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Posture Portraits

October 14 - 16, 2021

The posture portraits project is an interdisciplinary project which examines how bodies have historically been created/made through scientific interventions and surveillance, while simultaneously engaging with the concept of inclusivity of all bodies including those traditionally seen as “Other”. To do so we trace the development of healthism - the reinforcement of certain norms that construct the “healthy” as moral and pure and the “unhealthy” as foreign and polluted - in the modern American university which dates back to the early 17th century, and its relationship to the U.S. eugenics movement in the late 19th to 20th century. We explore how these ideologies were mobilized in the service of creating new disciplining and surveillance technologies in higher education by examining the case of what are known as “the posture portraits.” These portraits, taken at colleges and universities across the nation during the 1920s-1960s, were used as a measurement of ability and of good posture, which at that time, was linked to intelligence, beauty, and what it meant to be “normal”.

Through selected case studies of colleges that engaged in posture photography and with the use of archival and interview data from women who had posture portraits taken in the 1950s and 60s, this project looks at how the posture portrait project was undertaken, the responses to the practice, and how we can use technology and the arts to critique this and other discriminatory historical practices with the goal of mining linkages, current resonances, and work toward a more just society. 

Our October 14th - 16th performance and installation in the Cube at Virginia Tech will explore how through the guise of normality, defined as the effect of “meaning-making through which social behaviors are interpreted [and] held in common” or shared, oppressed groups were impacted by the posture portraits practice and its influence on a modern understanding of gender, race, ability, and size.  For this installation and performance we create an immersive experience which includes photo taking, narrative, performance, projection, and distortion.  The installation critiques the “scientific” rationale of the posture portraits, decentering science through the spontaneity of performance art and use of technology.  The performance is curated in an attempt to foster cultural memories particularly when there is/ has been an active attempt to erase certain parts of our history that are seen as incompatible with who we think we are as a community.  

The goal of this interdisciplinary, cross institutional performance/installation are, to invoke in our audience a sense of bodily empathy, self- contextualization and reflexivity. By creating a space where the audience becomes participants, we disrupt the objectification of the scientific gaze. We use the arts and technology here to emphasize the socially constructed nature of the body, and to start and sustain a conversation that can have societal impacts particularly around body shaming and belonging. As such we seek to disrupt body shaming rituals and transform self-concept through a ritual of choice, freedom, bodily autonomy -- a participatory and emancipatory, anti-authoritarian process of self as art, as a self-determined and fully embodied living being with a voice. Engaging in a healing/therapeutic psychodrama through digital data-gathering and conscious participation in the creation of fully selves vs. Othered embodiment. We are interested in critiquing the “scientific” rationale behind evaluating the racialized, gendered body against the construction of a misogynistic/racist/misogynoir “norm” and in amplifying the arts by demonstrating how the art/performance liberate empirical data away from a place of oppressive scrutiny of Othered bodies and the resulting designation of their human worth in a society.

The questions we hope to provoke through this performance and installation are:  How can we use the arts and technology to help recover, retell and amplify our histories? Can art emerge from data and from history, from a process of de-literalizing? How can the gender, racial, and ableist abstraction through art, lead to a better understanding of being? How does this retelling help us to learn from the mistakes of the past by amplifying the experiences of those who were marginalized and oppressed? How can we not only share these stories through our work but how can we make connections to present-day marginalization and create an environment of empathy and compassion whereby we hope that audiences are moved to become part of a solution to inspire others and themselves to work toward justice?

Learn more


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The-Posture-Portraits-Journal.pdf

The Team


Dr. Andrea Baldwin

Role: Researcher (decolonial and black feminist studies)

Andrea Baldwin is an assistant professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and Africana studies at Virginia Tech.  Her scholarship centers the experiences of Black women globally with a specific focus on Black feminist decoloniality, care, and Anglophone Caribbean women’s migration. Dr. Baldwin is the author of A Decolonial Black Feminist Theory of Reading and Shade: Feeling the University, and the co-editor of Standpoints: Black Feminist Knowledges.

She has also published several journal articles including in the Journal of International Women Studies, Frontiers, International Journal of Africana Studies, Wagadu, and the Body Studies Journal, and has written and narrated a short documentary film entitled Self Care: A Radical Act which was screened at the Berlin Feminist Film Festival in March 2018.  

