The 2018 Bettie Allison Rand Symposium “Taking Exception: Women, Gender, Representation in the Eighteenth Century” opened Thursday night in honor of Mary Sheriff, a distinguished professor of art history at UNC-Chapel Hill and an internationally renowned scholar of 18th-and 19th-century French art and culture.
Sheriff passed away in 2016.
“That is a tribute from the University of North Carolina to celebrate Mary’s life and think about her many contributions to UNC,” said Tatiana String, organizer of the symposium.
A special memorial session will be held on Saturday, as most participants in the symposium are Sheriff's friends, students or colleagues. Franny Brock, a curatorial intern at the Ackland Art Museum, is one of those who was advised by Sheriff until her death.
“I’ve been to her funeral and her other memorials,” Brock said. “It is a really nice way for me and her other students to get together and really honor Mary.”
The symposium will take place at the Ackland Art Museum from Thursday to Saturday in tandem with a thematic exhibition about life as a woman in 18th-century France. The exhibit is supported by the Bettie Allison Rand endowment, which sponsors a major lecture series or symposium annually in the Department of Art and Art History.
While 18th-century French art might seem a culturally distant topic for most people, Brock thinks that the exhibition and symposium resonate with contemporary issues.
“Certainly the exhibition, which the symposium is organized around, is called ‘Becoming a Woman in the Age of Enlightenment,' but a lot of the themes are still things we talk about today in terms of gender and sexuality and womanhood and all of these issues,” Brock said.
Most prominent scholars of 18th-century French art and women study will come and speak at the event, including Melissa Hyde, the co-curator of the exhibition from the University of Florida.
As a long-term colleague and friend of Sheriff, Hyde wants to emphasize the significance of the18th century in more than art history.
“The 18th century is a moment when a lot of our modern thinkings about ourselves and the world were founded,” Hyde said. “That’s the beginning of the modern family. That’s the beginning of lots of very familiar thinkings about what should be the cultural roles of men and women and how we become subjects and how we become people.”
As the event organizer, String wishes people would think about how women’s lives and social responsibility changed since the 18th century. That way, people can better understand where they stand now in the current climate of feminist movements by looking back at the historical context.
“One of the things..when we design this exhibition that we try really hard to do is to think about how to frame this exhibition in the terms to make people think about how the things may or may not have changed since the 18th century,” String said. “Particularly when it comes to how women were taught to think about their roles in the society, what their places were, what their social function should be.”
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