Faculty Foster Global Engagement

Faculty Foster Global Engagement

Rooftop studio in Havana, Cuba, where artistic practices have evolved independently in the decades since the US embargo began in the early ’60s. | photo by Andrea Shea, WBUR

Six faculty members are traveling the world this summer to research and develop new classes and studios with a global reach. Thanks to travel grants from RISD’s Global Engagement and Curricular Development Fund, they’ll engage with artists and scholars in such countries as Cuba, the Netherlands, Mexico and China in the process of developing new courses to be introduced as early as the 2015–16 academic year.

“Our goal is to make lasting contributions to a global society through critical thinking, scholarship and innovation,” explains Gwen Farrelly, director of RISD Global, the department charged with promoting global exchange at RISD. “The professors chosen to participate in this pilot program will conduct research that underscores the importance of remaining open to cultural differences and ambiguity. They’ll share with students the knowledge they gain about using diverse frames of reference and alternate perspectives to solve problems.”

As travel restrictions for Americans have begun to shift, Printmaking Department Head Henry Ferreira MFA 80 PR is heading to Cuba to explore possible connections for students and investigate how printmaking practices have evolved in the decades since the US embargo officially began in 1962. “Printmaking is proletariat in nature and the most egalitarian of mediums,” he notes. “It’s a cheap, fast and easy way to share information. I’m interested in how a culture forged by revolution and hardened by deprivation has nevertheless managed to foster and encourage art making.”

Winifred Lambrecht, a senior lecturer in History, Philosophy + the Social Sciences, is also investigating Cuba, but from a more general cultural perspective. She envisions offering a Wintersession course in which students explore the African roots of Cuban culture and changes in Cuban society due to impending changes in the country’s relations with the US. During a recent trip to the island, she interviewed artists and others about their perspectives on Cuban society, economics and the environment.

Due west of Cuba in Mexico City, Professor of Film/Animation/Video Daniel Peltz is exploring the pedagogy and practices of the well-known arts collaborative SOMA, where some of the world’s most conceptually and theoretically rigorous contemporary art workshops are taking place. He will present his research as part of SOMA’s public lecture series and hopes to build relationships with collaborative organizers that could lead to future alliances benefitting RISD students.

Meanwhile, 7,000 miles east, Assistant Professor of Printmaking Brian Shure and Printmaking grad student Laura Post MFA 16 PR are studying doban—traditional Chinese watercolor woodblock printmaking—at the Rongbaozhai Publishing Workshop in Beijing. Shure’s goal is to work with Rongbaozhai’s highly skilled printers and paper mounters to develop a RISD studio focused on doban.

“Even in China,” Shure notes, “these traditional Chinese techniques are unappreciated.” He is organizing a doban show at RISD and hopes to set up an exchange program with the China Central Academy of Fine Arts, working with traditional woodblock printer Lu Ping.

Nearby in Seoul, South Korea, Literary Arts + Studies Professor Mairéad Byrne is investigating a cultural tradition with a more pressing impact on RISD’s student body: military service. After interrupting their studies to complete a mandatory 21-month stint in the army back home, many RISD students from South Korea experience a form of culture shock when they return to campus, making it difficult to focus on their work. Byrne hopes to develop a liberal arts seminar with the broad aims of “building knowledge, community, identity, confidence, voice, audience and appetite for creative risk.”

Finally, in northern Europe, Esther Thyssen—a lecturer in the History of Art + Visual Culture—is visiting the Gelderland region of the Netherlands to research the role of women in collaborative projects in the arts. Her research focuses on the artist Joyce Bloem’s project on engaging the flood plain along the Waal River. Thyssen hopes to develop a class in which students take advantage of US-based resources —including the Kentucky Foundation for Women and the Women’s Caucus for Art—to examine how women’s circumstances interact with global issues such as water rights and other environmental concerns. “One goal of the class,” she notes, “would be debating whether or not contemporary practice in art and craft serves to empower women artists in global society.”

Simone Solondz

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