Pham to explore intersection of gender theory with fashion

The Women’s Studies Department, in collaboration with other departments, will bring Minh-Ha Pham to VC. Minh-Ha Pham combines academic analysis with artful fashion to examine race and gender. Photo By: Minh-Ha Pham
The Women’s Studies Department, in collaboration with other departments, will bring Minh-Ha Pham to VC. Minh-Ha Pham combines academic analysis with artful fashion to examine race and gender. Photo By: Minh-Ha Pham
The Women’s Studies Department, in collaboration with other departments, will bring Minh-Ha Pham to VC. Minh-Ha Pham combines academic analysis with artful fashion to examine race and gender. Photo By: Minh-Ha Pham

Minh-Ha Pham, Assistant Professor of History of Art and Visual Studies and Asian American Studies at Cornell University, will be coming to campus to deliver a lecture.  The Women’s Studies department, along with the Asian Studies, Media Studies, American Studies, and English departments, will be co-sponsoring Pham’s lecture on Nov. 20 in the Taylor Hall Auditorium.

Leslie Dunn, Associate Professor of English on the Anne McNiff Tatlock Chair and Director of Women’s Studies wrote in an emailed statement about Pham’s work in those areas of study and how it is pertinent to Vassar students.

She commented, “Courses in the Women’s Studies program teach students to think critically about the multiple systems of power through which sexual and gendered identities are constructed, and to engage with political and ethical issues from diverse perspectives. We pay particular attention to the intersections of gender and sexuality with race, class, nationality, ethnicity, and dis/ability.”

She continued, “Minh­Ha’s work speaks to issues that are central to contemporary feminist studies (gender, race, and representation in popular media; racialized constructions of beauty and femininity; women in the global economy) as well as of personal interest to many of our students. But her work is deeply multidisciplinary, and so will resonate with students in many other departments and programs.”

Susan Hiner, Professor of French and Francophone Studies at Vassar is familiar with Pham’s work and has incorporated her work into her curriculum as well. She wrote in an emailed statement, “I’ve used several of Pham’s articles in a [Women’s Studies] course I teach on ‘Fashion and the Feminine’ and have directed my students to her amazing Tumblr site, Of Another Fashion.”

Dunn commented her choice to host Pham at Vassar, and her relevance to students here. “My interest in bringing Minh­Ha Pham to campus grew out of my conversations last spring with Asian and Asian American students who had petitioned the Women’s Studies Program to address the lack of Asian and Asian American women’s perspectives in our curriculum,” she wrote.

Dunn continued, “The importance and urgency of their concerns prompted me not only to do research on Asian and Asian American feminisms (which led to revisions of the WMST 130 syllabus), but also to ask my colleague Hua Hsu to suggest some leading young Asian American scholars whose work might interest a broad range of students. It was he who introduced me to the work of Minh­Ha Pham.”

In addition to Hsu and Dunn, Hiner has examined Pham’s work as well, in the many mediums which she works in. Hiner has been interested specifically in one of those mediums, Pham’s Tumblr site, “What I really like about that project is the way it unearths the sentimental and cultural value of clothing by tying it to historical moments and to real people and real objects. That project also illustrates the incredible wealth of fashion creativity in groups that have been mostly sidelined by the media and fashion history.” Hiner describes the prevalence of “On Another Fashion,” Pham’s Tumblr, “[It] collects images and brief contexts from readers about fashion moments from personal histories of underrepresented groups.” One of Pham’s most recent Tumblr posts commented on a picture of two women and attests to her work in the art of fashion. The post reads, “While doing research for a talk on the history and future of vanity, I found this incredible photograph by Max Yavno of “las pachucas” — Chicana zoot suiters, in pant suits! This archive already holds several photographs of women zoot suiters but they’re wearing skirt suits or just the pants and a top. This is such a detailed photo of the entire look of las pachucas from the hair to the shoes. Beautiful! The photo is called “Two Women”. It was taken in Los Angeles, California in 1946.”

Apart from Tumblr, Pham’s work shows up in The Atlantic, The Huffington Post, The New York Times and American Prospect. She takes the art of fashion and contextualizes it to relate to gender, sexuality, and race. Dunn commented, “Minh­Ha takes fashion–and the bodies that make and wear them–seriously. She practices engaged scholarship, documenting the ‘not­quite­hidden but too often ignored fashion histories of U.S. women of color’…She models contemporary feminist scholarship and activism in ways that will resonate with, and hopefully inspire, our students.”

Through a different type of media, a blog called “Threadbared,” Pham continues to explore the issues which Hiner and Dunn have brought into their classrooms. “Here [in threadbared] she takes up questions of popular culture as it relates to fashion, media, gender, etc. in a very smart and engaging way. Her work ends up analyzing broad cultural questions in important ways–and she does it through discussions of fashion, which is so often judged as trivial, but which she shows is a rich medium for observing and critiquing lots of other ideas,” wrote Hiner.

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