Fugly: Aesthetics, Activism, and Politics

deadline for submissions: 
December 1, 2023
full name / name of organization: 
The 15th Annual Research, Art, Writing Conference/The University of Texas at Dallas

What cultural objects and phenomena are designated to be ugly, bad, unacceptable, and monstrous, especially in relation to gender, sexuality, disability, race, class, and caste? Whose histories are marginalized or overlooked because of their perceived bad taste, abject existence, and the taint they leave on supposedly beautiful, grand narratives of nationhood, well-being, or progress? How do kitsch, camp, and excess function in the realms of activism in contemporary politics? How do nasty, revulsive art, literature, and performances act as sites that engender questions that push boundaries of societal mores and cultural hierarchies? How does a discourse of nastiness provide a comprehensive understanding of contemporary global political disruptions? In short, this graduate student conference puts forward “frigging ugly” or fugly as the axis to reimagine aesthetics for political change in art, literature, and media. 

      Pointing out the ubiquitous presence of ugliness, Umberto Eco highlights the Greek identification of physical ugliness with moral ugliness through repulsive sirens and harpies, hideous Medusa, and monstrous Minotaur.1 Julia Kristeva’s psychoanalytic approach to abjection notes how a child learns to repress, reject, and regulate abhorrent bodily products such as blood, genital fluids, and excrement as it determines its path to being a sovereign subject.2 It is in the abject and grotesque that feminist scholars of comedy, such as Linda Mizejewski and Kathreen Rowe Karolyn, situate the corporal power of women comics. At another extreme, representations of genocide, rape, suicide, prison torture, and state-sponsored violence provoke us to look away or shun the unendurable. In these discussions of the bad, ugly, and nasty, questions of taste, affect, and identity break the neo-liberal boundaries of individuality and explore communal ethical and political responses such as compassion fatigue, revolution, or censorship. 

      We welcome submissions from any discipline and encourage interdisciplinary approaches to the question of what is considered “ugly” in history, politics, aesthetics, and society. In addition to traditional research papers, we actively invite creative multimedia projects and performance-based pieces. Both conference papers as well as creative projects can use 15-18 minutes for their presentation.  

Topics may include (and in no way limited to): 

  • Ideologies of ugly in othering  
  • Ugliness and disgust in Gender, race, class, caste and sexuality  
  • Pathologies of ugliness (body and psyche) 
  • Affect and disgust (disfigurement, aging, death)  
  • Subversion of pejorative tropes in literature and media  
  • Intersections of socio-political activism and taboo 
  • Beauty and eugenics 
  • The Grotesque and scatology in literature, art, and media  
  • Aesthetics and politics of cuteness in art and internet (kawaii, cute cats, memes) 
  • Representations of trauma, war, and genocide  
  • Punk feminism and performance activism 
  • Sensuality, vulgarity, and obscenity in performance, art, and media  
  • Good objects/Bad objects, Good politics/Bad politics 
  • Avant-garde art and transgressive aesthetics 
  • Disgust, discipline, and state censorship 
  • Displacement, marginalization, activism  
  • Monstrous aesthetics in literature, art, and media  
  • Philosophies of beauty and ugliness (Kant, Nietzsche)     


Please submit an abstract (250-300 words) and a short bio (max. 100 words) here: https://forms.gle/YHEFK3hQtea3kTUL9, no later than Friday, December 1, 2023, 11:59 pm.   

If you are presenting a creative project, please include documentation (stills, videos, excerpts, artist statements, etc.) in addition to the abstract. Work-in-progress documentation is also acceptable. Links are preferable to files. 

We encourage pre-constituted panels of 3-4 panelists (including the chair). One of the panelists (conventionally, the chair) may submit a single proposal with details about the panel chair, other panelists, and the individual papers. 
Presenters at the RAW 2024 conference will be eligible to submit their papers or creative work for the following awards.  

  • 13th Annual Sherry Clarkson Prize for best scholarly paper 
  • Arts, Humanities, and Technology Council Award for best creative project  
  • RAW Committee Award for Outstanding Presentation 

We will send out notices of acceptance by mid-December. Upon receipt of the acceptance notice, attendees are required to confirm their participation in the conference by paying a registration fee between $25-$35.  


Please email RAWconference@utdallas.edu if you have questions.  



Mazyar Mahan & Arya Rani

RAW Conference CoordinatorsBass School of Arts, Humanities, and Technology

The University of Texas at Dallas