posted by Janet Landay, Program Manager, Fair Use Initiative — Apr 21, 2014
Kanwal Khalid was a participant in the 2014 CAA-Getty International Travel Grant Program. A professor of fine arts at University of the Punjab in Pakistan, she specializes in the history of South Asian art and design with a particular focus on miniature painting in nineteenth-century Lahore. Khalid is also a practicing miniature painter and former curator of paintings at the Lahore Museum. Below she describes her experiences at the 102nd Annual Conference in Chicago.
Just when you think you have seen it all, something turns up and surprises you with its novelty and magnitude. The College Art Association did just that when I attended its Annual Conference in Chicago last February. For me, it became more than attending a conference; it was the experience of a lifetime that changed many of my perspectives.
In Pakistan, art history has always been part of the academic study of fine arts, but now it has become an independent discipline in its own right. This is a relatively recent development, of which I have been a part, and art history is enjoying a high status for the first time in the history of Pakistan. But still it is a comparatively new field. When I came to the Chicago conference, it was a complete surprise to realize that thousands of people share the same passion. CAA and the Getty Foundation have caught a tiger by the tail that is growing fast and expanding everywhere.
The chill of Chicago and the layers of snow couldn’t mar the fiery passion of the scholars, students, artists, and art historians participating in the conference. Interactive sessions, exhibitions, bookstalls, art-supply booths—this was a completely magic world for me. To breathe in thoughts and objects that are the passion of my life was a real treat.
Another dimension of knowledge was listening to presentations by the other nineteen recipients of CAA’s International Travel Grant Program and realizing what wonderful work was going on in their countries regardless of all the challenges they face on daily basis, very similar to the situation in my own country.
Outside the grandeur of the Hilton Hotel, it was the world of museums and modern architecture. I really liked the friendly size of museums in Chicago, which were not as overwhelming as other institutions I have visited, where there’s always a sense of missing a lot even after seeing so much. In all the museums that I visited in Chicago, I was able to return to many of my favorite galleries more than once during the week.
And then a bad snowstorm hit just as we were departing Chicago for New York. Our destination was the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts, and I will not be exaggerating if I call it a researcher’s paradise. The library was a dream-come-true. The best part for me was being surrounded by mountains—the Berkshires were an enchanted land containing everything I could desire. Here, we raised questions, made suggestions, and challenged old concepts in a true scholarly approach.
The time passed too quickly, and we were saying goodbye to each other at Penn Station in New York City, with a hope that someday we will meet again. I traveled south to give a lecture in Delaware and then attend a meeting in Washington, DC. My experience at CAA turned out to be a great asset for these events, where I imparted my knowledge of South Asian art and culture with more confidence and vigor, especially during a briefing to the South Asian desk at the US State Department about the contemporary educational and cultural situation of Pakistan.
CAA’s 2014 Annual Conference was a life-changing event. Now I’m more confident about my research and teaching methodology because a comparison with other approaches helped me improve my own ways of doing things. I’m so very much looking forward to attending the conference next year.
After returning to Pakistan, I have talked with my students about the potential and scope of CAA and to encourage them to become members. This will give them an exposure to a world of dedicated art historians, enthusiastic academicians, and talented artists, with endless opportunities for those who have the judgment and ability to take advantage of them.
Kanwal Khalid in Chicago.