New to LSU: Q&A with Allison Young

Allison YoungAllison Young is assistant professor of contemporary art history at LSU. A specialist in postcolonial and contemporary art of the Global South, she received her B.A. (2009) in Art History and Anthropology from Brandeis University, and her M.A. (2012) and Ph.D. (2017) from the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. Young’s research centers primarily on African and African-Diasporic artists and art histories, with focus on South African art, British art and visual culture, biennials and curatorial practice, and questions surrounding migration, transnationalism and political engagement in contemporary art.

Q: What are your research interests?

A: My research interests are broadly centered on postcolonial and transnational contemporary art—meaning the art produced within the era following colonial rule in Africa, the Middle East, Latin America or South Asia, as well as art being made today that addresses questions of cultural identity, nationalism, and social change from a global perspective.

My main area of specialization is African and African-Diasporic art. I have published most widely on late twentieth-century South African art, as well as on artists who live and work transnationally or whose work responds to experiences of diaspora, exile, and migration. These themes interest me because they challenge the traditional categories of geography and culture according to which art history was first conceived, and because migration and itinerancy have increasingly come to define the human condition today.

Q: What is your academic/professional background?

A: As an undergraduate, I took classes in so many different fields of study before landing on my double major of art history and anthropology. Working between the humanities and social sciences, I was interested in learning about the role that visual and material culture play in society, or asking what new perspectives come to light when works of art serve as our primary witnesses to history. These questions continue to drive my research today.

My background includes not only academic research, but also an ongoing engagement with contemporary art through criticism and curatorial practice. I love working directly with artists, and have held positions in museums such as the MFA Boston, the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and most recently the New Orleans Museum of Art, where I was a postdoctoral fellow for the last two years. I love seeing works of art come to life in museums, where they serve as points of exchange and connection for diverse publics. I think it’s especially important, as well, for students of art history to learn how different curatorial narratives or interpretive frameworks can radically alter one’s understanding of, or response to, a work of art.

Q: What courses are you teaching?

A: This fall, I’m teaching “Historical Survey of the Arts: Renaissance to Modern” and “Issues in Contemporary Art.” The latter class introduces some major themes and conceptual frameworks that define the study of art since 1960. In the future, I hope to offer classes that reflect my interests in global and postcolonial art histories, as well as in-depth immersions into specific mediums, movements, or theories in contemporary art.

Q: Why do you enjoy teaching art history?

A: I love teaching art history because it gives students the tools to analyze, appreciate, and understand the images that surround us in everyday life—not just in museums or art spaces, but also in advertisements, music videos and movies, or on social media. While there are certainly historical events, dates, and artistic movements that should be memorized and understood as “fact,” so much of art history is actually improvisational and responsive, so I learn a lot from my students by hearing their unique perspectives on works of art—especially when they differ from my own!

Q: What was your first impression of LSU?

A: I find Louisiana to be a fascinating place in which to learn about or practice art, cultural history, and design, and the work being undertaken across LSU reflects that. It’s obvious that students and faculty are passionate about what they do – and I very much look forward to becoming a part of the community!