November 22, 2021

Department of Art at 100: new leadership, faculty, and practice

Cornell University College of Architecture, Art, and Planning (AAP)

Tina Lam. Installation view, Olive Tjaden Gallery, 2021. Photo: William Staffeld, AAP.

From left: Paul Ramírez Jonas, Miatta Kawinzi, and Tina Lam. Photo: William Staffeld, AAP.

Miatta Kawinzi, She Gather Me, 2021. HD color video and 16mm color film transferred to video with two-channel audio, three wooden rocking chairs, silver mylar, dimensions variable. Installation view, CUE Art Foundation, New York, 2021.

Miatta Kawinzi. Photo: William Staffeld, AAP.

David Nasca. Installation view, Tjaden Experimental Gallery, 2021. Photo: William Staffeld, AAP.

Erin Miller, David Nasca. Installation view, Tjaden Experimental Gallery, 2021. Photo: William Staffeld, AAP.

As the Department of Art in the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning (AAP) at Cornell University marks its centennial, times past meet times to come with recent transitions in leadership and a renewed emphasis on faculty mentorship. Following Associate Professor Michael Ashkin’s three-term role as chair of the department, artist and educator Paul Ramírez Jonas is now halfway through the first semester of his appointment to the position. As he began the role earlier this year, Ramírez Jonas shared thoughts about practice and pedagogy in art education today.

On why now is a critical moment for the art department, which offers undergraduate and graduate programs for student artists across all mediums, Ramírez Jonas says, “As artist-educators, we assume a unique and critical role in connecting some of the most complex aspects of art practice to pedagogy, and, in conveying this to the next generation of artists who live in a world that is both fraught with compounded crises and full of opportunities for engagement, intervention, and for making lasting change.”

One of Ramírez Jonas’s first tasks as chair was to consider candidates for the prestigious Teiger Mentor of the Arts faculty position, a crucial component of the MFA program that thrives on a balance of relatively remote geography and hosting renowned practicing artists for talks and teaching. Artist Miatta Kawinzi was named Teiger Mentor for fall 2021, which is now significantly more involved with student mentorship than in years past. Kawinzi’s multidisciplinary work is unique among department colleagues, exploring hybridity within the African Diaspora and the re-imagining of self, identity, and culture through abstraction and poetics.

On her recent work, She Gather Me (installation view above), currently on view at the New Orleans Film Festival, Kawinzi shares, “It is an experimental and poetic meditation on ideas around loss and belonging; hybridity and homemaking within the African Diaspora. The space is for thinking about affect and feeling. It offers a critical lens, a historical lens—but with real emotion and embodiment—I see this as a way for people to think across backgrounds, identities, and experiences and feel something together. For example, everyone has a relationship with loss.”

As an educator who emphasizes engaging different kinds of knowledge through thinking, feeling, and making, Kawinzi brings an expansive and inclusive yet focused perspective to mentorship encompassing regular studio visits, group critiques, and a weekly three-hour seminar with the eleven students in the MFA program.

On her unique position within the department, Kawinzi shares, “I think it’s important that I think deeply about what I can bring to the studio and our seminar. I am always interested in difference as well as commonalities across cultures—in the seminar, I try to introduce works beyond the western canon, works the students are not finding elsewhere, a richness of voices. We think about these things together. We learn together. I’m always learning, which is why I love teaching.”

Kawinzi’s work and approach to teaching further the department’s commitment to building creative practice on a knowledge of self and a criticality about the world, an attribute of the MFA program uniquely situated in a university with a wide range of fields of study and abundant resources that support the arts and humanities. Kawinzi is the 17th Teiger Mentor to date. Emily Jacir will be the spring 2022 Teiger Mentor in the Arts.

Signaling ongoing transition at this milestone for the department, Assistant Professor Leeza Meksin has also joined the art faculty, and Ramírez Jonas is working closely with faculty committees to recruit top artists and educators for open positions meant to support AAP’s action plan for advancing social justice within and beyond Cornell and the college.

For more information about The Department of Art click here.

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