Themester events to explore meaning of beauty

Since 2009, the College of Arts and Sciences has chosen a theme to explore for each fall semester during their Themester program. The topic then permeates not only curriculum, but activities around campus as well.

This year, the focus is beauty, according to a recent press release from the college.

The theme focuses heavily on the human experience and will include courses, films, performances, exhibits and much more for students to immerse themselves in the meaning of the word.

Ellen MacKay, chair of the Themester 2016 advisory committee and associate professor of English, said in the release that beauty is the claim all things or ideas have on us.

“This year’s Themester will consider why beauty matters and how it shapes human consciousness, human history and the human effort to understand the world around us,” MacKay said.

Themester events unite Bloomington’s museums and exhibition spaces with the various departments that participate.

For example, the Mathers Museum of World Cultures will invite professor Eric Sandweiss of the Department of History and professor Michael Dodson of the Dhar India Studies Program to debate the beauty of the Mathers building itself on Sept. 9. The event, titled “Beauty or the Beast: Debating the (de)merits of the Mathers Museum’s Architecture,” will explore the building’s Brutalist 1980s architecture style.

The museum will also present three exhibitions exploring ideas of beauty and its fluidity in the human mind. “Costume: Beauty, Meaning and Identity in Dress,” will be on display through Jan. 29; “Hózhó: Navajo Beauty, Navajo Weavings,” through March 5; and “Siyazama: Traditional Arts, Education and AIDS in South Africa,” through Dec. 18.

The Grunwald Gallery is also hosting an exhibition, “Framing Beauty,” on view through Oct. 7. The Eskenazi Museum of Art’s current exhibition “Old Hollywood Glam,” explores beauty depicted by actresses during the Golden Age of Hollywood, the 1920s through 1940s.

These exhibits join a host of other performances, such as Bloomington’s Cardinal Stage Company putting on “The Merchant of Venice,” as well as the Black Film Center/Archive’s showing of “Versailles ‘73: African American Beauty and Design in the World’s Eye” and “The Illusionists,” a 2015 documentary on the spread of global beauty standards. This showing will include a discussion on “The Dark Side of Beauty” by College of Arts and Sciences faculty and visiting gender studies and media experts.

Another addition to this year’s lineup will be the first-ever podcast about a Themester topic. “A Thing of Beauty” will invite six members of the College’s faculty to discuss an aspect of material culture or a thing of beauty of their choosing and build a conversation around it during the podcast. Claire Repsholdt, a senior majoring in English and history, will be hosting the series.

“Far from being trivial or superficial — both attributes we sometimes assign to the aesthetic — beauty is a concept that has motivated great works of philosophy and a supposedly universal quality that has fueled terrible prejudice,” MacKay said.

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