Current MA/PhD Students
Educational History: Centre College, BA in Art History, 2019
Michael Baird is a doctoral student in the department of Art and Art History at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He is interested in the Western reception of African material culture and how the discourse of fine art was utilized in the fashioning of national identity at the end of the colonial era. His current work centers on how art education formed an integral component of the British colonial apparatus in the East Africa Protectorate and how this colonial instruction in making continues to influence understandings of art within the contemporary nation-state of Uganda and perceptions of Ugandan art abroad. In 2019, Michael’s senior thesis contended with representations of black masculinity in the oeuvre of Robert Mapplethorpe and the social construction of categories within visual culture. Following his graduation, he worked as a curatorial intern and later curatorial and education assistant at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C. The work he did at the museum was part of a larger initiative to re-evaluate the ways in which the museum characterizes, displays, and educates the public on African-inspired religions and objects that have acquired religious value.
Educational History: Virginia Commonwealth University, Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies with minors in Sociology and Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies, 2021; The School of Visual Arts, completed coursework towards a BFA, 2009 – 2012
Callie is a third-year dual degree master’s student in art history and library science with a concentration in archives. As an archivist and librarian, she focuses on 20th-century to contemporary artist self-publishing practices (zines, small and independent press, artist books, etc.), and material culture. Her work aims to elevate counter-narratives to provide greater context and broader access to our shared cultural heritage. In the summer of 2023 Callie worked at the Library of Congress as a Junior Fellow in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division. As a part of the Division’s larger “Artists and Archives” initiative, she processed the archive of a contemporary book artist, and letterpress printer. She is currently the Southern Futures Research Assistant for artists-in-residence with Carolina Performing Arts and is an Audiovisual Digitization Graduate Assistant at Wilson Special Collections Library.
Educational History: College of William and Mary, B.A. in Art History with a minor in Management and Organizational Leadership, 2019
Rachel is a doctoral student in the department of Art and Art History at the UNC specializing in nineteenth-century art of the United States. Her current research, supervised by Dr. Maggie Cao, investigates various manifestations of the practice of social typing through the work of American genre painter and portraitist Eastman Johnson. Her undergraduate honors thesis examined nineteenth-century urban ecology, public parks development, and antebellum racial politics through the previously unexplored painting “Servants at a Pump” (1840) by Italian-American artist Nicolino Calyo. Before beginning her Ph.D. program, Rachel spent three years developing a visual arts integration initiative within the Education department at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. At UNC, Rachel has served as a Teaching Assistant in Art History, a Graduate Research Consultant in Comparative Literature, a Teaching Fellow at the Ackland Art Museum, Chair for the Eighth Annual Graduate Symposium: “Matters of Art: Materiality, Functionality & the Agency of Art Objects”, and Co-President of the Art Students Graduate Organization. She lives in Chapel Hill, NC with her boyfriend and her Giant Schnauzer, Ruby.
Luke is a dual degree MA/MSLS student in art history and library science. Their research interests are broadly focused on the history of the book, conservation and preservation practices in museum collections, artists’ books, as well as contemporary ecological art and new media. Their honors thesis at Northwestern University explored and documented the work of ecological art collectives in the Midwest and beyond, including the Compass Group, Deep Time Chicago, and the Institute for Queer Ecology. While at Northwestern, they received the Warnock Prize for Art Historical Writing. Luke is also a 2023-2025 Carolina Academic Library Associate at the university libraries, where they work in special collections as the Digital Preservation Assistant. Before coming to UNC, they held positions in the conservation lab at the Newberry Library, the Block Museum of Art, and EXPO Chicago and interned at the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts and the Public Media Institute in Chicago.
Educational History: UNC-Chapel Hill, MA, Art History/MS Information Science, 2018; University of Chicago, MA Religious Studies, 2010; Boston University, BA English/Religious Studies, 2008
Erin Dickey is a Ph.D. candidate and the Chester Dale Fellow (’22-’24) at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art. Her dissertation, “‘Bad Information’: Networks, Knowledges, and Feminist Art in the 1980s,” analyzes the material histories of information art, online projects, video installations, and telecommunications experiments by Judy Malloy, Nancy Paterson, and Karen O’Rourke, contextualizing them against the politics and aesthetics of the “information age.” At UNC, she has taught ARTH 285: Art after 1960 and ARTH 488: Contemporary African Art, and in the Ackland Art Museum as Object-Based Teaching Fellow (’20-’21). As a master’s student, Erin was a Fellow in UNC’s IMLS-funded “Learning from Artists’ Archives” program. She has also worked for the Smithsonian Archives of American Art, the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, and the national oral history nonprofit Storycorps. Recent publications include “Organic Archives and Silent Presences: A Case Study of the Nlele Institute’s Photographic Archives,” with Carol Magee, in Silence and Its Derivatives: Conversations Across Disciplines (2022) and “Moving Images: Photography in Johannesburg,” with Diane Frankel, in Urban Cadence: Street Scenes from Lagos and Johannesburg (2019). Research interests: contemporary American, European, and African art, feminist and postcolonial media, telecommunications history, media theory, materiality studies, archival theory and practice, and oral history. Erin’s dissertation advisor is Cary Levine.
