Connecting Global With Local
“With students from more than 50 countries, and alumni living and working in countries all over the globe, the MICA community is a microcosm of the global community.”
Petra Visscher, Director of International Affairs

Conjoining the ideas and talents of artists and designers from around the world brings forth transformative creative works.

Natives of 53 countries composed MICA’s student body last year, bringing the world to Baltimore and making the collective artistic vision of the College truly global. In a wide range of areas, in venues around the world, MICA has enhanced its role as a connector. “It’s not about what passport someone holds; it’s about what culture they bring to us,” notes Director of International Affairs Petra Visscher.

It portends great things about an artist’s reputation when his or her work is showcased. When artists from around the globe showcase their work in an artist’s exhibition, however, it raises that bar even further. That’s exactly what happened when MICA’s Center for Race and Culture and its director, Graduate Dean Emerita Leslie King-Hammond PhD, partnered with New York’s Museum of Arts and Design to produce The Global Africa Project. For six months during fall 2010 and spring 2011, four floors of the Central Park-area museum were dominated by an exhibition posing one primary question in a multitude of ways: “What is African craft, design, and architecture?” In the process, the exhibition raised broader questions about stereotypes, geographic identity, heritage, history, and the diverse range of cultures related to the African diaspora.

It’s been centuries since slavery, trade, and exploration caused the involuntary relocation of indigenous Africans to countries around the globe. One question that begs asking therefore is: When should the work of artists of African lineage be categorized as African? How is “black” culture inextricably infused with Asian, European, Latino, and other influences? As much as anything, according to King-Hammond and co-curator Lowery Stokes Sims, the thesis of the exhibition “focuses on the origin of African identity in relationship to geography rather than to cultural difference.”

According to the curators, six themes brought the works together: intersecting cultures, global competition, local sourcing, transforming traditions, community building, and branding content. To address the themes, the exhibiting artists delved into politics, colonialism, racism, violence, sexuality, family, and a host of other areas. The collective outcome was a multifaceted examination of the world’s influence on Africa and Africa’s influence on the world.

A quick glance at the biographies of the more than 100 artists who contributed artwork for the project serves as a prelude to the perspectives highlighted in the exhibition. They range from hip-hop group Wu Tang Clan to MICA alumni Joyce Scott and Willie Birch and Rinehart School of Sculpture Director Maren Hassinger. Many artists were based on the African continent in countries like Nigeria, Madagascar, South Africa, Rwanda, Botswana, Kenya, and Uganda, but others were based in other locations around the world—the United States, Paris, Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba, Barbados, Haiti, Rotterdam, Berlin, Malawi, Canada, London, Italy, Japan, and the Netherlands, among other places. Some studied at schools such as Yale University, Yaba College of Technology in Nigeria, the Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana, Pratt Institute, Parsons School of Design, the Fashion Institute of Technology, l’Ecole des Beaux Arts in Algeria, the Royal College of Art in London, and the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam. Others had no formal training at all. With contributors representing such diversity in residence, birth place, ancestral home, influence, and interest, the exhibition introduced the question, “Are traditional means of grouping people and their creative work appropriate?”

In addition to the exhibition’s critical acclaim, it has already had an immediate impact. One of the installations replacing it at the Museum of Arts and Design pays homage to Global Africa by examining identity issues related to Asian art. Global Africa will soon be on display at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African-American History and Culture in Baltimore from January–May 2012.

A Young Visitor to Global AfricaJust as MICA has garnered international recognition for asking questions, it has also gained credence for finding answers. This spring, a design-build class from MICA traveled to Haiti to examine and document housing arrangements for the millions of Haitians left homeless after 2010’s epic earthquake. The class took an in-depth look at the types of temporary housing that work in the most desperate circumstances—housing that takes into account not only health, comfort, and safety concerns, but also human dignity. The resulting video documentary and article on Architecture Daily’s website have generated interest from thousands of people around the world and a 90-page research document was prepared for publication.

MICA has long been known to have the largest number of international study programs of any art college. Last year, students studied with MICA instructors in Venice, South Korea, Nicaragua, São Tomé and Príncipe; Sorrento, Italy; and Turkey, among other places. Others studied in countries including South Africa and the United Kingdom. The college works hard to promote international study, no matter the student’s economic status.

Last year, more students from MICA were awarded the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship than from any other art college. Students studied in Indonesia, South Korea, and Poland using the scholarships, which provide federal grants to American undergraduate students who wish to study abroad.

MICA’s international perspective makes it a top producer of Fulbright Fellows. Four members of the MICA community won Fulbright Fellowships for international travel, study, and art-making in 2010-11. Alumni Jenny “Sidhu” Mullins ’09 (Hoffberger School of Painting), Ellyn Stokes ’10 (printmaking), and Elizabeth Brooks ’10 (MFA in Photographic and Electronic Media) studied in India, Turkey, and Tanzania, respectively. Photography Department faculty member Lynn Silverman also taught for a year in the Czech Republic, expanded upon her Lookout series of windows from three continents, and examined Jewish cemeteries. The College doesn’t just produce Fulbright Fellows; it attracts them as well. Fall 2010’s entering class of graduate students included Abdulmari Imao, a Fulbright Fellow from the Philippines, who was accepted into the Rinehart School of Sculpture where he is exploring how to create monuments, shrines, and landmarks, among other things.