Areas of Concentration: African American art, the formation of "outsider" and self-taught art, institutional and museum history, and visual culture
Faculty Advisor: Jenni Sorkin
Committee Members: E. Bruce Robertson, Bridget Cooks (African American Studies, UC Irvine)
Dissertation: "Unaccountable Modernisms: The Black Arts of Post-Civil Rights Alabama"
M.A. Thesis: "How to Produce a Fantasy World: Henry Darger and American Hobby Culture," completed 2012
Aleesa Alexander is a Ph.D. Candidate and currently a Jane and Morgan Whitney Fellow at the Metropolitan Museum of Art finishing her dissertation, "Unaccountable Modernisms: The Black Arts of Post-Civil Rights Alabama." Her study focuses on four artists associated with the Birmingham area: Thornton Dial, Lonnie Holley, Joe Minter, and Ronald Lockett. It is the first critical book-length study to reconsider the artistic production of self-taught African American artists in Alabama as thoroughly modern and contemporary, rather than as an isolated and marginal visual phenomenon that belongs within the frameworks of “outsider art.”
Aleesa has received a Graduate Research Grant from the Center for Craft, Creativity, and Design (2016), a CASVA Predoctoral Fellowship for Historians of American Art to Travel Abroad (2014), and has contributed to a number of exhibition catalogs and museum projects including History Refused to Die: Highlights from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation Gift (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2018), Outliers and American Vanguard Art (National Gallery of Art, 2018), Odyssey: Jack Whitten Sculpture, 1963-2016 (Baltimore Museum of Art 2018), and Henry Darger: 1892-1972 (Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, 2015). She was invited by the Harvard Art Museums to conduct research on a collection of self-taught American art, and presented her findings in the lecture "Those Who Remained: Southern Black Art from the Barrett Collection" (February 2018).
Prior to graduate school, Aleesa worked as a curatorial intern in the Prints and Drawings department at the Art Institute of Chicago. She graduated from Willamette University with a B.A. degree in Art History in 2010.