Wendy Ewald, visiting artist-in-residence at Amherst College, has won a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, adding to her long list of previous honors, which include a MacArthur Fellowship and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, The Andy Warhol Foundation and the Fulbright Commission.
Ewald has taught the class “Collaborative Art: The Practice and Theory of Working with Communities” at Amherst since 2005 and has brought in well-known collaborative artists to create art with Five College students and the Amherst community.
The Guggenheim awards were announced on Tuesday. Ewald will begin her fellowship project in 2013, after her fall 2012 semester of teaching. She recently answered questions about her latest award and how she approaches her work—at Amherst and beyond.
Congratulations on winning a Guggenheim Fellowship, Wendy. Can you tell us a bit about your fellowship project?
Visiting Artist-in-Residence Wendy Ewald in 2007
The Guggenheim project, Portrait and Dreams: A Revisitation, is a documentary project that will result in a video installation and photographic exhibition. It will combine new narratives and insights that illuminate essential, shared experiences that contributed to and grew out of this pioneering work in photography and collaborative art.
I began my early career working with students in three public elementary schools in the mountains of east Kentucky on a collaborative photography project during 1975 to 1982. The work resulting from those years was collected in the book Portraits and Dreams, published in 1985. The [Guggenheim] project will follow the process of my re-engagement with the students I taught, now adults in their 40s.
Do you expect that the work you complete during your Guggenheim Fellowship will impact your teaching at Amherst?
This new work will be a great addition to my teaching in collaborative art. Most ideas are based on the process of work at the moment of execution. It’s rarely, if ever, been possible to look at what happens to the participants in such projects in the long term and what meaning remains for them. It could possibly lead to a new way of constructing and analyzing such art projects.
In the creation of new work, we will draw on former students’ experiences as children and adults. They will explore the meanings behind the photographs, what is revealed about the practice of collaborative art and the relationship of images to personal memory across the passage of time.
You also were awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 1992. Do you have any thoughts about what aspect of your work has proven to resonate so strongly with those who decide to award these prestigious fellowships?
I received a MacArthur Fellowship for my work with photography and education. I was one of the first photographers who challenged the concept of who actually makes an image, who is the photographer, who the subject, who is the observer and who the observed. In blurring the distinction of individual authorship and throwing into doubt the artist’s intentions, power and identity, I tried to create opportunities to look at the meaning and use of photographic images in our lives with fresh eyes.