Academic Showcase: Sofia D’Amico, FCRH ’19

Above: Closeup of Tiffany Chung, Reconstructing an Exodus History: Boat Trajectories in Asia, acrylic, ink, and oil of drafting film, 2017

Sofia D’Amico is a senior and Art History major here at Fordham. She presented at the Undergraduate Research Symposium on April 10, 2019 at Rose Hill. Below, Sofia explains her research project, her inspiration, and her hopes for the field of Art History.

SD: My research topic focuses on the work of contemporary Vietnamese-American artist Tiffany Chung, especially her cartographic works that study global migration, displacement, conflict, and urban development, and their relation to history and cultural memory. She’s actually the same artist I did my Senior Seminar project on. Especially as a Vietnamese refugee, I’ve been investigating her transnational artistic identity, and how her life experiences have oriented her work towards an international, humanitarian focus.

Sofia with her project at the Fordham Undergraduate Research Symposium

The process of research really began because I had art historical interests beyond Europe and the Western world, with which most curricula are heavily focused. I took as many classes as I could with Professor Ikeda in East Asian and Japanese Art and was deeply thankful for them at Fordham. But my interests eventually extended to Southeast Asia. Of course Fordham, and indeed most universities, don’t have Southeast Asian art courses or concentrations, so Professor Ikeda actually suggested I apply for a research grant through FCRH’s Undergraduate Research Department in order to do independent learning in an area where there was a bit of a gap in course offerings. I felt an immediate connection to Tiffany Chung not only because she was a Vietnamese immigrant, like most of my family, but also because her art practice is so different, and I really thought it imparted a positive force in the world. I wrote my proposal with the intent of visiting three different recent shows of hers: a group show titled New Cartographies at Asia Society Houston, her solo exhibition at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art that opened this year, Vietnam, Past is Prologue, and her work at Miami Art Basel for her dealer Tyler Rollins Fine Art (with whom I interned last semester). From these experiences, I would write a comprehensive research article about her work and the importance of her practice, highlighting the possibilities for synthesis of art study and social responsibility, artwork as building transnational dialogue, and understanding global diaspora. The research program made it possible for me to travel and have really tactile, hands-on experiences with the art I was interested in, and to speak to people about it. For example, on account of this project I spoke to the curator of Asia Society Houston, Bridget Bray, who was encouraging and informative in her perspective. Especially in this field, I think it’s critical to be able to physically visit objects of research and see artworks in person, so I’m especially thankful that my project was funded, and think it’s an encouraging sign that academic institutions are still interested in funding undergraduate art historians! My thesis has taken lots of twists and turns, but hopefully I’ll be able to deliver something meaningful and different to contemporary art historical scholarship.

Tiffany Chung, "Reconstructing an exodus history: boat escape routes to the region and beyond," embroidery on fabric, 2018

What initially inspired me and continues to interest me about this particular area of research is the multiplicity of immigrant experiences, and also the lacuna in art history studies that we tend to have for non-Western, and especially in this case Southeast Asian, art. Especially when it comes to immigrants from Southeast Asian countries such as Vietnam, like Chung and even my own family, the U.S. often has few real platforms for comprehending their stories and experiences, and usually understand their cultures in superficial ways, especially compared to monolith cultures like China or Japan. With this project, I was able to explore Vietnamese art history, and then investigate how Chung’s work as contemporary departs from precedent and is truly international in vision. If nothing else, I would implore people to think about their understandings of these countries and especially learn more about the artists from them, whose work is often so unique in content and context to that of the rest of the world. Visual culture and art can deliver and explain a lot very easily, and I see it as one of the best ways we understand each other transnationally. And it’s encouraging to see institutions like Fordham actively continuing to fund these art historical endeavors. More art history majors should definitely apply for grants: our voices are wanted and our research is important on so many levels.

I want to acknowledge and thank Katherina Fostano for her continued kindness and creativity, and the generous support and help she gave me with the presentation of my project. Her expertise and presence within the department are truly indispensable. And I want to acknowledge the outstanding mentorship of Dr. Asato Ikeda on the project, who inspired me to conduct research and explore my interests. I would not be the same person without her. They both have my deepest admiration and Fordham is so lucky to have them.


Photos courtesy of Sofia D’Amico

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