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Rather than merely recognizing oppression, research in the field of cultural studies calls for the extension of practices to empowerment. I plan to challenge higher education’s privileging of the written word through the language of clothing in order to bring femininity and the body from the academic margins where both art and fashion lie. My dissertation will be “written” in the form of a museum exhibition, consisting of several mixed-media installations. I am looking to produce a nontraditional multimodal dissertation that calls attention to these taken-for-granted traditions and to begin a conversation, rather than provide a final answer, that might renew the perspective on literacy practices in higher education. Barone and Eisner (2012) argue the need for educators to escape their academic silos to connect with a broader audience and that the “tentative artistic, and aesthetic explorations of problems” in arts based research bring to discussion “problems that may not see the light of day in traditional forms of research” (p. 61). I hope to reach a broader audience than the silos of academic institutions by encouraging a variety of individuals to not only attend the exhibition first hand but to take pictures or videos of the exhibit and to share them via social media and other publication platforms so that more people have access across the world, more quickly. I hope the exhibit will start a dialogue not only with academics but also, and more importantly, between a variety of individuals from the community because in a connected, globalized world, collaboration will be essential.

Writing today is common practice but it was not always that way. Historically, writing was only practiced by an elite few, establishing a culture privileging of the written word as the most authoritative way of communication. Christianity is at the roots of the United States of America’s foundations. The educational practices of this nation progressed from religious practices that originated in Western Europe. Unfortunately, these commonly accepted beliefs take for granted a deeply rooted history of marginalization within these practices. In this exhibition, I am particularly interested in how the historical relationship between Christianity and the privileging of the written word has perpetuated a received view about literacy; particularly how these traditional practices and beliefs marginalized individuals based on gender. A common theme articulated in Christianity is a link between women, the body, and sin. It is worth noting Christianity’s biblical narrative about creation: Eve, the first woman created, is the reason for the death of all humankind; an action that not only links Eve to the awareness of the body but also an action that links Eve to the evilness of nature (the snake, the apple). Eve, because she is a woman, is perceived as weaker than Adam, because he is a man, and is therefore more susceptible to sin. In one version of the creation story, Eve is made from a part of Adam’s body; she is viewed as second to that of man. Christianity’s culturally perceived weakness, or perhaps even wickedness, of women has been articulated from an early time period and has been rearticulated during various historical events. I looked to encompass elements of those historical themes in the design of this collection as a means of empowerment, to pushback against these received views. The exhibition particuarly draws from elements associated with the bubonic plague, the invention of the printing press, and the Salem witch trials.

References

Barone, T., & Eisner, E. W. (2012). Arts based research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Coiro, J., Knobel, M., Lankshear, C., & Leu, D. J. (Eds.). (2008). Central Issues in new literacies and new literacies research. In Handbook of research on New Literacies (pp. 1-21). New York, NY: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

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