Chawky Frenn was determined to serve as a Fulbright scholar. The George Mason University associate professor in Mason’s School of Art applied five times before finally being accepted to the competitive international educational exchange program.
“Each time I applied, India was calling,” he said from his office at Mason’s Art and Design Building on the Fairfax Campus. On his sixth application, he received an invitation from a host institution, Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi, where he engaged students and colleagues in exploring art as a voice for social justice.
For Frenn, who has taught at Mason for 17 years and is an accomplished artist in his own right, art was a major part of the adventure. Yet, the Lebanese native also wanted to embark on a personal journey where the outer world informs the internal one, and vice versa.
“I wanted to understand the peaceful coexistence of many religions in India. For me, art and life are inseparable,” he said. “I experienced how diverse religions manifest their faith in daily activities. It was heartwarming to see goodness, kindness and empathy in daily acts.”
In particular, he said he was deeply affected by workshops he conducted with impoverished young cancer patients, who taught him the real meaning of love and joy.
Frenn spent the 2017 fall semester traveling around the continent meeting locals and foreigners, studying art and architecture and taking hundreds of photographs for future projects. Frenn was fascinated by miniature painting, an art form he discovered in India and said he will introduce to his classes.
Frenn’s own art is realism embedded with symbolism, metaphors and allegories that engage the audience with his search.
“How can art reframe the conversation, challenge perceptions, and stimulate a candid dialogue leading to a more just, peaceful and sustainable world?”
Lauren Tansey is a senior psychology major studying painting with Frenn.
“He had a life-changing experience that he shares with everybody,” she said. “He really wants to inspire us as artists and make us aware of our greater role in society. He encourages us to be Fulbright scholars too.”
Not only is she considering applying for a Fulbright, but she is also considering changing her major. Art therapy, she said, would combine her two fields of study.
The journey to India crystalized Frenn’s research, he said.
“Can engaged artistic practice serve as a catalyst for change in the broader social, cultural and political contexts?” he asked.
“Fulbright was truly a transformative experience,” he said. “I am honored to be a Fulbright scholar, an ambassador to bridge cultures, religions and civilizations.”
Check out some of Frenn's art [below] he painted while in India