Article By: Piper Hale
Published: Nov 21, 2011
Alvaro Luis Lima, from Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, earned a B.F.A. in art history from SCAD Savannah in 2011.
As someone who grew up in Brazil, attended high school in Norway and traveled all over the world throughout his life, Alvaro Luis Lima wanted to attend a college with international flair. He found just that at SCAD, but, as a new student, was still unsure of what field of design he wanted to pursue. "SCAD has so many majors," says Alvaro, "that I figured I could choose from these very different areas within art and design, and that way I could make up my mind later."
Despite his initial intention to go into a design field, he says he was riveted during his first class in art history
and knew at once that he'd found his major. "It's funny now," he says, "because my first art history class, Survey of Western Art I, covered very different content from what I am studying now, but I think it was the discipline as a whole that had an appeal."
Since he switched, Alvaro has been able to narrow his own topic of interest to contemporary African art. He usually approaches this topic using methodology borrowed from the fields of queer theory and feminist studies. Alvaro says this specific focus offers numerous opportunities for new research and unexplored topics. "Not many scholars have employed queer theory to discuss the arts of Africa," he says. "I think that what we write can have a small influence on the academic discourse of under-researched areas such as contemporary Mozambican art, of which little has been written when compared to fields like 19th-century France."
Alvaro spent a summer in South Africa, where he interned at Michael Stevenson gallery. Here, he was able to get first-hand exposure to the artwork he writes about and meet some of the most prominent artists in the field. He picked up the basics of a local language, Xhosa, which is known for its distinctive clicking consonants, and even found the time to conduct the primary research for his senior project "Queering Apartheid," a study of how South African artists have used their work to speak on gender politics using themes that draw on the racial segregation and violence characteristic of South African Apartheid.
Earlier this year, Alvaro presented his research at the Art Council of the African Studies Association Triennial, where he was the only undergraduate student to speak. "It's an important conference so I'm glad I had the opportunity to take part in it," he says, adding that he was happy with the feedback he got there.
He has also been able to share his work with top art historians while in school. "SCAD brings fantastic lecturers and guest speakers
," says Alvaro, "curators from the Met and MoMA and several exciting scholars. I had the opportunity to ask them for career advice and discuss my academic interests."
The most helpful factor influencing his perspective as an art historian, however, has been studying the subject in the context of an arts school. In fact, he says many of his peers in the program are artists themselves. "Art history majors from liberal arts schools have more difficulty in understanding how artists and designers work," Alvaro says. "At SCAD, being around artists and designers all the time gives art history majors a good perspective on how artists work, on artistic practice, and it gives you the larger picture of how the art community works as a whole."
Alvaro graduated Spring 2011, and recently began working toward his art history Ph.D. at Columbia University, where he will continue to research gender politics in contemporary African art. Even with this specificity within the field, Alvaro is still enthusiastically looking into options for an even more focused direction for his research. "Art history is a very diverse discipline," he says. "There are an infinite number of approaches to visual history: through advertisement, cinema, fashion, fine arts and many other cultural expressions. The fact that art history allows me to think about so many aspects of society is the reason why I would like to have a career in the field...It opens so much for me intellectually."