George Mason University

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University Libraries’ first artist-in-residence concludes with exhibit

June 5, 2019   /   by Mary Lee Clark

Adriana Monsalve, photo courtesy University Libraries.

This year, George Mason University Libraries piloted their new Mason Libraries Artist-in-Residence Program. For their first year, they invited Adriana Monsalve, artist and cofounder of Homie House Press.  

Throughout April and May, Monsalve led a series of workshops and lectures and conducted research on the libraries’ photobook and artists’ book collections. She concludes her residency with a curated exhibit, “Diaspora Diction,” that will remain on display through July 26.

“Diaspora Diction” is a collection of Monsalve’s photographs, photobooks and research on identity throughout hidden African diaspora. The exhibit, said Monsalve, is meant to challenge the conversations we have about identity and the community to the point of the illusion of racial identity. The exhibit builds upon another one of her projects, “Clear as Black,” which documents and interviews the lives of Puerto Ricans with a rare and distinct type of albinism. 

“The project is investigating and researching these nuanced versions that we have of blackness,” said Monsalve. 

Stephanie Grimm, art and art history librarian at Fenwick Library, said that Mason Libraries has been interested in a residency for a while. After meeting Monsalve to try to organize an exhibit at Fenwick Gallery, they realized that this was an opportunity to try something bigger. 

“To me, Adriana’s work is an example of the ways that traditional notions of ‘research’ can be engaged and transformed through a personal, political and poetic lens,” said Grimm. “The work that takes center stage in this exhibition, ‘Clear as Black,’ does this by approaching the central topic—albinism in Puerto Rico—from an oblique angle.”

Cosponsored by Mason's School of Art with support from University Life, Grimm said the residency is important to show students, faculty and the general public the direct and indirect ways that research and library collections can influence a project, as well as expand the definition of research beyond academic monographs and papers to include prints, collaborative exhibitions and experimental videos. 

“This residency has turned up more surprises and been one of the most difficult and rewarding professional projects I’ve been part of in a long time, and I can only hope we get to try it again,” Grimm said.