Dr. Baldwin is the recipient of several awards including; the 2018 John S. King Excellence in Teaching Award, the 2020 Certificate of teaching excellent, the 2020 Lisa Tabor Award for Community Service, the 2021 diversity award, and the 2021 E. Gordon Ericksen Award for Outstanding Graduate Faculty in the Department of Sociology. 

Dr. Baldwin is currently working on two co-edited anthologies on Black feminists decolonial pedagogy, and Global Black Feminisms and care.

For more information, please contact Andrea Baldwin at andreanb@vt.edu.

Jenaya Amore

Role: Performer

Jenaya Amore is currently working on her master’s degree in Sociology at Virginia Tech. Her research interest focuses on Black mother and daughter relationships in the African diaspora. Her additional research interests include African spirituality, Black Transnational Feminisms and wake work. Born and raised in Boston, MA, she received her B.A. in Africana Studies with a focus on Afro diasporic dance at Connecticut College. During her time in her alma mater, she performed and choreographed pieces that addressed marginalized experiences. She uses her performance work to challenge the perceptions and stereotypes that mark Black womxn’s bodies.

Clara Rose Banks

Role: Research and Production Assistant 

Clara Rose “Rosie” Banks is a junior at Virginia Tech, majoring in Environmental Science. Outside of her academics she’s an avid hiker and loves exploring new paths in Blacksburg and the surrounding area. Rosie has also been involved in politics as the President of the Young Democrats of Loudoun and has appeared on the cover of the New York Times, advocating for stricter gun control. She also combines her passion for the environment with her dedication to her photography and her photography website. The intersectionality between research and technology is what initially drew her to the Posture Portraits project, where she works as a research assistant.

Sophia Barthlow

Role: Performer

Hi, my name is Sophia Barthlow and I’m an incoming freshman at Virginia tech! I am majoring in human nutrition, food, and exercise and will likely be minoring in horticultural science. I’ve been doing theatre since middle school but didn’t become a member of a cast until my first play the lion, the witch, and the wardrobe (freshman year of high school). Since then, I’ve been a part of 7 different productions as an ensemble member, supporting cast, lead, or crew member. I love theatre and I’m so glad I can continue to participate in new productions even in college!

For some more about me my biggest interests currently are; theatre (obviously), weight lifting, jujitsu, reading, baking, painting, and journaling! I love trying new things and learning from new experiences so I may also join the creative writing club at tech. I often have a very busy schedule, but I like it that way since the more occupied I am, the more I feel I’m getting out of life. 

Trichia Cadette

Role: Producer

Trichia Cadette is an arts administrator who is an experienced Choreographer, creative writer and a visual and performing artist. A native of the Caribbean nation of St Lucia, she has a BA in theatre arts from Grambling State University and a Master of Fine Arts from Virginia Tech.

Heidi Henderson

Role: Choreographer

Heidi Henderson, choreographer for elephant JANE dance, based in RI, is a five time recipient of the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts Choreography Fellowship. EJD has performed at the South Bank Centre in London, NYC, all over New England, Jacob's Pillow Inside/Out Festival and The International Festival of Dance in Taegu, Korea. Heidi danced in the companies of Bebe Miller, Nina Wiener, Peter Schmitz, and Paula Josa-Jones and in works by Colleen Thomas, Sondra Loring and others. EJD is currently touring untitled sad piece, an evening length work for five dancers, set to the music of the 1970’s pop duo The Carpenters.

Heidi is Professor and Chair of Dance at Connecticut College. Her latest academic excitement is designing a new First Year Seminar called Quilting: Craft, Poverty, Protest, Reuse. Students will sew while they research the AIDs quilt, the quilts of Gee’s Bend Alabama, sustainability in clothing manufacturing, and artists that use quilting as their means of expression.

If you are interested in ideas about Heidi’s process, please ask. Or consider this link to an interview of Heidi by Sara Smith.

Sangyoon Lee

Role: Researcher & Media Artist

Associate Professor of Computer Science, Connecticut College

Sangyoon Lee is a computer scientist and media artist interested in computer graphics, visualization, games, physical computing, and virtual reality. His recent research focuses on virtual humans to design and develop a lifelike computer interface by digitizing a real person’s figure as well as his or her nature, including personality and mannerism. Lee received his BS and MS degree in Architecture from Yonsei University, Seoul, Korea, MFA from the School of Art and Design at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), and a Ph.D. degree in Electronic Visualization Laboratory, Computer Science at UIC.

