Fulbright Fellows on the Move
Fulbright Fellows on the Move
RISD alums Sabina Kariat, Jessina Leonard and Masha Ryskin will conduct research in Turkey, Germany and Israel during the 2021/22 academic year.
“In a world increasingly dominated by algorithms and data-driven forms of knowledge, I look to the lineage of female mysticism to offer another way of knowing, one that gestures to the flowering of reality and the limits of representation,” says Jessina Leonard MFA 20 PH. The artist and adjunct faculty member is one of three RISD alumni awarded Fulbrights for the coming academic year. She’ll travel to Kloster Helfta, a Cistercian convent in Eisleben, Germany to continue her exploration into the visions and writings of 13th-century mystics like Gertrude of Helfta and Mechthild of Magdeburg.
Leonard has discovered a connection between photography and spirituality in her research and notes that the first person to use the word photography was an Orthodox monk from Mount Sinai: Philotheos of Batos. “In his own mystical writings, Philotheos uses the term photeinographeisthai, or writing with light, to describe how the image of God is written with light on the heart,” she explains.
“Philotheos uses the term photeinographeisthai, or writing with light, to describe how the image of God is written with light on the heart.”
In addition to making photographs of the nuns and their home, Leonard intends to branch out into other mediums—such as film and audio—and to experiment with lumen prints and additional photographic processes. During her last visit to Eisleben in early 2020 she also gathered seeds and other plant material, which she used to make handmade paper, a process she intends to revisit during the second half of her Fulbright year at Kulturwerk in Berlin.
“I imagine that after three months at the convent in rural Eisleben, I will be very glad to be back in a large, metropolitan city, engaging with other artists at SomoS Berlin Artist Residency and exploring all that Berlin has to offer,” she says.
Also traveling to Europe in the fall is Fulbright recipient Sabina Kariat 18 IL, who will study traditional shadow puppetry with Cengiz Özek at the Istanbul Karagöz Puppetry Foundation in Turkey. Dating back to the Ottoman Empire, the art form incorporates light and shadow and features two main characters: the simple but wise Karagöz and his elitist, more educated nemesis Hacivat. Kariat also intends to share her stop-motion animation skills with the puppeteers in an attempt to translate the Karagöz experience into film while respecting the craft’s original form.
Since graduating from RISD, Kariat has been working as a freelance animator and teaching animation and sequential art with the Performing Arts Worskhop in San Francisco, an anti-racist organization dedicated to helping young people learn and grow through the arts. “A lot of the students I work with reference the refugee experience, which fed my interest in the different ways that people come into diasporic identities,” she says.
She also taught an online illustration class for the Karam Foundation, which helps young Syrian refugees learn new ways of thinking through design-based education. Founded by fellow RISD alumna Lina Sergei Attar MArch 01, the nonprofit brings guest mentors to one of two Karam House refugee centers in Turkey to work directly with kids in crisis.
“I encountered Karagöz puppetry while studying the flow of migration from Syria to Turkey, Greece and other parts of Europe.”
“Turkey is a huge migration hub, and I encountered Karagöz puppetry while studying the flow of migration from Syria to Turkey, Greece and other parts of Europe,” Kariat says. “Most art mediums pass from culture to culture and place to place, but this particular form follows that same migration path.”
For the second half of her Fulbright year, Kariat plans to work at Karam House Istanbul, sharing what she learned at the Karagöz Foundation and helping students to create animated films reflecting on their new identities as members of a diasporic community in modern Turkey. “The plans continue to evolve over time,” she says, “but my main goal is to provide a platform for diasporic youth to tell their own stories.”
Senior Scholar Fulbright Fellow and longtime RISD faculty member Masha Ryskin 95 PR will focus on teaching during her Fulbright travels as well, working with students at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem. She first worked with Bezalel faculty members in 2019 as part of a three-way collaboration with the China Academy of Art and discovered a pedagogical connection with RISD that she’d like to explore further.
“Bezalel is similar to RISD in the way they take things apart and examine them,” she explains. “That initial collaboration was a transformative experience. Our first meeting was in Jerusalem, and I was just blown away by the mixture of cultures, art, history, architecture and historical artifacts.”
“Our first meeting was in Jerusalem, and I was just blown away by the mixture of cultures, art, history, architecture and historical artifacts.”
While in Jerusalem, Ryskin will also create an installation addressing ideas of memory, place and belonging. Her practice is anchored by a sense of place, and her layered, abstract drawings speak to the fragmented and nonlinear way that memory works. “The sensory experience, material explorations and involvement of the hand are central elements of my work and pedagogy,” she says.
As an immigrant from the Soviet Union, she has learned to orient herself to whatever environment she finds herself in and to push her work in different directions by experiencing new cultures and histories. “It will be interesting to experience the layers of history in Jerusalem,” she says. “My installation will reflect on the way history, contemporary culture and people of different backgrounds make up the ever-changing fabric of the city.”
Follow the fellows’ Fulbright journeys online at risdfulbright.com.
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