Image: JR, "Migrants, Mayra, Picnic across the border, Tecate, Mexico - U.S.A., 2017."


Founded in 2002, the Center for Visual Cultures at the University of Wisconsin-Madison supports curricular innovation and interdisciplinary collaboration from faculty and students in the emerging field of visual cultures. We sponsor a yearlong speaker series on topics of general and critical interest and invite members of the community and the university to meet speakers and participate in events and workshops. For students, we offer a Ph.D. Minor and a Graduate Certificate in Visual Cultures. Join us in exploring the multiple visual cultures around us and around the world.


Students need the skills in visual literacy and criticality that we teach, if they are to participate and succeed in the rapidly expanding field of Visual Cultures. What we mean by this is that, while the study of visual cultures is an interdisciplinary field in its own right, its rise as a field stems from the fact that we live in an image-dominated world. As a growing consequence, a demonstrated capacity to analyze and critically and creatively intervene in that visual world becomes increasingly an aspect of professional demand for students pursuing degrees in a wide range of traditional disciplines from Anthropology to History. Thus, there are two primary reasons to pursue the Ph.D. Minor and its associated Graduate Certificate that we take into consideration. First, training in visual literacy and criticality enhances qualifications, and thus job prospects, for students across disciplines. Second, students across a range of disciplines pursue research for their home degrees (i.e., theses, M.F.A. exhibitions, dissertations) that requires skill in visual analysis training for which is not provided by their primary host degree program. The rigorous course work for the Ph.D. Minor and the Graduate Certificate ensures that students who complete the program have a solid understanding of critical methods, field training, and theories in visual cultures. The strength of the program is demonstrated by the professional success of its graduates.


Over the years, the Center has been fortunate to host artists and scholars from around the world. Their visits have contributed significantly to the creative, academic atmosphere that we strive to foster on campus. The study of transdisciplinary and critical work with the visual is radically dispersed across not just departments within the College of Letters and Science but also across schools and colleges. From its inception and largely for this reason of atomized dispersal, the Center and its degree program have offered a way to create the kind of robust intellectual community necessary for advanced research and professional training (including re-training). The lectures, exhibitions, and workshops that we host enable all students with interests in Visual Cultures to tap into a ready-made academic structure with a community of scholars, artists, and activists. Currently, our faculty affiliates and an ever-expanding number of students are based in departments across colleges and schools, ranging from Afro-American Studies, English, Art, Communication Arts, History, Art History, Gender and Women Studies, and Languages (Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, German, French) to Design Studies, Geography, Genetics, Ethnomusicology, and Interdisciplinary Theatre Studies, among others.


This year-long theme confronts the complex relationships between the able-ist norms of visual cultures and abject, queer, disabled, erased, as well as traumatized bodies. Coinciding with the 30-year anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), we envision an interdisciplinary platform that can inform and dialogue with a variety of approaches from feminist, queer, crip, critical race, and disability theories, to performance, trauma, and memory studies that question how bodies are visualized, surveilled, imagined, exploited, or negated. Bodies bring forth the possibility of connecting worlds and networks often held apart and of understanding how neoliberal (racial and carceral) capitalism does not just regulate both ability and disability but also produces precarious and vulnerable bodies. With these terms, our lineup focuses on a wide variety of approaches to how art, objects, and bodies are both regulated by and resist against dominant systems of power.


We offer a Doctoral Minor and a Graduate Certificate for masters and professional students. Students enrolled in a terminal M.A. or M.F.A. program are eligible for a Graduate Certificate whereas Ph.D. students are eligible for a Doctoral Minor.

Doctoral Minor

Graduate Certificate

The Doctoral Minor and the Graduate Certificate in Visual Cultures are intended for students from across the University who desire training in the interdisciplinary study of visual cultures. The field of visual cultures analyzes the social construction of images as well as their impact in our social world. Visual Culture Studies differs from other related disciplines in two ways: first, its field of inquiry includes an expansive array of visual cultural artifacts and practices; and, second, its methodologies focus on the constitution of power relations through visual markers of race, gender, disability, and nationality. As the world continues to become increasingly understood through, and reliant on, the visual (the internet, films, television, scientific graphs, data visualization, video games, and advertisements), the need for people trained with the ability to critically interpret, create, and evaluate those mediums is essential.


Jessica Cooley, Ph.D. Candidate in Art History, has co-curated an exhibition for the Ford Foundation. The title of the exhibition is “Indisposable: Structures of Support After the Americans with Disabilities Act.” Congratulations, Jessica!   (Please click here to link to the Ford Foundation’s website with viewing information and details for related events).

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Art History / Afro-Am Studies 802

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Center for the Humanities: A Conversation with Achille Mbembe // Wednesday, May 5 @ 10:00 am CT