Joanna Williams

Job title: 
Professor Emerita
Art of India & Southeast Asia

Ph.D., Harvard University, 1969
M.A., Radcliff College, 1961
B.A., Swarthmore College, 1960

In Memoriam

Members of the History of Art Department have recently established an endowment fund to celebrate the contributions of Professor Emerita Joanna G. Williams and to support Berkeley’s legacy in the field of South and Southeast Asian art. The Joanna G. Williams Endowment honors Joanna’s contributions to the field over the past five decades and helps ensure that the study of art from this region continues at Berkeley in the decades to come. While Joanna’s work as a scholar and advocate of the arts and culture from South and Southeast Asia has been tremendous, we want to recognize that one of Joanna’s most important contributions has been to foster the next generations of scholars.

In honor of Joanna’s commitment to her students, the Joanna G. Williams Endowment will support graduate students at Berkeley who are engaged in the study of art and visual culture from South and
Southeast Asia. The endowment will help students with their research by providing support for visits to museums, summer travel for fieldwork, language study, travel for presenting papers at conferences, and eventually academic-year fellowship support. 

Professor Emerita Joanna G. Williams, distinguished scholar of South and Southeast Asian art, passed away at her home in Berkeley on June 16, 2022, at the age of eighty-four. She was one of the foremost scholars of South and Southeast Asian art and architecture and, indeed, one of the most well-regarded for her seminal work on fourth- and fifth-century sculpture and architecture as well as later folk traditions. Born in southern Indiana, Williams received a B.A. from Swarthmore College in 1960 and a M.A. from Radcliffe College in 1961. She then received a Ph.D. from Harvard University for her dissertation titled Buddhist Wall Paintings of Khotan (1969). Williams joined the faculty at UC Berkeley in 1967, where she held a joint appointment in the Departments of History of Art and South and Southeast Asian Studies. Her distinguished career extended over four decades and included landmark publications such as The Art of Gupta India: Empire and Province (1982) and The Two-Headed Deer: Illustrations of the Rāmāyaṇa in Orissa (1996). Based on extensive fieldwork, The Art of Gupta India offered a groundbreaking analysis of Indian sculpture and architecture of the fourth and fifth centuries. Turning to debates on the category of the folk in South Asia, The Two-Headed Deer focused on narrative strategies that were mobilized by Orissan artists to visualize the epic. She also undertook several curatorial projects, including Kingdom of the Sun: Indian Court and Village Art from the Princely State of Mewar (Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, 2007). Essays such as “A Recut Ashokan Capital and the Gupta Attitude toward the Past,” Artibus Asiae (1973) and “From the Fifth to the Twentieth Century and Back,” Art Journal (1990), among others, redefined the history of South and Southeast Asian art history. Her trailblazing research was supported by grants and honors from the Phi Beta Kappa, the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship, the American Institute of Indian Studies Fellowship, and the Guggenheim Fellowship, among others. In 2009, Williams’ contributions to the fields of South and Southeast Asian art were celebrated by her former students in the panel “Marga and Desi in the Art of South Asia” at the 38thAnnual Conference on South Asia at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In celebration of her retirement in 2010, a doubleissue festschrift edited by her former student Padma Kaimal (Ph.D., 1988) was published in Artibus Asiae. Williams was a mentor extraordinaire, an exceptional teacher, and a compassionate advisor who was committed to fostering the study of a region and a field that she cared about deeply. Her students went on to win many awards and publish groundbreaking scholarship that radically reimagined South and Southeast Asian art history’s place in the world. In 2012, the Joanna G. Williams Endowment was established to honor her vision for the field of South and Southeast Asian art history by supporting students with their research, visits to museums, summer travel for fieldwork, language study, travel for presenting papers at conferences, and fellowship support. The Joanna G. Williams Endowment can be supported at — Sugata Ray (Associate Professor in the Departments of History of Art and South and Southeast Asian Studies & Interim Director, Institute for South Asia Studies, University of California, Berkeley)

Full CV: