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By Gerry Boyle '78
By the time Jacqueline Johnson '01 graduated in May she had studied at the Louvre, the Sorbonne and the Tate Gallery and had interned in Venice at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. And those were just supplements to her studies at Colby. "I had studied a lot of art history here," Johnson said recently. "I wasn't overwhelmed by the art history aspect of [study in Europe]. I was overwhelmed by the opportunity to see everything in person."
Well, not everything.
After exploring the well-trodden galleries of the world's most visited art museums, Johnson was about to set off this spring on an exploration of an art movement that is far less familiar. Thanks to a Watson Fellowship, Johnson plans to investigate firsthand the world of art now being created in the former French colonies of Mali, Madagascar, Guadalupe, Tahiti and New Caledonia.
The seed was planted when Johnson read a commentary on Cuban and Haitian artists and the cultural uncertainty that some say is part of the legacy of those countries' colonial history. "There is a search for identity," Johnson said. "That's basically what you see in most of their art."
But while some critics see artists in neocolonial cultures as struggling with feelings of inferiority, Johnson disagrees. She sees art from these countries as powerful, filled with imagery and symbolism: "I want to show that the people there are doing everything that we're doing."
First she had to show the administrators of the Watson Foundation that her project was worthy and that she was likely to see it through. Johnson did both with aplomb, according to Michael Marlais, Colby's James M. Gillespie Professor of Art, one of Johnson's advisors (with Adrianna Paliyenko, associate professor of French) and a member of the Watson selection committee at Colby. "Jackie's proposal . . . was well-thought-out, well-written, clear, cogent, intelligent--all of those things," Marlais said.
The Watson Fellowship wasn't the first for art at Colby, but past fellowships have been for historical art rather than art that is being created now, he said.
The lure of a relatively uncharted art movement and the coveted Watson prize was enough for Johnson to turn down a teaching job at Oxford and to defer graduate studies at UCLA, where she was to enter an art criticism program. She leaves in August for Madagascar, the island nation off the southeast coast of Africa, where she will stay three months before traveling on to the other countries on her Watson itinerary. This spring she was in the process of getting visas and vaccinations and contacting the U.S. Embassy in Madagascar for advice on housing. "I'm a little scared," Johnson said. "Hopefully I'll have some contacts when I get there."With or without contacts, she intends to spend time with artists and gallery owners and to get into the art scene in the countries she visits. In preparation she was beginning to learn Malagasy, the language in Madagascar. "I've got French, German, Italian and a little bit of Japanese under my belt," Johnson said. "I'm hoping that I'll pick this up as well."
Her trepidation aside, Marlais predicted that Johnson's fellowship will be a success, that she will finish it with her art horizons expanded, that she will become "even more poised and intelligent than she is already.
"And that's great," Marlais said. "That's what the Watson is for."
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President's Page: President Bro Adams on the court and affirmative action.
Alumni Reunion 2001
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