Educational History: University of Georgia, M.A. in Art History with Distinction, 2019; Birmingham-Southern College, B.A. in History and Art History, 2016
Emily DuVall is a Ph.D. candidate working with Dr. Tania String. Emily studies the French Renaissance court, specifically expressions of authority found in royal imagery. Her dissertation investigates the French conceptualization of royal space during the reign of François Ier (1515-1547). Emily is a 2022-2023 Wilson Library Hanes Graduate Fellow consulting UNC’s Rare Book Collection of sixteenth-century maps, travel accounts, and royal pamphlets. Emily has received grants from the UNC Graduate School (2021) and UNC’s Medieval and Early Modern Studies Program (2021). She previously worked as a curatorial intern at the Albany Museum of Art in Albany, Georgia, as a gallery assistant at Portraits, Inc. in Birmingham, Alabama, and as the Pierre Daura Graduate Intern at the Georgia Museum of Art in Athens, Georgia.
Sarah Emily Farkas
Educational History: The University of Texas at Austin, MA – Art History, 2019; Oberlin College, BA – Art History and German Studies, 2012
Sarah Farkas is a Ph.D. candidate focusing on sixteenth-century English and German art, advised by Dr. Tatiana C. String. She is especially interested in issues of gender, the Reformation, decorative objects, and jewelry in the early modern world. Her dissertation is tentatively titled “Women’s Consumption: The Portraits and Possessions of Anne of Cleves and Sibylle of Cleves.” She was a 2020-21 Wilson Library Hanes Graduate Fellow working with numerous English books and documents in the Rare Book Collection, the 2020-21 Graduate Intern at the Ackland Art Museum, and the recipient of UNC’s Doctoral Merit Assistantship (2019-2020). She has previously presented papers at the Sixteenth Century Society Conference and the University of Cambridge conference Dressing a Picture: Reimagining the Court Portrait 1500 – 1800. At UNC, she has served as the co-president of the Art Student Graduate Organization and a co-chair of the Art & Art History Department’s 6th annual symposium, Labor Relations. At both UT Austin and UNC, Sarah has worked as a Teaching Assistant and Graduate Research Assistant. While an undergraduate at Oberlin College, Sarah also worked as a Curatorial Assistant for the Allen Memorial Art Museum.
Educational History: BA in Art and Architecture History, Miami University – Oxford, OH (summa cum laude)
Sydney Herrick is a master’s student in the department of Art and Art History at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She is interested in African and African Diaspora arts and their intersectionality with gender, feminism, and sexuality. Sydney attended Miami University, Oxford, for her undergraduate program. She was awarded the Judith Paetow George Farris Award for academic achievement, the Faculty Award for student writing and research, and the Edna Kelly Scholarship for excellence in art and architecture. She has published several articles, including “Kara Walker, African/American” and “Performing Gender in African Masquerade,” which she presented at the 2021 Annual Dr. Johnathan Riess Colloquium at the University of Cincinnati, OH. Following her graduation, she worked as a curatorial writing intern at the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center (2021-2022), a Visitor Relations Specialist at The Contemporary Austin (2021-2022), and a writing intern for the North Carolina Museum of Art (2022). Sydney also assisted in the revision of Dr. Jordan Fenton’s Masquerade and Money in Urban Calabar, published in February of this year. Sydney will be working under Dr. Victoria Rovine.
My main area of interest is artists’ publications: artists’ books, zines, Web-to-print work, and other kinds of printed matter. I came to artists’ publications as a writer and poet interested in how different embodiments of a text affect its meaning, so I’m very interested in the intersection of text and visual art, and in a postcolonial view of the book as just one among many technologies of content transmission across cultures. I’m a career library worker involved in collecting artists’ publications and teaching with them. I also have a studio practice creating them under the press name Blue Bluer Books. My poems, translations, and flash fiction have appeared in some literary journals over the years and my artists’ books are held in a number of library, museum, and private collections.
I am a PhD student studying Contemporary African Art, with a specific interest in the intersection of art, visual culture, and design within East Africa. Currently, I am thinking about visual culture in and around Nairobi, Kenya and how artists/art collectives employ the aesthetics of visual and material culture to construct their own understandings of local, national, and international identity. As a subsection of this inquiry, I am fascinated with populist or ‘pop’ art in Kenya, its aesthetic make-up, and political ramifications. Prior to coming to UNC, I received my BA in Art History from Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. During my time at Dickinson, I curated “Mafile Fen,” an exhibition of Bamana sculpture and textile that explored the relationship between performance and object in Bamana aesthetics. I have also held internships at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the National Museum of African Art in DC.
