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posted by Ann Albritton and Janet Landay — Jul 03, 2012

Ann Albritton is a professor of modern and contemporary art history at Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida, and chair of CAA’s International Committee.

Judy Peter, a scholar at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa, speaks at a meeting of CAA International Travel Grant recipients at the 2012 Annual Conference in Los Angeles (photograph by Bradley Marks)

A short time before the 2012 CAA Annual Conference in Los Angeles, Judy Peter and I began sending occasional emails back and forth from Johannesburg, South Africa, to Sarasota, Florida. As incoming chair of the International Committee, I had been assigned to Peter, one of twenty recipients of the CAA International Travel Grant Program, generously funded by the Getty Foundation. We had been paired based on a shared academic pursuit: teaching contemporary issues in art. Her short biography describing her as head of the Department of Jewellery Design and Manufacture at the University of Johannesburg gave me a brief introduction that made me curious to meet her. We met face-to-face early on the first morning of the conference and went with several other grant recipients and their hosts to a large roundtable breakfast at the Hotel Figueroa. It was there that I began getting to know her as a fellow art historian and theorist who was delighted to be at the conference and determined to make the most of the experience.

Peter is a dedicated scholar who has the distinction of being the first black person in South Africa to complete a PhD in visual studies: she earned her degree in 2011 at the University of Pretoria. Even though her country has been a democracy for eighteen years, many blacks and women in academia must still confront, and break through, the proverbial glass ceiling. Peter describes her research as a “critical reading of the politics of gender and identity issues in a new South Africa.” She is currently studying the work of thirteen female South African artists, looking at myriad geographical and historical influences that have affected their art practice. Each artist she has chosen to write on is working with identity, place, and displacement.

Between visits to the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Peter attended sessions she felt were useful to her, including the CAA International Committee panel, “Internationalizing the Field: A Discussion of Global Networks for Art Historians,” and others, such as “Black Venus: They Called Her Hottentot.” These sessions, she writes, “allowed me to compare teaching and learning practices between institutions in the United States and in South Africa.” In addition, Peter attended two of CAA’s Professional Development Workshops: “Advice for New Instructors” and “The Syllabus: Mapping Out Your Semester.” At the latter she made a connection with a workshop presenter, Steven Bleicher, a professor of visual arts at Coastal University in South Carolina. Since the conference, the two have been in communication regarding opportunities for scholars at the University of Johannesburg to contribute to Bleicher’s new book.

For the international scholars, networking within their diverse group was among the most important benefits of being a travel-grant recipient. Discovering common areas of research, exploring conflicting views, and sharing divergent teaching practices made for dynamic discussions and brought various groupings of scholars together. Isolation remains a common problem for many of the grantees, and the conference provided immediate and long-range opportunities for them to build new communities. In fact, many of them have continued these conversations online; several are making concrete plans for future collaborations.

Like even the most seasoned of CAA conference goers, Peter and the other international scholars attended a whirlwind of workshops, sessions, panels, meetings, and museums without much time for reflection. Directly following the event in Los Angeles, however, most travel-grant recipients flew across the country to spend a few days at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts. At the Clark they were able to relax and get to know each other in a less formal environment, and to start to lay the groundwork for future work together.

I look forward to keeping in touch with Judy Peter in order to keep learning about the vastly different social and political landscape that artists and art historians inhabit in South Africa. I’m especially interested in her research on female artists active from 1994 to 2004. We’ll continue to exchange ideas, share our writing with one another, and possibly collaborate on a project.

Read about another travel-grant recipient, Dóra Sallay from Hungary, and review a report on all activities from the 2012 CAA International Travel Grant Program.

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