Psychology at the Tang: Inequality

A black-and-white photograph shows a crowd of people walking up the steps of a large classical-style building while a figure in a long modest black shift stands watching the crowd.
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Carrie Mae Weems (born Portland, Oregon, 1953)
When and Where I Enter the British Museum, 2006
digital print
Gift of Ann and Mel Schaffer Family Collection
Scientific inquiry and artistic expression are both powerful methods of exploring the human condition, and they can complement andcontradict one another. In the course “Psychology at the Tang: Inequality,” taught by Associate Professor of Psychology Corinne Moss-Racusin and part of Skidmore’s Bridge Experience program, students investigated the broad topic of inequality in the contemporary United States. We took an interdisciplinary approach, exploring the different ways in which artists and scientists pursue knowledge about inequality. We considered the ways in which artistic and scientific approaches can work in harmony to illuminate shared underlying themes, as well as the ways in which there may be interesting tensions between these two forms. To do so, we carefully analyzed both compelling psychological research from empirical articles and art in Tang collection. The course is designed to illuminate bridges between scientific and artistic perspectives on the same underlying topic, providing students with a sense of enthusiasm for interdisciplinarity and for finding overlap between the arts and the sciences.


This class challenges students to contend with the broad topic of contemporary domestic inequality through both artistic and psychological lenses. For the final project, students each selected one artwork from the Tang collection and wrote a label describing the work and its connections to psychological themes around inequality. In each label, students explore the history and context of their artwork and artist and discuss relevant psychological research on at least one type of inequality relevant to the work. Students were encouraged to take an intersectional approach to thinking about inequality, considering the ways in which multiple forms of marginalization can simultaneously contribute to oppression. In doing so, students’ work explores the complexities of contemporary domestic inequality and highlights the ways in which both scientific and artistic ways of knowing can help shed light on complex social problems.

Josh Dorman, A Closer Look, 2010, acrylic, ink, antique paper, and resin on panel, 20 ¾ x 33 in., Tang Teaching Museum collection, Gift of the artist and RYAN LEE Gallery, New York
Natalie Accurso ’26
Josh Dorman uses various mediums to create improvisational, collage-like work that is hyper-specific in detail, yet completely open-ended in interpretation. He uses antiquated images and maps to inquire about how historical ideas and structures have remained or have evolved in the ever-changing present. In this work specifically, Dorman playfully alters the typical scale and proportion of colorful images which he layers on top of maps. He uses paint and linework to create depth and the illusion of a landscape, which can trance an onlooker into his work. He highlights a smaller detail of the piece—perhaps resembling chutes and ladders—by spotlighting it and increasing the scale.
A book page of an anatomical diagram is layered in a collage that creates a woman’s head in profile with exaggerated features, made up of brown material, photographs, and fur.
Wangechi Mutu, Hare & Hound Press, Adult Female Sexual Organs [from Histology of the Different Classes of Uterine Tumors], 2006, fur, collage on digital print, 23 x 17 in., Tang Teaching Museum collection, Gift of Michael Jenkins and Javier Romero, 2016.27.6
Julia Davies ’26

Wangechi Mutu is a 50-year-old Kenyan artist. Though she was always passionate about art, she began her career in New York approximately 20 years ago and creates across a variety of mediums. Mutu’s art focuses on the idea of womanhood while playing off traditional gender roles.

In her collection of artworks, Histology of the Different Classes of Uterine Tumors, Wangechi Mutu focuses on womanhood, sexuality, race, and health status. With collages containing altered proportions of faces, ranging in age, race, and uterine anatomy, she questions the idea of beautiful women while simultaneously structuring their faces to promote discomfort. Mutu crosses the bound of intersectionality, showing us that a woman can identify in an infinite amount of ways. This can show all women, despite how they identify, have a place.

Against a blue background, a Black woman wearing a superhero costume and knee-high, heeled boots, sits on the crown of the Statue of Liberty as they both look into the distance.
Renee Cox, Chillin’ with Liberty [from Rajé], 1998, chromogenic print on paper, 22 5/8 x 17 5/8 x 1 1/8 in., Tang Teaching Museum collection, Gift of a private collection, 2019.15.3.7
Sarah DeSousa ’25

Chillin’ with Liberty was created by Jamaican American photographer Renee Cox in 1998. It is an installation in her self-portrait series which depicts her posing heroically as her superhero character Raje. Cox’s work is inspired by her want to empower Black women and her art focuses on the portrayal of powerful and iconic Black women.

The Statue of Liberty is a symbol for the United States’ values of being a land of equal opportunity for all. Yet women and people of color both remain marginalized identities within the United States. This is characterized by their lack of representation in elected governmental offices, history textbooks, entertainment, other high-level positions of power and works of fiction. This is demonstrated by the lack of superheroes who are women of color. While representation in this specific area has recently increased, there are still few prominent women of color superheroes for children to look up to, admire, and feel represented by. This lack of representation is a symptom of the remaining existence of intrinsic and systematic racism and sexism in the United States.

