Faculty News

“Reclaiming the Black Body in European Art” examines representations of Black bodies in European visual and literary culture.

Dr. Aaron Slodounik, an adjunct assistant professor at Macaulay Honors College who specializes in European art, was recently awarded a Teaching Prize for his seminar.

Offered virtually to Macaulay students in the Fall of 2021, the course, “Reclaiming the Black Body in European Art,” examined representations of Black bodies in European visual/literary culture, with a focus on the long eighteenth century. Topics discussed over the duration of the course ranged from black bodies being utilized as luxury objects during this time period, to the the pressing tensions of slavery and its abolition. The teaching prize, bestowed to Dr. Slodounik, was presented by the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, who highlighted the course’s exemplary range of teaching that placed a heavy emphasis on student reflection.

“One of the aspects I really wanted to incorporate into this course was Macaulay’s focus on student-centered pedagogy,” said Dr. Slodounik. “My intention for students taking this class was not to have them present the course material in the form of a powerpoint or a research essay. Rather, these students acted as their own moderators, facilitating a genuine conversation about the readings and contributing their own unique perspectives. This allowed the conversation to be a dialogue between students, not one directed at the instructor.”

As an integral part of the course’s curriculum, students were asked to complete a weekly journal entry to promote a creative atmosphere in which students could express their ideas without limitation.

“I responded to the weekly journals by focusing on what spoke to me the most,” said Katrynna Jackowicz ’23 (Baruch). “These responses usually became deep reflections, as I continued to make connections between what we had learned in class and modern day issues. In such an interactive environment, it was difficult not to have a deep reflection when recurring themes of oppression, misrepresentation, and identity were central to the course material.”

The extended learning activities did not stop there. Students were also encouraged to participate in class trips to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, further applying their knowledge beyond a simple classroom environment.

“Woman from the French Colonies” by Charles-Henri-Joseph Cordier at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“These museum excursions were so vital in solidifying what we have learned in class, and we were free to explore the artistic exhibits on our own,” said student Valerie Belkin ’22 (Baruch). “Even though I have been to the Metropolitan Museum of Art plenty of times before, I never looked at the art pieces as I did initially once I knew the true history behind them. Specifically, it was emotionally moving witnessing the bust of the Woman from the French Colonies—almost as if I had become acquainted with her through this class.”

While the majority of “Reclaiming the Black Body in European Art” was conducted over a virtual classroom platform, due to restrictions imposed by the Coronavirus pandemic, this factor did not inhibit the growth curve or overall experience students received taking this course. In fact, 100% of students who participated in the course learned “more than usual” or an “exceptional amount” of Black Bodies in European Art, as detailed by a Macaulay Fall 2021 Course Feedback Report.

“I remember this class being the first one that I visited during my time here at Macaulay and I was truly astounded,” said Dr. Vanessa K. Valdés, Interim Dean of Macaulay. “In conjunction with the already impressive selection of texts and paintings under consideration, I was even more impressed by our students’ breadth of knowledge. It was truly a spectacular sight to witness them bridging together techniques from courses they had either taken previously, or were taking concurrently, and directly applying it.”

“The primary foundation of this class was based on collaborative projects and group based discussions. I did this to build a sense of community and reduce the isolation of online learning during COVID-19,” added Dr. Slodounik.

Cristina Genao ‘22 (Hunter) summarizes her experience of the course, providing her insight.  “The artistic pieces that we were able to view in this class gave me a better understanding of European artistry as a whole, but also provided me with a sense of belonging. I feel as if I am capable of going out into the world and form intricate connections, crafting an opinion about how art of any kind can relate to me.”

By Rishab Gera ’25 (Brooklyn College)