Jean’s blog post (3) on fellowship proposal for Getty’s African American Art History Initiative

I’m planning to apply for a fellowship with Getty Research Institute (especially with their new initiative of African American art history) in a few years and after substantially modifying this proposal when my institutional position becomes rather stable. However, since the application material or research/project plan should be confidential until the moment of acceptance, I’m really reluctant to share the detail of my archival project here on the Commons. Instead of talking about the content of my proposal, I’d just like to address why I decided to apply for this particular fellowship coming from my backgrounds.

As I perhaps implied in my previous blog post (when talking about Beauford Delaney’s letters), I’m quite interested in African American artists (especially, queer or queer feminist) whose works are intersecting with the history of letters or otherwise epistolary writings. While researchers in literary criticism have been approaching artists’ letters more for the content or the transcription of the content, I’m more interested in highlighting the low art forms, undecodable secrets, and odd or campy mythology in artists’ letter writings. Fortunately, Getty’s new initiative (on African American art history) recently acquired the archive (including manuscripts and letters) of Los Angeles artist Betye Saar whose work is in line with my “underground” inclinations. I’ve been wanting to work with Getty’s as they are capable to pursue both analog and digital projects but I couldn’t really find a suitable fellowship where I would be able to contribute my training both in literature and film/video studies. And now that Getty owns the archive of significant portion of Saar’s writings, it feels rather comforting that I don’t have to resolve the copy right issues of artist’ objects. Also, I will partly pursue a digital project using my research and writing on a certain aspect of Saar’s work (which I won’t address here), working amidst the dirt of this physical archive (which needs much sorting and curation from now on) feels almost pastorally intimate and expansive to me.

Obtaining Getty’s fellowship in any kind isn’t easy, however. All of them are prestigious fellowships that many of PhDs and tenured professors in Art History seek after establishing their careers to some extent. My strength (as a Comparative Literature PhD), unlike most of art history PhDs, can be probably found in my scholarship and training with letters and notebooks as well as archival video art and oral history projects. And I have worked with some of artists’ archives for their publications which engage with artists’ writing and digital art, so I feel equipped to be a fellow with this initiative. I don’t feel comfortable to address my qualifications here, so I’m shortly closing my blog post. Anyhow, I’m excited to think of an opportunity of being in proximity to the physical archive while producing something digital out of it for Getty’s exhibition toward the public. Additionally, Getty’s African American art initiative is focused on collaboration with other institutions, so I feel that my project will be benefited by working with various scholars coming from other partnered archives.

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