Viral Images: Art and Contagion

Sophie Xiaofei Guo, The Courtauld Institute of Art, 

Andrew Cummings, The Courtauld Institute of Art,

The COVID-19 pandemic has witnessed a violent resurfacing of enduring associations between infectious disease, race, sex, and place. Most prominently, statements from public figures across the globe have fuelled Sinophobia and everyday violence against people of Asian descent, reinforcing the idea of a ‘China virus’ trafficked through particular bodies and locales. As Jih-Fei Cheng (2015) writes, the pathologisation of racialised and queer bodies, together with the scientific construction of viruses as ‘unassimilable, strange, and threatening’, is tethered to colonial regimes of race and sex. From the colonial period to the present, moreover, images have been key vectors in what Cheng calls ‘perceiving viral existence’, producing and proliferating the normative knowledge that underwrites viral logics and anxieties about contagion.

This session probes the connections between visual culture and contagion. What role have images played in histories of contagion as they relate to conceptualisations of race, gender, and sex, for example? How have images shaped hegemonic colonial and postcolonial understandings of the body and its relationship with disease? What alternative orientations to contagion and the body might art and visual culture bring into view? 

Information about the speakers and papers on this panel will be posted shortly. 



70 Cowcross Street
London EC1M 6EJ

+44(0)20 7490 3211