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This inaugural event - marking the anniversary of the UK’s first coronavirus lockdown- unites art and architectural historians from New York, Seattle, and Alabama, as well as the UK to explore the Art of Epidemics.

The session explores the imagery of epidemics and the fears they engendered during the emergence of modern medicine, the development of international trade, and the expansion of colonialism. 

The roundtable begins with studies of how visualizations incorporated medical knowledge, rumours, and earlier imagery of death and monstrosity. They address how artists pictured epidemics by visualizing the unseen (pathogens or germs such as bacteria and viruses), by documenting the physical symptoms of the illness, anthropomorphizing sources of disease according to race, ethnicity, or gender, or constructing dystopian spaces.

Dr Ann-Marie Akehurst Fear and Loathing in Nineteenth-Century England examines ephemeral popular prints from London’s Wellcome Collections relating to the 1832 cholera epidemic. It anatomises how they harness appropriate and incongruous graphic and cultural traditions, reflecting and reinforcing medical and socio-political anxieties and unrest. Opportunism and confusion were condemned through deconstructed Regent portraits, nursery rhymes, popular songs and literature.

Dr. Amanda Sciampacone
Invisible Destroyers: Cholera and COVID in British Visual Culture explores how British press representation of COVID-19 recalls visual history of the iconography of epidemics, evoking the danse macabre of the Black Death, and the king’s healing touch, while creating an iconography of cholera as a foreign ‘invisible destroyer’ threatening Britain. It draws parallels with present-day invocations of the state of war against what has been described as ‘this invisible killer stalking the whole world,’

Dr. Sara Kate BerkowitzEmbodying Cholera: The Visual Culture of Disease and Colonization in Early Modern Japan addresses nineteenth-century Japan’s decades-long cholera outbreak inciting mass fear. The established visual language of disease meshed traditional treatments with Buddhist and Shinto beliefs, and anthropomorphized illnesses as demons and animals. It discusses how artists negotiated tensions between a Western disease potentially cured through Western medical practices, revealing anxieties surrounding national identity, race, and gender, triggered by importing Western culture.

Dr. Louisa M. IarocciCapturing the Invisible Enemy: Photographs of the 1918 Influenza Epidemic analyses the ‘first mass-mediated pandemic’ in the United States, the 1918 -1919 influenza epidemic – at the beginning of modern journalism. Photographs played a critical new role in relation to public health developments, documenting the virus’ impact. While aiming to reinforce official messaging, by documenting social distancing measures and personal protection practices they revealed public anxieties in ‘ghastly’ masked faces of health workers and ordinary citizens, documenting the emotional symptoms of the disease.


All welcome, this seminar is free to attend but booking is required.