Sonya LeeAssociate Professor of Art History, East Asian Languages & Cultures, and Religion
Phone: (213) 821-2582
Office: VKC 351
Dr. Sonya Lee is Associate Professor of Chinese Art and Visual Cultures at the University of Southern California, where she holds a joint appointment in the Departments of Art History, East Asian Languages and Cultures, and Religion. A specialist in religious art and architecture of pre-modern China, Dr. Lee has published widely on the material culture of Chinese Buddhism. Her first book, Surviving Nirvana: Death of the Buddha in Chinese Visual Culture (Hong Kong University Press 2010), focuses on the nirvana image, one of the quintessential motifs in Buddhist art across Asia. She argues that representations of the Buddha’s “death,” while sharing the same iconographic configuration over the centuries, were made anew each time by a particular community of patrons and makers in medieval China in order to confront the fundamental anxiety of the Buddha’s absence.
Currently, Dr. Lee is working on two major projects. One is a book manuscript titled Cave Temples of Sichuan in Eco–Art History, in which she develops an earth-centered approach in art history that explores the interrelationship between art and the environment. China’s southwestern region offers a particularly fertile ground on which to carry out research in eco–art history, as the cave-building tradition in Sichuan and Chongqing was intricately tied to how local inhabitants made use of their natural resources over a millennium. She has been awarded a three-year grant from the Mellon Foundation to receive further training in conservation science to further her work on eco–art history. The other project concerns the collecting history of wall painting fragments from the ancient Central Asian kingdom of Kucha that are now dispersed in museum collections worldwide. This is part of a larger effort to develop new ways to understand the later development of cultural monuments and their contemporary relevance through the history of collecting, conservation science, application of digital technologies, and international collaboration. In January 2015, she organized a major international symposium at USC and Los Angeles County Musem of Art on Asian art collections, an event generously supported by a grant from the American Council of Learned Socieities and the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation.
Dr. Lee received her Ph.D. in art history from the University of Chicago. She is the recipient of prestigious fellowships and research grants from the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., A.W. Mellon Foundation, Getty Foundation, Japan Foundation, Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation, American Council of Learned Societies, and Asian Cultural Council.