Educational History: Trinity College Dublin, European Studies B.A.; Columbia University, Political Science B.A
Abigail Ilfeld is a first year master’s student in UNC’s art history program. She graduated with two BAs in European Studies and Political Science from Trinity College Dublin and Columbia University, and received First Class Honors on her Capstone Project, “Alternative-Modernities: Confronting and Challenging the Eurocentric Implications in André Breton’s Encounter with Hector Hyppolite, Haiti 1945.” Before coming to UNC, she interned at the Franklin Furnace Archive in Brooklyn, NY, an organization dedicated to the support and public promotion of avant-garde art.Her research interests include American and Latin American contemporary art, political performance art, methods of institutional critique, and the tensions between aesthetics and communicability in work that claims political or public intent. She is currently working at the Ackland Art Museum as a public programming intern.
Educational History: The University of Alabama, B.A. in Art History with minors in Italian and Medieval and Early Modern European Studies, 2022
Olivia Riva Janson is a master’s student in the Art and Art History department at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Her focus is on the renaissance and the convergence of theology, Italian literature, and women. Olivia attended The University of Alabama for her undergraduate program. She was awarded second place for her paper titled “Le Donne Dietro L’Uomo: La Rete Femminile in torno per Girolamo Savonarola” (The Women Behind the Man: The Female Network surrounding Girolamo Savonarola) for the national Italian honor society, Gamma Kappa Alpha. She has presented several papers including “Vision as Worship in Medieval Culture: the Connection between St. Bernard of Clairvaux and Dante Alighieri” at the Richard Macksey National Humanities Research Symposium at Johns Hopkins University. Olivia also received the Russell J. Drake Scholarship and was nominated for Student Employee of the Year for her work as the Director’s Assistant at the Paul R. Jones Museum.
Educational History: American University, B.A. in Art History with a minor in Psychology, 2019; American University, M.A. in Art History, 2021
Meg (they/she) is a first-year PhD student. Their research interests deal primarily with the intersections of art and radical politics in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They are interested in the ways in which an artist’s work can serve–or undermine–their political goals. Their master’s thesis, entitled “The Darkroom as Weapon? Anti-Colonialism and Ethnography in Raoul Ubac’s Penthésilée Photomontages,” considered the complexities of the surrealist movement’s ideas about radical liberation and violence as a means to that end. Meg has presented their master’s thesis at the Middle Atlantic Symposium in the History of Art, co-hosted by the National Gallery of Art and the University of Maryland.
Kelsey is an Art History Ph.D. Candidate and Caroline H. and Thomas S. Royster Fellow at UNC-CH. She was advised by Dr. Mary D. Sheriff until Dr. Sheriff’s passing in the fall of 2016 and is currently advised by Dr. Melissa Hyde (University of Florida, Gainesville). Her fields of specialization rest in early modern Europe (though she often ventures to the 19th and early 20th centuries for various curatorial projects), with particular emphasis on eighteenth-century French art, works on paper, and women artists from 1450-1950. Her dissertation project explores women artists’ relationship to printmaking in eighteenth-century France, including their roles as designers, engravers, and exhibitors of prints. Kelsey is the recipient of numerous awards, internships, and fellowships, including the ‘Rare Prints Project’ Internship at the National Gallery of Art, D.C. (2017), the Object-Based Teaching Fellowship at the Ackland Art Museum (2017-2018), and the Dedo and Barron Kidd McDermott Curatorial Internship for European Art at the Dallas Museum of Art (2018-2019). She served as the curatorial intern for the DMA’s Women Artists in Europe from the Monarchy to Modernism as well as the major traveling exhibition, Berthe Morisot, Woman Impressionist. Kelsey also curated Violence and Defiance, a works on paper show of German and Austrian Expressionist prints, which debuted at the DMA in August of 2019.
Educational History: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, MA in Art History, 2022; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, BA in Art History with Honors, 2020
Rachel is a first year PhD student in Art History. She works with Dr. Christoph Brachmann and is interested in the intersections of religious material culture and practices relating to death and commemoration in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe. More specifically, Rachel is interested in the production of textiles, such as tapestries, funeral garments, and liturgical vestments, and the role materials play in the construction of memory or the performance of certain religious rituals. Before starting her PhD program, Rachel was the Assistant Gallery Director at Foltz Fine Art in Houston, TX. As a MA student at UNC, Rachel was a Graduate Teaching Fellow at the Ackland Art Museum and served as an assistant for the Hanes Visiting Artists Series. During this time, she also held an internship in Docent Education at the North Carolina Museum of Art.
