Art History in Climate Change

June 26-27, 2020

Historians of art and visual culture, artists, and activists are warmly invited to submit proposals for papers and presentations at this summer conference, which is generously supported by the Association for Art History.

What are the stakes of art and art history in the climate crisis?

In recent years, climate change has become a central issue on the international political agenda, due to the activism of groups such as Extinction Rebellion and the worldwide campaigning of figures such as Greta Thunberg. Yet the disastrous effects of excessive fossil fuel emissions on the biosphere and human civilisation have long been understood by scientists, politicians and public figures alike, and environmental activism is hardly a new phenomenon. In this decisive moment for our planet, we need to think critically about who or what is allowed to represent the climate crisis. As Chika Unigwe has recently argued, the long-term efforts of climate activists of colour in the global south risk erasure in the western media’s current promotion of Thunberg.

This conference considers the role representation plays in our understanding of climate, and asks why some images of climate activism and environmental disaster might appear and become more alluring, effective and widespread than others. Conversely, this conference asks what the particular dialectical potentials of art might be in the effort to avert the more catastrophic levels of warming.

This conference will explore the entangled relations of art, representation and climate both across history and in our contemporary moment through several strands of inquiry, to include,

  • Artistic representations of discrete climate events, environmental disasters and changes to atmosphere, nature and landscape across the history of art, for example, volcanic eruptions, industrial accidents, the medieval ‘warm period’, and the early modern ‘little ice age’.
  • Rethinking how we might ‘read’ atmosphere and climate as implicated in works of art addressing historical processes such as colonialism and imperialism, and pre-colonial, transnational, global and neoliberal trade.
  • Contemporary artists addressing climate and environmental catastrophe across a range of global contexts.
  • The use of art and visual culture by contemporary climate activism in different contexts, and how these movements are represented in the local and international media.

We invite submissions for papers and presentations addressing any and all of these concerns. We expect that papers might also touch on some of the following issues: racial difference; the disproportionate impacts of climate change on poorer communities in the global south; sexuality, gender and sexual difference; the division of labour and the capitalist mode of production, including burdens on the working classes; group psychology, collective fantasy and politics; the interconnections of urban and rural environments; inequality of access to transportation and mobility; among many others.

A section of the conference will be given over to considering the methodological stakes of art history as an academic discipline in climate change, and workshopping ideas to make research and the exchange of knowledge ‘greener’. We also welcome any proposals that might address these questions.

Following the conference, a select number of speakers will be invited to revise their papers for publication.

Proposals should include a 250 word paper/presentation abstract, along with a 100 word speaker bio, and be sent to

Deadline : FRIDAY 28th FEBRUARY at 5PM (GMT)