For more information, please contact Lee via james.lee@conncoll.edu or visit his website at https://sjameslee.com

Aline De Souza

Role: Performer

Master in Fine Arts in Virginia Tech, Creative Technologies, May 2020
I'm an artist-scholar combining arts and social sciences. In my artistic practice I combine music and visual arts, leveraged by technology. In my teaching and research, I look for new ways to make and study audiovisual art, while also focusing on the approach of critical social theory to understand the world that we live in.
I’m currently teaching art and art theory while in the ASPECT PhD program.

Role: Performer

Leslie Robertson Toney is a doctoral student in Sociology with a concentration in Women's and Gender Studies, at Virginia Tech. Her current work focuses on the lived experiences of young women and girls in the Caribbean, understanding sexual agency, the impact of migration and issues of health inequality. In her scholarship she utilizes Black, transnational and decolonial feminist frameworks, and she has a background in mental health.

Leslie has spent over a decade as a photographer documenting Black culture, festivals and rituals, most notably Trinidad & Tobago carnival and African spiritual traditions. Her work has been published and exhibited, most recently at Perspectives Art Gallery. She considers her photographic style to be journalistic or editorial portraiture.

Role: Collaborator 

Ami Trowell is an improviser, actress, director, playwright, teacher and student. She has been performing with Roanoke’s professional improvisation troupe, Big Lick Conspiracy, for over a decade and directing for the last six years. She has produced and performed in several comedy podcasts including: Smells Like Humans, What Just Happened?, All Purpose Cleaner, Purposefully Derpy, and BP & Ami. She is also the co-star of the award winning improvised show, Mother and Son Skype Shesh. Ami received her BA in theatre from the College of Charleston and a MALS degree from Hollins University. Ami teaches improvisation and is a graduate student in Hollins MFA playwriting program. She is the Founder and Creative Director of Theatre3 and the Founder of Ursula’s Cafe (a pay what you can cafe and community arts venue in Roanoke VA). Most importantly, she is the proud mother of three smart, funny and amazing children. 

Susie Young

Role: Performer

Susie Young (she/her) is a theatre maker, choreographer, and teacher, currently in her second year at Virginia Tech Directing and Public Dialogue graduate program. She ran the dance company at The University of Lynchburg for four years while choreographing and directing several shows at Hollins University. She has made theatre and dance all across the country and is thrilled to be putting down roots in the Roanoke community. Currently, she is working on devising and somatic practices rooted in community culture and engagement. 

Yezi Yang

Role: Performer

Yezi (she/her) is a 4th year PhD student at the VT Biogeochemistry Lab. She has a cat named Hulu (he/him). Aside from the streaming service, Hulu happens to mean purring in Mandarin, crazy in Finnish and peach in Persian, and that's pretty much his character.

Role: Research Assistant

Bazeed Shahzad is currently a sophomore at Connecticut College (class of 2024). He is a double major in Studio Art and Computer Science. His areas of interest include concept art, animation, 3D modelling and game development.

Role: Research Assistant

Tyler Silbey is a senior at Connecticut College, double-majoring in Computer Science and Film Studies. He is passionate about telling stories through film, video games, and digital art. Having created several short films and games as a student, Tyler hopes to continue crafting engaging, innovative, and fun experiences for people to enjoy. He is interested in virtual reality technology and enjoys creating videos and finding new ways to tell stories. Extracurricularly, Tyler is a member of the TEDx Connecticut College club and a performer in N2O, the college’s short-form improv comedy group.

Leah Ramnath

Leah Ramnath is a PhD student of the Alliance of Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Thought (ASPECT) program at Virginia Tech. She completed her master’s studies at Humboldt State University in 2019 with her thesis entitled, An Intersectional Perspective on Diversity in Environmental Regulatory Agencies: A Case Study of Women of Color and Their Liminal Position of Identity in South Florida. Leah is a Trinidadian-American, from Miramar, Florida and has a general interest in critical theory. Her research focus centers around queer/Black/feminist theoretical applications in everyday life. For fun, Leah likes to bake bread.