Her articles have appeared in African and Black Diaspora: An International Journal, Food, Culture & Society, and Athanor.

Abstract: Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo (1899-1991) featured watermelon so frequently in his paintings that he earned the sobriquet “Mister Watermelon.” This paper demonstrates the socio-political and material importance of watermelon in Tamayo’s work through a close examination of his 1954 mural, Naturaleza muerta. Originally commissioned for Mexico City’s Sanborns department store cafe along the affluent Paseo de la Reforma, the seven- panel mural features abstracted watermelon slices punctuating a still life of wine and apples. This paper argues that Naturaleza muerta signifies Mexico City’s struggle for modernity, in which an increasingly Western industrial landscape clashed with the city’s need to maintain the distinct Mexicanidad [Mexicanness] upon which its thriving tourist economy depended. As the state aggressively sought to remove fruteros [informal fruit vendors] from the urban streets, Tamayo’s mural became both an icon of Anglophone modernity and a visual celebration of Mexican tropicalia. Tamayo’s use of watermelon, therefore, negotiates the symbolic celebration of indigenous heritage and concurrent fear of actual indigenous people, who were regarded as vehicles of national degeneracy that disrupted Mexico’s postrevolutionary reconstruction.

Originally of African origin, watermelon has been co-opted by Mexico since the nineteenth century, when its colors became signifiers of the Mexican flag. By the twentieth century, however, the fruit increasingly connoted not just nationalism, but also race and class, becoming, in the words of Kyla Tompkins, a vehicle for “eating the other.” Nonetheless, Tamayo’s corpus of watermelon paintings remain untreated in terms of this post-revolutionary socio-economic Mexican zeitgeist. This paper thus reframes the agency of foodways in modern Mexican art by demonstrating the convergence of urbanism, agriculture, and globalization in representations of watermelon during the so- called “Mexican Miracle”—an era marked by a stark shift from socialist reform to aggressive capitalist investment—and how the Western tourist gaze implicitly shifted attitudes toward indigenous labor.


Javier Rivero Ramos

Paper Title: “Radicalizing Cybernetics: Chilean Nitrate, Talking Forests and Juan Downey’s Ecopolitics”

Professional Title: PhD Student Department of Art and Archeology, Princeton University

Bio: Javier Rivero Ramos is a second year Ph.D. Student at Princeton University’s Department of Art and Archeology studying modern and contemporary art with a specific focus on Latin America. His research interests include international networks of artistic exchange, art under duress and Pan-Americanism.


Caroline Gillaspie

Paper Title: “Harvesting the Tropics: Representing Brazil’s Nineteenth-Century Coffee Plantations”

Professional Title: Ph.D. Candidate, Art History, Graduate Center, CUNY

Bio: Caroline Gillaspie received her BA from Mount Holyoke College, and is currently a doctoral candidate in Art History at the CUNY Graduate Center focusing on art of the United States and Latin America. Her dissertation examines the visual culture of the nineteenth-century Brazil-U.S. coffee trade, tracing the representations of American coffee culture from bean to cup through landscapes, cityscapes, and genre scenes. She is interested in depictions of race, labor, environmental degradation, and the transport of commodities in these images. Caroline is the recipient of a Spiaggia Dissertation Award from the Graduate Center, and the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Fellowship for the study of Latin American art. She also teaches at York College, New York City College of Technology, and Pratt Institute, and leads history and architecture tours around New York.

Abstract: Published in his 1835 travel book, Johann Moritz Rugendas’s The Coffee Harvest depicts a coffee plantation near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. African slaves harvest coffee beans against a backdrop of Rio’s port in Guanabara Bay, alluding to the country’s flourishing international coffee trade. White overseers observe the enslaved laborers and the natural resources they extract as nature is transformed into commodity. The horror of slavery expressed in Rugendas’s depiction of painfully repetitive agricultural tasks is imbricated with the ecological violence that afflicted the landscape of Brazil’s Atlantic forest. Traveler artists such as Rugendas were drawn to the same tropical climate and mountainous landscape that made this region ideal for coffee harvesting. Sweeping views of plantations highlight mild weather and areas of denuded land carved out of previously forested hillsides. The elevated perspective and panoramic scope of many compositions suggest human domination over this desirable climate and topography.

