URI art professor awarded MacColl Johnson Fellowship

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KINGSTON, R.I. –September 13, 2007—Annu Palakunnathu Matthew, a photographer and an associate professor of art at the University of Rhode Island, was one of three Rhode Island visual artists to receive a $25,000 MacColl Johnson Fellowship.

Matthew who focuses much of her work on immigration was born in England and raised in India.

The accompanying image is from a larger project titled “An Indian from India,” which was recently shown in India (Mumbai, Bangalore and Kolkala) and starting this week at a group show at the Newark Museum.

“This project started because, as an immigrant, I am often questioned about where I am really from,” the artist explains. “No one accepts the answer of Rhode Island. When I say that I am Indian, I often have to clarify that I am an Indian from India. It seems strange that all this confusion started because Christopher Columbus thought he had found the Indies and called the native people of America collectively as Indians.

“In this portfolio, I look at the other ‘Indian’. I play on this idea by using photographs of Native Americans from the 19th Century and early 20th Century that perpetuated and reinforced stereotypes. In this particular diptych, the Native American is wearing the flag voluntarily, but with their violent history, I find it sadly strange. It also highlights the coerciveness of assimilation, a part of the immigrant experience.”

Matthew says that she will use the $25,000 prize to visually explore the concept of the “fluid immigrant” noting that the new immigrant experience is influenced by technology such as email, cheap flights, and Skype, (which allows users to call other users from their computer and communicate via microphone, as well as to call and be called from a land phone,) which has both positive and negative consequences.

The fellowships are named after a couple who embraced the arts late in their lives. Margaret MacColl Johnson earned a degree in creative writing when she was 70. Her husband, Robert MacColl Johnson, became a full-time painter after retiring from a metalworking career. When he died, he bequeathed $1.2 million to the Rhode Island Foundation to create the fellowship program. The first fellowships recognized three musicians in 2005, followed by three creative writers the following year.