Merry Alpern, Dirty Windows #5, 1994, gelatin silver print, 27 ½ x 20 ½ in., Tang Teaching Museum collection, The Jack Shear Collection of Photography at the Tang Teaching Museum, 2015.1.281
Allison Faulds ’26

Dirty Windows #5 is a photograph from Merry Alpern’s 1984 series Dirty Windows. Alpern photographed candid revealing shots at a private lap dance club from her friend’s apartment window. Alpern focuses on the identity of these women as sex workers, her photographs solely examining the women’s body, as we see here. This series can be seen as an investigation into the interactions between men and women in a male-dominated world by photographing the lives of these women only as we can see them behind a bathroom window. We don’t know who these women are, nor do we know why they are in this profession.

Sex work has a long history and various manifestations, but the related vulnerability and risk, especially for poorer women and minorities, is well-documented. There is mounting evidence that decriminalization decreases harm, and it is the policy option preferred by sex worker organizations. Despite this, some organizations such as Demand Abolition advocate for “ending demand” and banning sex work entirely.

Haskell Coffin, Joan of Arc Saved France, 1918, lithograph on paper, 30 x 20 in., Tang Teaching Museum collection, Gift of Jack Shear, 2018.36.25
Harry Galloway-Kahn ’25
This poster of Joan of Arc raising her sword, encouraging women to buy “War Saving Stamps” by Haskell Coffin, an American illustrator in advertising and cover art, was commissioned by the United States Treasury Department in 1918. Joan of Arc was a French peasant girl who, inspired by divine visions, led the French army to several victories, also accused of heresy and witchcraft. The painting celebrates her courage, her strength, and her faith, and it remains a timeless symbol of inspiration for many people around the world. Using the popularity of Joan of Arc at the time, Coffin used her image to encourage women to buy war saving stamps, similar to how in her story Joan of Arc saved France. Joan Of Arc’s image underwent a beautification in 1909, and by the time of World War I most women were familiar with her story. The poster suggests that, similar to raising your sword, women who buy war stamps impact the war similar to how Joan of Arc fighting impacted the Hundred Years War.
Bill Owens, I like working at the shelter workshop. I can be productive and part of the community. I make money and pay my own way. On my days off I watch TV, ride my bike and write letters to my friends. Someday I’m thinking of getting married. [from Working: I Do It For The Money], gelatin silver print on paper, 8 x 10 in., Tang Teaching Museum collection, Gift of M. Robin Krasny, 2019.47.31
Analise Gordon ’26
Bill Owens, born in 1938, is an American photographer from San Jose, California. While spending time in the Peace Corps in Jamaica, Owens discovered a love for photography and an interest in capturing the daily lives of average middle-class Americans. In 1976, Owens published the series Working: I Do It For The Money. In this series, Owens took photographs of people at their jobs to capture the essence of the American working class and included a short quote as the title from the subjects about their work.
In a living room hangs a confederate flag that reads “I AIN’T COMING DOWN,” below which sits a Korean woman with dyed-blonde hair next to a white male holding a rifle.
Nikki S. Lee, The Ohio Project (7), 1999, fujiflex print on paper, 28 7/8 x 21 7/8 x 1 ½ inches, Tang Teaching Museum collection, Gift of Ann and Mel Schaffer Family Collection, 2019.61.3
Mia Mirzayan ’23
In the United States, oppression persists for a multitude of reasons; race, gender, class, sexuality, etc. Understanding others’ lived experiences is challenging, especially when one cannot relate due to differing identities. In order to discern how others experience discrimination, Nikki Lee began a series, called Projects, in which she inserted herself into different communities by modifying her physical appearance. Through these projects, Nikki Lee challenged societal norms and stereotypes through her approach of immersing herself in different identities to gain a unique perspective on various backgrounds. While these projects sparked controversy against Lee for cultural appropriation, her motives behind the projects were to dismantle stereotypes and fully immerse herself in identities apart from her own. Lee created The Ohio Project to highlight an immigrant’s aspiration to fit into White working-class subcultures and her desire to escape immigrant stereotypes. Lee attempts to blend into American culture by taking this photograph with a man in his trailer holding a rifle, sitting below a confederate flag.
Sitting on a couch, a little girl playfully sticks her tongue out while pointing her legs up and grabbing her her toes, revealing white tights and underwear underneath her dress.
Nan Goldin, Antonia, New York City 1985 [from The Ballad of Sexual Dependency], 1985, Cibachrome print, 11 x 14 in., Tang Teaching Museum collection, The Jack Shear Collection of Photography at the Tang Teaching Museum, 2018.39.1.89
Elle Oestreich ’25
The photograph Antonia, New York City, 1985, was taken by the photographer Nan Goldin and is featured in her collection The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, invokes a documentary style as she photographs friends, family, and herself during the opioid crisis some of which are nudes. Goldin seems to criticize what is acceptable to show in photos, confronting people with the body as a device for pleasure but also the capability in all of us to damage the body as a result of society. Goldin possibly criticized the way in which many of her friends and herself were taught that their bodies and lives were expendable. In contrast with that of Antonia who does not have a consciousness around her body that extends the purpose of play.
A black-and-white photograph of a ballet dancer in a tutu performing in front of an illustrated backdrop depicting a mountainous landscape.
George Platt Lynes, Maria Tallchief, [Maria Tallchief in “Swan Lake,” choreography by George Balanchine, costumes and sets by Cecil Beaton], 1950s or 1960s, gelatin silver print, 10 x 8 in., Tang Teaching Museum collection, Gift of Robert Tracy, Class of 1977, 1986.384
Maddy Rader ’25
This black-and-white portrait of Maria Tallchief in Balanchine’s Swan Lake is part of a series done by George Platt Lynes on the New York City Ballet from 1934 to 1955. Lynes specialized in dramatic portraits, and his expertise shows in the stylized image of Tallchief as the quintessential “white swan” of the piece. Tallchief performed in the debut of this Balanchine piece in 1951 and was also the first American prima ballerina. Amongst these firsts is her status of breaking racial barriers as the first well-known native woman to gain mainstream fame for dance.
A color print depicts a naked, dark-skinned woman using a staff to row the wooden raft she stands on, all while balancing a stack of household items on her head.
Alison Saar, Breach, 2017, woodcut on vintage linen seed sack, 255 ½ x 28 in., Tang Teaching Museum collection, Tang purchase, 2020.23
Edelmira Sanchez-Hidalgo ’25