This presentation examines representations of coffee production in nineteenth-century Brazil by Rugendas, Nicholau Facchinetti and Johann Georg Grimm. Employing an ecocritical approach, I argue that these landscape images are visual evidence of environmental degradation caused by the expanding coffee industry. Deforestation evidenced in these compositions had severe consequences: removal of trees coupled with a warm climate led to vanishing tributaries and resultant droughts in Rio de Janeiro. However, such plantation scenes normalized human dominance over nature for their contemporary viewers. I demonstrate that images of Brazilian coffee plantations portray land cleared for cultivation as an amelioration of the landscape as opposed to devastation. The wilderness of the tropics appears tamed, and slaves harvesting the land become additional signs of ownership. Within a growing discourse of art of the Anthropocene, my paper sheds new light on the representations of commodified landscapes and the environmental conditions of Brazil’s Atlantic forest amid expanding coffee production.


Katherine Manthorne

Professional Title: Professor of Art of the United States, Latin America, and Their Cross-Currents, 1750-1950, Graduate Center, CUNY

Bio: She received her Ph.D. from Columbia University, and numerous awards and fellowships from Fulbright, Smithsonian Institution, and elsewhere. She focuses on hemispheric dimensions of American art, especially on landscape painting and its dialogue with the natural sciences, beginning with Tropical Renaissance. North American Artists Exploring Latin America, 1839-1879 (1989) She is editor of California Mexicana: Missions to Murals, 1820 to 1930 (2017) and Traveler Artists: Landscapes of Latin America from the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Collection (2015). She contributed to Fern Hunting Among These Picturesque Mountains. Frederic Edwin Church in Jamaica (2010); Nueva York (2010); and Caribbean Crossroads (2012). She is at work on her current book project Sweet Fortunes: Sugar Trade & Art Patronage in the Americas.


Daniela Bleichmar

Paper Title: “Natural Histories”

Professional Title: Associate Professor of Art History and History at the University of Southern California

Bio: Daniela Bleichmar is Associate Professor of Art History and History at the University of Southern California, where she also serves as Associate Provost for Faculty and Student Initiatives in the Arts and Humanities. She received a BA from Harvard University and a PhD in the history of science from Princeton University. Her publications include the prize-winning monograph Visible Empire: Botanical Expeditions and Visual Culture in the Hispanic Enlightenment (University of Chicago Press, 2012) and Visual Voyages: Images of Latin American Nature from Columbus to Darwin (Yale University Press, 2017). The latter publication appeared in connection to an eponymous exhibition curated by Professor Bleichmar at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens as part of the Getty Foundation’s initiative Pacific Standard Time: Los Angeles/Latin America. Other publications include the co-edited books Objects in Motion in the Early Modern World (2015), Collecting Across Cultures: Material Exchanges in the Early Modern Atlantic World (2011), and Science in the Spanish and Portuguese Empires, 1500–1800 (2009). Professor Bleichmar’s research has been supported by the Mellon Foundation, the Getty Foundation, the Getty Research Institute, and the ACLS. Her research and teaching address the history of science, visual culture, and material culture in the early modern Hispanic world, focusing particularly on knowledge production, cultural contact and exchange, collecting, and the history of the book. Her current book project is entitled The Itinerant Lives of Painted Books: Mexican Codices and Transatlantic Knowledge in the Early Modern World.


Panel 2: Peripatetic Ecologies

Mara Polgovsky Ezcurra

Paper Title: “Steps for an Ecological Aesthetics”

Professional Title: Junior Research Fellow, Queen’s College, Cambridge

Bio: Dr Mara Polgovsky Ezcurra is Teaching Associate at the Centre of Latin American Studies, University of Cambridge and Junior Research Fellow at Queens’ College. Her work focuses on the visual culture and intellectual history of Latin America. She is also an independent curator and writer. Her books Touched Bodies: The Performance Turn in Latin American Art (Rutgers University Press, 2019) and Marcos Kurtycz: Corporeality Unbound (Fauna, 2018), are forthcoming.


Kevin Buist

Paper Title: “The Missing Meteorite: The Irreconcilable Subjectivities of People and Rocks”

Professional Title: M.A. Student, Kendall College of Art and Design, Ferris State University

Bio: Kevin Buist is an M.A. student in Visual and Critical Studies at Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is also an artist, writer, curator, critic of art and film, and Exhibitions Director for ArtPrize, an annual art festival, where he oversees artists, curators, jurors, and guest speakers. He writes and speaks on behalf of ArtPrize to arts-focused audiences around the country, and co-hosts ArtPrize panel programming for live audiences, web video, and TV. His independent writing has been featured in numerous print and online publications including the Art:21 Blog,, Michigan Quarterly Review, and

