The UMD Center for Art and Knowledge at The Phillips Collection has awarded its 2017-18 Postdoctoral Fellowship in Modern and Contemporary Art History to Kate E. Cowcher. Dr. Cowcher's doctoral work concerned art in Africa during the Cold War, examining both practices on the continent, and the movement of artists and their objects between the First, Second and Third Worlds. Ethiopia offers a unique focus; never successfully colonized, it maintains a strong sense of its own historical continuity. Yet, after the overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974, it became the last "People's Democratic Republic" to be founded before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Dr. Cowcher's dissertation begins by examining the centrality of images to Haile Selassie's downfall. It then traces the rapid growth and unexpected trajectory of graphic art, the push for realism and the import of Soviet art concepts, and, finally, the appropriation of cultural heritage as propaganda and resistance. Challenging existent histories of Ethiopian art, which have dismissed the 1970s and 1980s as years of cultural dearth, her research reveals how the military regime manipulated images in an attempt to reduce the population to passive spectatorship, and how artists pushed back against this process through ink, paint and exhibitions. For this project Dr. Cowcher conducted extensive research in Ethiopia, supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship from the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, and subsequently spent a year in residence at the Center, in the National Gallery of Art.
At the University of Maryland Center for Art and Knowledge, Dr. Cowcher will be developing her dissertation into a book manuscript on art and revolution in Ethiopia. As a book, this project will reveal Ethiopian artists' involvement not just in domestic turmoil, but also in the cultural geopolitics of the late Cold War. Tracing journeys to Moscow, Havana, Pyongyang and back, it will highlight their participation on the global stage. Her book will engage with current concerns about Africa's creative agency within Soviet and Non-Aligned politics·. In preparation for developing her dissertation into a manuscript, Dr. Cowcher will co-chair a panel with Polly Savage (SOAS, London) on socialist aesthetics in Africa at the Arts Council of the African Studies Association (ACASA) Triennial in Ghana, in August 2017. In addition to presenting her work on the manifestations of "socialist realism" in Ethiopia, the panel will include papers about Burkina Faso, Mozambique, Angola, and Benin.
The Phillips Collection and the University of Maryland Fellowship in Modern and Contemporary Art History, which supports research and teaching on topics in American, European, or nonwestern art of all media form 1780 to the present, was awarded to Dr. Max Rosenberg. Dr. Rosenberg is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor in the History of Art and Design Department at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. A scholar of postwar German art, he will be working on two separate publications based on his dissertation, “Transforming Documenta: Art, Legitimacy and Modernity in Postwar West Germany,” which he successfully defended in 2015. The first publication will be a peer-reviewed article on the critical and artistic climate of postwar West Germany for an Art History or German Studies journal; the second, a book that will expand his research on the Swiss curator Harald Szeemann and his transformative fifth Documenta exhibition in 1972.
Dr. Rosenberg plans to teach an advanced seminar that would evaluate abstract painting after World War II in different national or cultural contexts.
The Fellowship in Virtual Culture, which supports research and experimentation with emerging technologies, was awarded to Dr. Nicole Riesenberger. As a Graduate Assistant in Digital Art History, Dr. Riesenberger has worked in the Michelle Smith Collaboratory for Visual Culture at the University of Maryland to implement digital initiatives for art and museum education. In this role, she helped to develop and execute an interactive augmented reality application that improves experience and accessibility for visitors to the Riversdale House Museum.
During her fellowship, Dr. Riesenberger will work closely with the Phillips’s curatorial, education, and AV staff, as well as with UMD’s Institute for Advanced Computer Studies, to create augmented and virtual reality projects for the museum, with attention to evaluating impacts of new technologies on visitors. In the spring of 2017, Dr. Riesenberger will also teach a course on museum technology that will offer students hands-on experience building and creating content for ongoing digital engagement projects at the Phillips.