Aisha Marie Muhammad
Educational History: SUNY New Paltz, Bachelor of Arts in Art History and History (Cum Laude), 2012; School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Master of Arts in Modern and Contemporary Art History, Theory and Criticism, 2015
My research examines the confluence of performance and video media in sub-Saharan Africa. I am interested in how “new media” interventions affect traditional and contemporary performance rituals, including the evolution of iconography within established visual cultures. My writing and research primarily centers around West and Central Africa; I have extensively written on Nigerian artist Jelili Atiku with my master’s thesis entitled: “Humanity is ‘In the Red’: An Examination of Jelili Atiku’s Performance Series”. I am also interested in perceptions of the continent and blackness in the African Diaspora, and how contemporary media further affects visual symbols of Africa to its diaspora communities. Postcolonial theory is an important aspect of my research. Prior to coming to UNC, I was an intern at the National Portrait Gallery, and Instructor in art history at Genesee Community College (Batavia, NY). I am currently a Humanities for Public Good Fellow, working on a project that involves increasing visitor engagement in the North Carolina Museum of Art’s African galleries.
Dylan J Seal
Educational History: University of Mississippi, BA in Art History (Minor in Religious Studies), 2023
Dylan is a first-year MA student. His current research interests center on religion and material culture in Africa, specifically the relationship between Islam and art in West Africa and the Maghreb. Dylan previously served as a Teaching Assistant for the Department of Philosophy and Religion at the University of Mississippi and as an intern at the University of Mississippi Museum. He currently serves as a Teaching Assistant at UNC.
Jake L. Swartz
Educational History: University of North Carolina Asheville, Bachelor of Arts in Art History and Anthropology, 2019
Jake is a second-year MA student working with Dr. Christoph Brachmann and his research interests are focused broadly within seventeenth-century decorative arts. His Master’s thesis seeks to expand upon issues of iconography, politics, and materiality of automata commissioned by the court of Rudolf II. He also published an undergraduate thesis titled “Divine artistry: The power of Materiality and Craft in Statuette and arm Reliquaries of the Holy Roman Empire.” with the UNC Asheville Journal of Undergraduate Research in May of 2019.
Educational History: University of Texas, BA Humanities and BA Stage Management, 2022
ACADEMIC PUBLICATIONS AND PRESENTATIONS
Thomas, Courtney. “Worth What She Doth Cost: Representing Female Sexuality in Troilus and Cressida from the Restoration to the Present Day.” In The University of Texas at Austin Undergraduate Research Journal, Vol. 19. (2020), 1-11.
Thomas, Courtney. (2022 April 13-14). Indecline’s Culture Jamming of Evangelical Propaganda Sites: Billboards and The Great Passion Play 2020/2021 [Conference presentation]. 56th annual Comparative Literature Conference at California State University Long Beach, Long Beach, CA, United States.
Thomas, Courtney. (2022 May 12). An Adaptation Studies Approach to Rude Mech’s ‘Lipstick Traces’ [Undergraduate Thesis Presentation]. Special Honors in the Department of Liberal Arts. The University of Texas at Austin.
Hannah G. Williams
Educational History: University of North Carolina at Wilmington, BA, Art History and English Literature, Certificate in Professional Writing, 2018
University of Georgia, MA with Distinction, Art History, 2020
Hannah is a PhD student of Dr. Tania String specializing in late medieval and early modern Northern European art. Specifically, she examines the devotional experience of tiny haptic sculpture from Northern Europe in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Her MA thesis dealt with similar issues and earned her a distinction from the University of Georgia. She spent a year as a curatorial intern for the European art collection at the North Carolina Museum of Art, and since joining UNC, she has been on the planning committee of the 2022 graduate symposium titled “Matters of Art: Materiality, Functionality, and the Agency of Art Objects” and was elected as the co-president of the Art Student Graduate Organization.
Educational History: Seoul National University, MA in Art History, 2021; Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Department of Philosophy, 2015 – 2016; Seoul National University, BA in Religious Studies and Media Arts, 2013 – 2018
Jihyun Yang is a first-year PhD student in Art History at UNC. Jihyun is especially interested in studying images of the Passion and viewers’ psychological and even physical responses to them in Germany and the Netherlands during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Jihyun hopes to use the lenses of phenomenology and cognitive science to focus on not only the mental but also the physical responses of viewers to these images of suffering. While a graduate student at Seoul National University, Jihyun worked as a researcher for the Overseas Korean Cultural Heritage Foundation.
Weixin Zhou is a Ph.D. student in Art History. She is originally from Shanghai, China, and completed her undergraduate studies at Shanghai Normal University before earning an M.A. Degree in Creative and Media Enterprises in Centre for Cultural and Media Policy Studies at The University of Warwick in the U.K. Weixin’s main research interest is Western modern art, specifically European modernism and art movements in nineteenth and twentieth centuries. She is interested in the interdisciplinary approach of reflecting art and art history in the intellectual and cultural context.