PEM Dialogues with Sarah Lewis


Tuesday, March 23, 2021, 5:00pm


Virtual via registration

Tuesday, March 23, 2021 at 5 pm

Register here

"Join us for PEM Dialogues with Sarah Lewis on Tuesday, March 23, at 5 pm (EST). Sarah Lewis, Associate Professor at Harvard University, will present an exciting program on her research, Groundwork: Race and Aesthetics in the Era of Stand Your Ground Law, with an introduction by Karen Kramer, Curator of Native American and Oceanic Art and Culture and the Director of the Native American Fellowship Program. Following Sarah’s program, Siddhartha V. Shah, Director of Education and Civic Engagement and Curator of South Asian Art, will engage with Sarah in a lively Q&A.

Sarah Lewis burst onto the scene with a TED Talk that received over 2.5 million views and her bestselling book, The Rise, about failure and creativity. A powerful speaker, curator and art critic, she has written extensively on race, contemporary art and culture.

How are artists responding to the hypervisuality of racial injustices on American ground? A number of artists including Mark Bradford, Theaster Gates, Amy Sherald, Xaviera Simmons, Hank Willis Thomas, and Kehinde Wiley, and new landmarks such as the Equal Justice Initiative’s National Memorial to Peace and Justice, have initiated a set of what Sarah has termed "groundwork" aesthetics in the Stand Your Ground Era. By groundwork, she refers to a set of aesthetic strategies through which the literal and figurative meaning of ground is destabilized productively to establish new conditions in the era of Stand Your Ground law. These laws define the right to self-defense, to claim the "ground" on which one stands if there is a perception of "reasonable threat." The law disproportionately affects Black and Brown lives today.

These artists ask: What does it mean to not be able to stand your ground? Is there methodological room in the discipline of art history to consider what we make of these artistic practices focused on bodies denied this upright position of self-sovereignty and agency? Beyond providing a new framework of analysis via groundwork, engaging with the meaning of the term "ground" as both reason, fact, but also soil itself to address the injustices wrought at our feet, this talk, based on a manuscript project and Art Journalarticle (Winter, 2020), lays out future steps for the discipline of art history and related fields to engage more decisively with the sociopolitical life that informs artistic production in the context of racial contestation.

PEM Dialogues is an ongoing program that features inspiring conversations with special guests from the arts community.


You will receive a confirmation email with instructions on how to participate. If you have technical questions, please contact Lauren Fairweather at"