Mei Mei Rado (PhD 2018) is an art historian specializing in textiles and dress. She holds an MA from the University of Chicago and a BA from Nanjing University. Previously she was a postdoctoral fellow at the Freer/Sackler Galleries, Smithsonian Institution; a pre-doctoral fellow in the Department of European Sculptures and Decorative Arts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; and a residency research fellow in the Division of Textiles at the Palace Museum, Beijing. Dr. Rado has contributed curatorial work to a number of major fashion and textile exhibitions, including China: Through the Looking Glass (Met, 2015) and Interwoven Globe: Worldwide Textile Trade, 1500-1800 (Met, 2013). In addition, she curated the fashion exhibition Shanghai Glamour: New Women, 1910s-40s at Museum of Chinese in America in 2013. Among the grants and awards she has received are the Natalie Rothstein Award for Excellent Research (The Textile Society, UK, 2013) and Student and Young Professional Award (The Textile Society of America, 2014). She has published articles on a wide range of topics, most recently “The Lady’s Fan: Fashion Accessories and Modern Femininity in Republican China” (in Fashion, Identity, and Power in Modern Asia, Palgrave Macmillan, 2018) and “Qing Court’s Encounters with European Tapestries: the Tenture chinoise and Beyond” (in Arachné: un regard critique sur l’histoire de la tapisserie, Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2017).

What attracted you to Bard Graduate Center’s program?
I had always wished to study textiles and fashion within the art history discipline, but this is a subject not taught anywhere in the regular art history doctoral programs in the United States. BGC is an exception. I also did not like the traditional cultural divisions in most art history programs, where students have to chose between the rather arbitrary categories of ‘Western” art or “non-Western” art, confining themselves within a specific geographical/cultural niche. BGC is a unique place where the coursework and administrative procedure are not designed to impose such divisions. I was interested in both European (primarily French) and East Asian (primarily Chinese) textiles, dress, and decorative arts in the early modern period. BGC had everything that suited my interests: substantial courses on European fashion and textiles, a broad scope of courses on Chinese and European decorative arts, a strong emphasis on object-based studies and close collaborations with museums, and an academic environment in favor of transcultural and multi-disciplinary research.

What was your focus of study here, how did you find yourself involved with it?
I am most passionate about the eighteenth century, and this was my focus here. I took almost all the courses that Michele Majer taught, including “History of European Textiles” and “Mode and Manners in the Eighteenth Century. I learned from Michele a solid object-based knowledge of textiles and garments, and I was greatly inspired by her sensitivity to literature and visual materials. These courses formed the foundation of my scholarship. I also took various courses on Chinese and European decorative arts with François Louis and Jeffrey Collins. The highlights of my study here were two courses that helped shape my dissertation: “Western Luxuries and Chinese Taste” (François Louis) and “Interwoven Globe” (Jeffrey Collins co-taught with Metropolitan Museum of Art curators Melinda Watt and Amelia Peck).

You have been awarded the prestigious Luce/ACLS postdoctoral fellowship. What are your plans for this award?
From this summer onward, I plan to devote full-time to writing my book, The Empire’s New Cloth: Western Textiles at the Eighteenth-Century Qing Court, which is based on my dissertation. This book will be the first to examine the forgotten history of European textiles at the Qing court and Qing imperial products after European models. Focusing on luxury silk brocades and woolen tapestries, I will show how their fresh visual styles, materiality, and embedded spatial concept inspired new modes of political display for the Qing emperor. The book will add nuances to the reciprocity and dynamism in eighteenth-century global exchanges.

What ultimately is your professional goal?
My professional goal is two-fold. First, I wish to work as a textile and fashion curator in a position that can really suit my global vision and allow me to bridge my knowledge of both East and West. Second, through my writing, exhibitions, and teaching, it is my long-term goal to promote studies of textiles and dress in the art history discipline, drawing them in dialogues with other types of art and refining research methodologies.

As part of my effort to advance art historical research and teaching of textiles, this June, I will co-teach a weeklong Chinese Object Study Workshop at the Met’s Ratti Center with curator Pengliang Lu (also a BGC PhD candidate) and Professor Yuhang Li. Sponsored by the Mellon Foundation and intended for art history graduate students, this intensive course will train students in the visual and technical literacy of textiles and examine the multivalent roles of textiles in Chinese culture ranging from artistic mediums, symbolic objects, to agents of social changes.