Abstract: On the occasion of dOCUMENTA (13), in 2012, Argentine artists Guillermo Faivovich and Nicolas Goldberg were invited by Artistic Director Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev to transport one of the world’s largest meteorites from rural Argentina to Kassel, Germany to serve as a readymade artwork. Despite its inclusion on the printed wayfinding maps distributed at the exhibition, the meteorite, named El Chaco, never arrived. An empty plinth remained on display in a prominent outdoor location. In the months leading up to the installation, the indigenous Moqoit people of Northern Argentina composed a letter protesting the planned loan of the meteorite. In the face of this opposition, the artists and Christov-Bakargiev canceled the planned loan. Rather than gloss over this failure, Christov-Bakargiev opted to highlight the drama surrounding the failed loan by recounting the anecdote in the opening of her catalogue essay. In it, she invites readers to consider the situation from the point of view of the meteorite, asking whether this rock—having traveled untold distances already—might want to travel a bit more. This speculative position draws on notions of object-oriented ontology. Christov-Bakargiev was aware of the colonial dimension of the project as well, explaining that the temporary displacement of the meteorite was a way of repeating and reversing colonial theft. This explanation of the gesture did not assuage critics of the loan, who worried the entire project was an elaborate way for the German state to steal an object with deep spiritual significance in addition to its value as a tourist attraction. I will argue that the incident demonstrates the incommensurability between object-oriented ontology and anti-colonial praxis. If natural resources themselves become subjects, how is this reconciled with the competing subjectivities of people who claim those same resources as a material component of their identity?


Emily Sessions

Paper Title: “The White Atlantic of Ramón de la Sagra’s Histoire Physique, Politique et Naturelle de l’Ile de Cuba

Professional Title: Ph.D. candidate, History of Art, Yale University

Bio: Emily is a PhD candidate in the History of Art department at Yale where she is writing her dissertation on images of botany and nature across the mid-nineteenth-century Caribbean.  Before coming to Yale, she received her MA from the Institute of Fine Arts and worked at the Brooklyn Museum and Lohin Geduld Gallery.


Mariola Alvarez

Professional title: Assistant Professor of Modern and Contemporary Latin American Art, Tyler School of Art, Temple University

Bio: Mariola V. Alvarez received her doctorate from the University of California, San Diego and was an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Humanities Research Center at Rice University. She is currently co-editing a book on postwar abstract art in Latin America that will be published by Routledge Press, which will include her essay on Japanese Brazilian artists, Tomie Ohtake, Manabu Mabe, and Flavio-Shiró. She has published articles and book chapters in Third Text, Nonsite, and the Duke University Press collection, Collective Situations: Readings in Contemporary Latin American Art 1995-2010. Alvarez is also working on her book manuscript on Brazilian Neoconcretism.


Panel 3: Divine Nature

William T. Gassaway

Paper Title: “On the Edge of Glory: Death, Disease, and Divinity at the Margins of Aztec Art” 

Professional Title: Ph.D. Candidate in Art History, Columbia University​

Bio: William T. Gassaway is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University. His research focuses primarily on Pre-Columbian visual culture and historiography and has been supported by fellowships from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection. He is presently at work on his dissertation, “Extraordinary Bodies: The Art of Deformation in Postclassic Mexico,” which examines the depiction​s​ and meanings of anomalous, disabled, or otherwise exceptional bodies in art of the ancient Americas.


William Contreras Alfonso

Paper Title: “Talismanes – Sculpture as a spiritual tool in the work of Alicia Barney and Linda Pongutá”

Professional Title: Independent artist, critic, and curator

Bio: William Contreras Alfonso studied Arts and Psychology in Bogotá, Colombia. His work usually uses knowledge of both disciplines and tries to build bridges between different knowledge traditions, to approach different artistic niches and promote their dialogue, to initiate an intellectual search that moves away from traditional academic research and, above all, to understand art as a tool of spiritual and affective rigor.


Agustin Díez Fischer

Paper Title: “El Apocalipsis según León Ferrari: condena divina y guerra de Vietnam en los años 60″

Professional Title: PhD, Art History, University of Buenos Aires

Bio: Agustin R. Díez Fischer (1982) obtained a degree in Political Science at the Universidad Católica Argentina (UCA) and a PhD in Art History at the Universidad de Buenos Aires (UBA), directed by the Argentinean art historians Andrea Giunta and Silvia Dolinko. Furthermore, he is teaching Latin American Art at the Universidad de Buenos Aires and he is a member of the Centro Argentino de Investigadores de Arte (CAIA). Diez Fischer also directed the museographic research project at the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (MALBA) from 2015 to 2017. Currently, he is the director of the Centro de Estudios Espigas – Fundación Espigas in Buenos Aires

Abstract: Desde los años 60, el artista argentino León Ferrari se refirió reiteradamente a las condenas de Dios en la Biblia. Pestes, hambrunas, diluvios y pecadores ardiendo en el fuego eterno fueron constantes en su trabajo desde que aparecieran por primera vez en su obra El Árbol Embarazador y en el collage literario Palabras Ajenas, el diálogo anti-Vietnam compuesto de citas textuales tomadas de figuras como Johnson, Hitler o el Papa Paulo VI.

