Photo of Emily Brink

Emily Brink

Assistant Professor

  • The University of Western Australia (M433), 35 Stirling Highway,

    6009 Perth


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Personal profile


Emily Eastgate Brink received her PhD from Stanford University and is currently an Assistant Professor in the History of Art at UWA.  Prior to joining the School of Design at UWA, Emily worked as a Visiting Fellow with the Center for Japanese Studies at the University of Michigan, a Mellon Fellow with the Stanford Humanities Center, and as Georges Lurcy Fellow with the Centre de Recherche sur les Civilisations de l’Asie Orientale in Paris.  In addition to her teaching and research in the History of Art, Emily has worked as an English instructor and potter’s apprentice in rural Japan, an experience that continues to inform her interest in material meaning, community, and craft.

Roles and responsibilities


• Academic Misconduct Advisor, UWA (2020-

• Coordinator, History of Art Honours Program, UWA (2018-2019)

• Co-Founder, Eco-matters Research Group, UWA (2018-



• European and Asian exchange in the Modern Era (specifically France and Japan)

• Material Histories

• Histories of Photography

• Theories of Portraiture

• Visual Taxonomies

• Theories of Monstosity and Visual Aberration

• Visualisation of Science in the Late 19th Century



Broadly conceived, my research addresses systems of knowledge and their visual expression in the nineteenth century.  My work examines how the foreign comes to be known in the modern era, particularly through visual and material exchange. Engaging photography, painting, ceramics, and print, my research explores the European engagement with alterity in the later nineteenth century, with an emphasis on Asian ‘otherness,’ monstrosity, and, more recently, the invisible threat of disease. This work has broad applications to the visual study of science, the history of material economies, and the construction of identity in the modern period.  


Current projects

• Visualising the Invisible in the work of Louis Pasteur:

This project examines the connection between visual representation and disease in the modern era. A decisive moment in the colonial project, the mid-nineteenth century witnessed an unprecedented degree of both cultural and biological exchange. The increased globalisation of disease in the mid-nineteenth century coincides with foundational changes in the nature of vision, notably the representational accuracy and reproducibility of microscopy, photography, and new forms of printmaking. However, scholarship has consistently glossed the role of visual representation in the construction of microbial knowledge. This project seeks to fill this gap in research and understanding. By looking to the pathogenic experiments of Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) as an influential test case, this study will examine how scientists deployed new forms of visual media in order to study and communicate the complexities of disease in a globalised age.


• The French Fragment:1789-1914

In 1979, Henri Zerner and Charles Rosen launched their influential analysis of Romantic aesthetics with a description of the Romantic fragment as “both metaphor and metonymy.” In France, post-­‐Revolutionary artists gravitated towards visions of ruins, butchered bodies, papery sketches, and other manifestations of human transience. Evolving out of this love of pieces, fragments took on a variety of forms throughout the nineteenth century. Romantic artists responded to the spectacle of  “bric-­‐a-­‐brac” salvaged from aristocratic interiors, medieval sculptures loosed from cult settings, and collections of ethnographic curiosities comprised of objects from ‘elsewhere.’ Eventually, as artists turned to the spectacle of modern life, the fragment as an object, figure, or ‘other,’ ceded to forms of fragmentary vision. The late nineteenth-­‐century artistic proclivity for cropped bodies, blurred outlines, and decorative vignettes trafficked in fragments, amplifying what Michael Fried has identified as the modern tension between the morceau and tableau. Nearly forty years after Zerner and Rosen’s publication, this project seeks to reassess and reinvigorate approaches to the fragment in French art of the long nineteenth century.


• Ideologies of Ornament: Culture and Politics by Design

Transnational movement and the production of local hybridity have come to define ornament and decorative design since the modern period.  However, the systematization of motif, ornament, and decoration in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century also reveals a concurrent interest in design as a tool for the nation-state.  This project explores the modes of ideological transmission that were effected by re-readings, re-translations, and re-compilations of motif and ornament in the modern period. Despite its association with surface, and hence the superficial, modern ornament emerged as a potent signifier of cultural authenticity and a wellspring of national expression at the turn of the twentieth century.  In the production and theorization of ornament in both Asia and Europe, Japan emerges as a consistent measure of this new modern design.  How did proponents and researchers of modern design engage cosmopolitan ideas of ornament in order to reify their own cultural identity? How did these designs become part of emergent ideological systems? How did the adoption, selection, and juxtaposition of motif and ornament engage notions of cultural authenticity, heritage, and global exchange in the modern period?  This project engages these questions through collaborative work with colleagues in Asia and the United States and addresses these concerns through case studies ranging from China to Western Europe.  


Teaching philosophy

In an age of infinite sensory distraction, my units challenge students to stop and take a closer look.  I call this practice of intentional, uninterrupted looking: “the art of sustained attention;” it is a skill that remains crucial to the discipline of art history and a tool that can help students be more thoughtful, critical observers of their own world

In order to help students cultivate this skill, I use a variety of different methods that model and encourage the practice of slow, critical looking within the classroom.  Though I integrate various technologies and web-based platforms to enhance my teaching, I strive to show how a prolonged engagement with a singular object or image can generate a wealth of visual and cultural information.

As an art historian who is deeply invested in the study of materiality, I also emphasize the importance of primary visual material in all my units.  This technique reinforces the notion that paintings, prints, photography, and sculpture exist, not merely as projected images, but also as physical things; through engagement with materiality, students come to understand the importance of an object’s texture, facture, size, or weight. 

My units focus on visual and material studies in the nineteenth century, with an emphasis on identity, politics, and urban experience.  I supervise MA and PhD candidates and Honours students working on issues related to visual expression in nineteenth-century Europe and Asia.


Teaching overview


French: Reading, Writing, Speaking

Japanese: Reading, Speaking

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics where Emily Brink is active. These topic labels come from the works of this person. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Porcelain Arts & Humanities
Japanese Culture Arts & Humanities
Taxonomy Arts & Humanities
Crowds Arts & Humanities
France Arts & Humanities
Japan Arts & Humanities
Compendium Arts & Humanities
Alterity Arts & Humanities

Research Output 2016 2019

Visual Representation
Public Life
2 Downloads (Pure)

A Natural History of Porcelain: Jacquemart and Le Blant's Taxonomy of Japanese Design

Brink, E., 2016, In : L'Esprit Créateur. 56, 3, p. 28-46 18 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Japanese Culture

Civilisation and the encyclopaedic impulse: Hokusai, Diderot, and the Japanese album as encyclopédie

Brink, E., 2016, Civilisation and Nineteenth-Century Art: A European Concept in a Global Context. O'Brien, D. (ed.). Manchester: Manchester University Press, p. 130-149 19 p.

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference paperChapter


Early Career Teaching Award, UWA

Emily Brink (Recipient), 10 Apr 2018

Prize: Honorary award

Student Choice Teaching Award

Emily Brink (Recipient), 1 Aug 2018

Prize: Honorary award