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Mei Mei Rado: Imagining Western Dress at the Eighteenth-Century Qing Court

Date and Time: 
Wednesday, February 2, 2022. 05:00 PM
Meeting Location: 
Zoom
Workshop: 
Reframing Fashion Studies: Performance, Gender, and the Body
Meeting Description: 

In the dynamic wave of cross-cultural exchanges during the eighteenth century, the court arts in China’s Qing dynasty engaged with a spectrum of European motifs, styles, and techniques, which bore the homogenous descriptive term “Western” (xiyang, literally meaning “Western ocean”) and were essential in constructing the Qing empire’s multicultural, cosmopolitan identity. This talk, drawing from my work in progress, examines one intriguing aspect—the imagination and representations of Western dress—in imperial portraitures, genre paintings, tapestries, and other types of decorative objects. The sitters’ attire in European state portraits were transformed into fancy costume in informal likeness of the emperor and his consorts, while traditional Chinese categories of tribute pictures and pleasure images were expanded to include European figures, primarily defined by their exotic dress. Synthesizing various sources, these fluid visual languages of otherness encapsulated the early modern global flows of images and objects and offered fresh forms to reframe Qing imperial narratives and desires.

Dr. Mei Mei Rado is Associate Curator of Costume and Textiles at Los Angeles County Museum of Art. She received her MA from University of Chicago and PhD from Bard Graduate Center. She specializes in textiles and dress of both China and France from the eighteenth to the early twentieth century, with a focus on transcultural exchanges. Prior to joining LACMA, she has held research and curatorial positions at the Institut national d’histoire de l’art (Paris), the Textile and Costume Division at the Palace Museum (Beijing), as well as the Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts and the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Dr. Rado has published widely in academic journals and edited volumes. Her research has been supported by the American Council of Learned Society and the Society of Antiquaries of London, among other organizations. Her forthcoming book is titled The Empire’s New Cloth: Western Textiles at the Eighteenth Century Qing Court.

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