El propósito de este trabajo es analizar los usos y significados de esta recurrencia de las condenas divinas en León Ferrari. A través del estudio de sus escritos –artículos, conferencias y cartas-, esta presentación plantea que las formas apocalípticas no se agotaron en denunciar la relación entre violencia religiosa y violencia política que Ferrari remarcó una y otra vez a lo largo de su obra. Por el contrario, sostendremos que su trabajo construye una ficción bíblica orientada a crear un clima que “conmueva al lector” y afecte directamente al público. Esa ficción –definición que surge a partir de Jacques Rancière y Jean-Marie Schaeffer- fue una inversión, paródica y humana, de las Escrituras.

Finalmente, plantearemos que sus textos de estilo veterotestamentario y apocalíptico contienen también un interés ecológico: las pestes, los incendios y, sobre todo, el Diluvio suponen una violencia de raíces bíblicas destructora de la naturaleza. Los animales no solo llevan la muerte –las ratas o las langostas- o anuncian su final –la paloma en el Diluvio- sino que son también los que sufren la destrucción ecológica.

De este modo, abordaremos una de las formas más originales de pensamiento que surgieron a partir de las acciones anti-Vietnam. Veremos los itinerarios de una radicalidad que se gestó en los años 60 pero que se extendió hasta sus trabajos más recientes y hacia otras dimensiones de la violencia.


Ananda Cohen-Aponte

Professional title: Assistant Professor of the History of Art Department, Cornell University

Bio: Ananda Cohen-Aponte works on the visual culture of colonial Latin America, with special interests in issues of cross-cultural exchange, historicity, identity, and anti-colonial movements. Her recent book, Heaven, Hell, and Everything in Between: Murals of the Colonial Andes (University of Texas Press, 2016) explores the intersections between art, politics, religion, and society in mural paintings located in colonial churches across the southern Andes. She also served as editor and primary author of the book Pintura colonial cusqueña: el esplendor del arte en los Andes/Paintings of Colonial Cusco: Artistic Splendor in the Andes, published as separate Spanish and English-language editions (Haynanka Ediciones, 2015). Her essays appear in a range of journals and edited volumes, including Colonial Latin American Review, The Americas, Allpanchis, and RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics. She is currently conducting research on a new project that explores the role of the visual arts in fomenting an insurgent imaginary in late 18th-century Peru and Bolivia within a context of inter-ethnic conflict and rebellion.


Panel 4: Extractions and Erotions

Gabrielle Greenlee

Paper Title: “Natura in Excelsis: Sacred Mountains as Producers of Culture, Wealth, and the Supernatural in the Colonial Andean Mining Space” 

Professional Title: Ph.D. Candidate, Visual Studies, UC Santa Cruz

Bio: Gabrielle Greenlee is in her fourth year in the Visual Studies PhD program at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her thesis focus is colonial Andean visual culture, specifically women’s textiles and their associations with land, landscape, territory. Prior to moving to California to pursue graduate research, she lived on the east coast, working as a freelance editor for art history publications and as an adjunct lecturer in the same field. Her earlier background also includes years as a practicing artist (a painter). My cultural background is mixed; I am partly South American (Bolivia), partly North American (U.S.)

Abstract: When Spaniards invaded the South American Andes, along with processes of social displacement they would also alter the highland landscape. Particularly in the extraction of silver ore from mountain bodies, Spaniards and Andeans would contest notions of a mountain’s ‘value’. An Andean attention to sacred landscape and mountain spirits vied with Spanish desire to transform nature by way of science to result in monetary wealth.

My paper examines how different human value systems were enacted visually within the porous cultural boundaries of the colonial Andes, but also brings forward ways nature asserted itself within human narratives. My focus is colonial Potosí in southern Bolivia, looking at how mining practices there shaped a visual culture where old and new value systems tied to mineral ores, mountains, and particular aspects of space overlapped. I point to the cultural and natural factors that, in their uneven interactions, visually renegotiated the mountain ecology: while the Christian Spanish worldview imported religion, monetary wealth, and early scientific processes in relation to mountains and mining, in tandem, Andeans continued to engage their environment as a living landscape, even as colonial interventions altered human/nature relationships. For example, I will look at how mountain mines became refuges for dislocated sacred practices and continued as participants in socio-sacred networks. The Andes presents a long-established context wherein nature articulated itself within the social space; in consideration of the many mountain deities—including mined mountains—we can ask how they also participated in cultural production.


