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Fulbright Winners Headed in All Directions

Fulbright Winners Headed in All Directions

In our increasingly homogenized global society, artists and designers are exploring historical and ethnographic traditions in order to create meaningful, culturally significant work.

In our increasingly homogenized global society, artists and designers are exploring historical and ethnographic traditions in order to create meaningful, culturally significant work. As 2014–15 Fulbright Scholars, three graduating RISD students and a young alumna will travel the world in support of this shared quest.

Colin MacGregor 14 AP – a Brown/RISD Dual Degree student who is also earning a BA in Economics – will journey to Poland, while Catherine Schmidt 14 GD is bound for India, Acacia Johnson 14 PH is headed to the Canadian Arctic and Meg Dreyer MFA 08 GD will do research in Turkey. “Their work typifies the RISD student’s particular mix of academic accomplishment, global engagement and passionate focus,” says Kevin Jankowski 88 IL, interim Fulbright program advisor and associate director of RISD’s Career Center.

The recent announcement of the 2014–15 scholars builds on RISD’s reputation as a top Fulbright producer among art schools. “The Fulbright mirrors the RISD educational experience,” says Jankowski. “Like studio practice at RISD, the grant is deeply immersive, demanding considerable introspection at the same time that it speaks to an outward-looking experience.”

The goal of the federally funded Fulbright Programs is to further educational and cross-cultural interaction between scholars from the US and the world at large. The US Student Program receives approximately 9,500 applications per year and typically awards between 1,600 and 1,700 grants annually.

One of those grants will enable MacGregor to teach English in Poland while simultaneously researching traditional Polish art and textiles. The Apparel Design major recently wowed the crowd at RISD’s Collection 14 runway show with an athletic American take on Scottish tartans and kilts. “Combining my Scottish and Polish heritage with my American upbringing, I created a collection that took inspiration from the traditional textiles and dress of these distinct European regions and amalgamated them into an aesthetic that is completely unique,” he explains.

Acacia Johnson’s unique worldview stems from her childhood in Alaska. She plans to spend the coming winter in Canada’s far north, focusing on the community of Arctic Bay on Baffin Island. There she will explore the intersection of the Arctic landscape with local narratives and mythologies and create a photographic book and exhibition tentatively titled Seeking Polaris: The Mythic Landscape of the Contemporary Arctic. “My hope is to be in Arctic Bay from the last day of sun in November until the day it rises again in February,” she says.

While Johnson prepares for the long Arctic winter, Catherine Schmidt will be learning to tolerate the heat of South Asia, where she’ll investigate the “digital typolitics” of the traditional Indian cursive script known as Devanagari. “Typolitics is a word I invented to describe the complexity of politics surrounding typography,” Schmidt notes. “Type is ideological; it carries historical baggage. Far from being the neutral medium by which we read letters, type can raise questions of power and access.”

Schmidt will use her Fulbright funding to explore the history and recent evolution of Devanagari and to collaborate with Indian typographers and scholars on designing a digital typeface that expresses the identity of contemporary India. She also plans to organize a group exhibition in the spring at Mumbai’s Project 88 Gallery.

Meanwhile in Turkey, Meg Dreyer will be researching traditional Ottoman design and its connection to contemporary Turkish customs, rituals and practices. The graphic designer, illustrator and photographer will use her research to create an original body of work that incorporates Turkish design traditions and will also pass the knowledge along via her teaching practice when she returns to the US.

Simone Solondz

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