Smithsonian Announces Its 2021 Artist Research Fellows

July 27, 2021
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The Smithsonian has awarded fellowships to 14 accomplished visual artists from an international pool of candidates as part of the 2021 Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship Program. Over the course of a one- to two-month residency, each fellow will conduct research at Smithsonian museums and research centers to inform the development of innovative, cross-disciplinary work.

Artists are nominated by art curators, scholars and former fellows, and then selected by a panel of art experts. Over 100 artists from around the world have received Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship Awards since the program began in 2007.

The 2021 fellows and their projects will be:

Jananne Al-Ani (Based in the U.K.): Time Travelers

During her fellowship at the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Al-Ani will examine Islamic metalwork to inform an upcoming video installation. Her research will connect the history of military and political upheaval in the Middle East with the movement of peoples and material culture.

Diana Al-Hadid (Based in the U.S.)     

Al-Hadid will study the artists, materials and cultural contexts of the Islamic Golden Age. Inspired by the miniaturist techniques found in Islamic illuminated manuscripts, Al-Hadid’s research at the Freer Gallery of Art will inform the creation of large-scale sculptural works.

Shiraz Bayjoo (Based in the U.K. and Mauritius): The Coral Continent: Language and Fluidity on the Swahili Coast

Bayjoo’s research at the National Museum of African Art and the Freer Gallery of Art will focus on the Swahili Coast and Zanzibar as sites for cultural exchange. By examining the region’s trade between the 16th and 20th centuries, Bayjoo will reposition the area as a powerful intersection of culture, ideas and people.

Milagros de la Torre (Based in the U.S.): Patterns and Diagrams: The Face as an Experiment

De la Torre will study the history of visualizing, manipulating and programming the human face at the National Portrait Gallery. Through her research, de la Torre will explore the relationship between depictions of the face and the sociopolitical contexts producing them.

Theo Eshetu (Based in Germany): Fragile Languages

Influenced by themes of fragility and mortality, Eshetu will study the origin of cultures at the National Museum of African Art. Eshetu’s work will examine language loss and the resulting decay of cultural and ideological diversity.

Mariam Ghani (Based in the U.S.): Dis-Ease

In a cross-disciplinary approach, Ghani will investigate the “war on disease” at the Natural Museum of Natural History. Ghani’s research will support a full-length documentary exploring the history, philosophy and culture surrounding infectious diseases.

Autumn Knight (Based in the U.S.): Humor and Radical Resistance

Knight, an interdisciplinary artist, will study humor as a critical aspect of Black American social and personal development at the National Portrait Gallery. Her investigation of resistance through satire and coded language will inform her work at the intersection of Blackness, politics and humor. 

Natalia Lassalle-Morillo (Based in Puerto Rico and the U.S.): Cómo desde la ausencia, imaginamos la distancia (How from absence, we imagine distance)

Lassalle-Morillo will study ceremonial objects of Haitian Voudoun and Arawak Taíno origin at the National Museum of the American Indian and the National Museum of Natural History. By examining ceremonial objects specific to the Caribbean, Lassalle-Morillo will deepen an understanding of Puerto Rican history and spiritual cosmology.

Reynier Leyva Novo (Based in Cuba): Homeland, Death and Sugar. The slave trade from the Caribbean to the United States of America

Building on a project developed for the 2019 XIII Havana Biennial, Leyva Novo will expand his study of historic materials of the U.S. slave trade at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Matthew Mazzotta (Based in the U.S.): If people can sit together, they can dream together: Examining metamorphosing furniture at the Cooper Hewitt

As an artist concerned with urbanism and the built environment, Mazzotta will research the chair as a space for community gathering. Mazzotta’s research with Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum will inform public artworks that blur the line between seating and architecture.

Jefferson Pinder (Based in the U.S.): Black Nostalgia, Black Joy

Pinder will delve into archival films and materials documenting the everyday lives of Black Americans at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Pinder’s research will support a video artwork celebrating Black joy.

Rodrigo Valenzuela (Based in the U.S.): The Unwaged

Valenzuela will investigate the history of labor at the National Museum of American History. Inspired by the museum’s photographic archives, Valenzuela will ultimately create an experimental series reflecting the stress generated by unpaid labor and the decline of collective bargaining rights.

Sara VanDerBeek (Based in the U.S.): Future Variations

Drawing from resources at the Archives of American Art, VanDerBeek will explore historical materials related to the seminal 1965 performance piece, “Variations V.” Looking ahead to a restaging of the original work, VanDerBeek will examine the role of documentation and interpretation when modifying an ephemeral work from the past.

Anna Von Mertens (Based in the U.S.): Structuring the Light: The Story of Dark Matter

Von Mertens will study how dark matter structures the cosmos with the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. As a conceptual textile artist, Von Mertens’s work will explore the patterns formed between art and science.

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