Sean Nesselrode Moncada

Paper Title: “Killing the Well”

Professional Title: Assistant Professor, Department of Theory and History of Art and Design, Rhode Island School of Design

Bio: Sean Nesselrode Moncada is Assistant Professor in the Department of Theory and History of Art and Design at the Rhode Island School of Design, where he teaches courses on modern Latin American and Latinx art and visual cultures. He holds an MA and PhD in Art History and Archaeology from the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, and a BA in Art History and English Literature from Swarthmore College. His current book project focuses on the artistic, architectural and theoretical development of Venezuelan modernism(s) through the lens of petroleum as a real and imagined source of national progress.

Abstract: In January 1967, the dissident Venezuelan collective El Techo de la Ballena [The Roof of the Whale] undertook its most ambitious project, a documentary film titled Pozo muerto [Dead Well] that recorded the conditions of the oil camps that had been established by foreign petroleum corporations along Lake Maracaibo. For a group as radically interdisciplinary and thematically evasive as El Techo, the fact that one of their final actions was a relatively straightforward documentary film is somewhat surprising. Over the course of half an hour, the film presents three first-person accounts by individuals living in the camps, which narrate experiences of exploitation and impoverishment that are punctuated by images of abandoned facilities and oil wells dotting the landscape.

As a testimony of the disparity between the wealth generated by the industry and the actual living conditions of those communities most directly affected, Pozo muerto may be situated within the literary genre of the novela petrolera [petroleum novel]. Yet the film positions itself in dialogue and against corporate propaganda materials, which had been instrumental in publicizing and naturalizing the oil camps for employees as well as a broader Venezuelan public. Pozo muerto quotes from these earlier films and publications but places them in direct contrast with images of urban and ecological devastation. In so doing, El Techo denaturalizes petroculture at the very site of its institutionalization, critiquing the frictionless narratives of progress to reveal the dream of frictionless “development” as having been a Faustian one all along.


Marcelo Nogueira

Paper Title: “Sonic Matters: Cildo Meireles’ Sound Sculptures”

Professional Title: Ph.D. Candidate, Romance Studies, Duke University

Bio: Marcelo Nogueira holds a Bachelor’s degree in Lusophone Literature from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS) and a Master’s degree in Literary Theory from PUC-RS. His research explores the relationship between literature, the arts, and media, with special attention to sound and experimental writing. He focuses on twentieth-century Latin American cultures, particularly Brazilian modernism and contemporary arts, film, and literatures.


Rachel Price

Professional title: Associate Professor, Department of Spanish and Portuguese, Princeton University

Bio: Rachel Price (B.A., Yale; Ph.D., Duke U.), works on Latin American, circum-Atlantic and particularly Cuban literature, art, and culture; media; poetics; slavery; and environmental humanities. The Object of the Atlantic: Concrete Aesthetics in Cuba, Brazil and Spain 1868-1968 was published in 2014 by Northwestern University Press. Planet/Cuba: Art, Culture, and the Future of the Island, was published by Verso Books in 2015. She is currently working on several projects, including intersections between aesthetics and energy, and a book-length study rethinking communication technologies and literature in the nineteenth-century slaveholding Iberian Atlantic.


Eduardo Kac

Professional title:  Professor, Art and Technology Studies, School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Bio: Professor, Art and Technology Studies (1997). BA, 1985, Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro; MFA, 1990, School of the Art Institute of Chicago; PhD, 2003, University of Wales, Great Britain. Exhibitions: Ronald Feldman Gallery, NY; Julia Friedman Gallery, Chicago; Yokohama Triennial, Japan; Exit Art, NY; Maison Europ’enne de la Photographie, Paris; Seoul Museum of Art, Korea; Lieu Unique, Nantes, France; Museum of Modern Art, S?o Paulo, Brazil. Collections: Museum of Modern Art, NY; Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro. Brazil. Awards: Creative Capital, New York; The Daniel Langlois Foundation, Montreal; InterCommunication Center Biennale Award, Tokyo.



The Duke House Exhibition Series brings contemporary art to the walls of the Institute’s landmarked James B. Duke House. (Website in Construction).


Photo Credits: María Magdalena Campos Pons, Bin Bin Lady, The Papaya, 2005. Courtesy of the artist and Gallery Wendi Norris, San Francisco