Art History Is about More Than Just the Past

By Gillmor, Alison | Winnipeg Free Press, October 2, 2017 | Go to article overview

Art History Is about More Than Just the Past


Gillmor, Alison, Winnipeg Free Press


What, exactly, do art historians do?

At this Friday’s Art Talk/Art Walk, art historian Serena Keshavjee will be talking about her own work and what art history can tell us about both the past and the present.

Art historians often spend their time poring over medieval manuscripts or 17th-century etchings, but the methodologies of art history can also be applied to contemporary mass media, pop culture and political theatre.

“Because of their training, art historians are good at decoding visual information on the internet or out in the world,” Keshavjee said.

She believes art history encourages us to “look at our own world in an active way.” Take modernist architecture in Winnipeg, one of her research areas: After studying at McGill University in Montreal and the University of Toronto, Keshavjee moved to Winnipeg in 1996 to take up a job in the art history program at the University of Winnipeg (full disclosure: I sometimes teach in that program as a contract academic staff member).

“When we drove into Winnipeg, I knew about the Exchange because that was a designated historic area,” Keshavjee said.

“But I just kept seeing modernist buildings everywhere.”

Impressed by our town’s beautiful mid-century buildings, she walked into the university library and asked for the book on Winnipeg’s modernist architecture.

“They handed me this little pamphlet, literally a pamphlet from 1963,” Keshavjee said.

She ended up editing the award-winning 2006 book Winnipeg Modern: Architecture, 1945-1975.

Keshavjee passionately advocates for the recognition and preservation of our city’s rich modernist heritage.

“The project came out of trying to get to know my new city,” Keshavjee said.

“That was how I fell in love with Winnipeg.”

Another of Keshavjee’s research areas, the relationship of art, science and the paranormal in the 19th century, ended up having an unexpected local connection. Shortly after she arrived in Winnipeg, Keshavjee was giving a lecture on so-called “spirit photographs” when a colleague mentioned there was an archive of ghost images at the University of Manitoba. …

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