Alison Saar is a biracial woman that lives in Los Angeles, California. She creates many sculptures, prints, and installations on the Black female identity and African culture. Her mother, Betye Saar, and her father, Richard Saar, motivated her to be a creator like them.

Breach by Alison Saar has been created as a giant sculpture but has also been printed in different ways. Her tall print shows how impactful her message is about Black struggles in America. The print is also made out of a linen seed sack which is how women would carry their belongings during slavery. Saar created this work to express women’s despair because of the Great Mississippi River flood of 1927. However, her artwork possibly speaks of gender roles and stereotypes. The stereotype is that women often do all of the cooking and cleaning while men are working. The stereotype shows that women have a role in society that is sexist. Breach reveals the battle that women have to face in their everyday lives regardless if there was a flood flushing away their homes.

Advertisement of two women in wedding dresses holding hands, surrounded by large kitchenware centered around the phrase “Is it worth being Boring for a Blender?” with artwork title text below.
Dyke Action Machine!, Gay Marriage: You Might As Well Be Straight, 1997, offset poster, 24 x 18 in., Tang Teaching Museum collection, Gift of Carrie Moyer, 2019.4.5
Hayley Satran ’25

Carrie Moyer and Sue Schaffner founded Dyke Action Machine (DAM) in the 1990s. DAM recreated commercial images using lesbians, to show society that lesbians are as normal as everyone else. DAM’s last project was in 2008.

In 1997, the LGBTQ+ community was still fighting for marriage equality. As a result, DAM created this piece of art titled: Gay Marriage: You Might As Well Be Straight. DAM’s artwork shows two women in wedding dresses, surrounded by utensils.

A black and white photograph of three Black women with afros protesting with pro-natural hair signs outside a wig store while a few people watch from nearby on the sidewalk.
Kwame Brathwaite, Untitled (Wigs Parisian protest), 1963, printed 2018, archival pigment print, 17 x 17 in., Tang Teaching Museum collection, Tang purchase, 2018.24.8
Beldine Wasonga ’26
Kwame Brathwaite was a prominent African-American photojournalist that documented life and culture in Harlem and Africa. He took photos with a Hasselblad medium-format camera to enhance the visual narrative of his images. His photography explored the intersections between music, fashion, activism, and art. Furthermore, he was a dedicated activist and community organizer. Together with his brother Brathwaite, he formed the African Jazz Art Society and Studios (AJASS) and Grandassa Models. These organizations celebrated dark-skinned beauty at a time when the media was imposing beauty standards on women that mirrored white standards of attractiveness.
In a living room hangs a confederate flag that reads “I AIN’T COMING DOWN,” below which sits a Korean woman with dyed-blonde hair next to a white male holding a rifle.
Nikki S. Lee, The Ohio Project (7), 1999, fujiflex print on paper, 28 7/8 x 21 7/8 x 1 ½ in., Tang Teaching Museum collection, Gift of Ann and Mel Schaffer Family Collection, 2019.61.3
Liam Waterson ’26
Nikki S. Lee, an Asian woman did a series of projects in which she inserted herself into a specific population by dressing fittingly to that group and photographing herself with individuals of that population. The series included The Seniors Project, The Hip Hop Project, The Lesbian Project, and The Ohio Project, one photograph from which is shown here. On the wall, there is a large Confederate flag which has been a symbol of racism for a long time in the United States. In the Civil War, it was the flag of the South that supported slavery. After the war, the flag became less widely used, but it resurfaced around the 1950s. At that time, people were claiming that the flag was their history or their heritage and that there was nothing inherently racist about it. These same people were using the flag as an excuse for racism especially toward African American people. Given this history, it is both inspiring and terrifying to see the lengths to which Nikki Lee goes to create her photos. By placing herself in this context with a white, confederate man, she challenges the viewer to reexamine racial and gender roles.
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