Dr. Stephanie Sparling Williams Named Brace Center Faculty Fellow

Sparling Williams’s project developed from her catalogue essay on multi-media artist Sondra Perry.

The Brace Center Faculty Fellowship is an annual program that selects one faculty member to do research in the context of gender. This year, the Brace Center for Gender Studies granted its next fellowship to Stephanie Sparling Williams, Visiting Scholar in Art History and Assistant Curator of the Addison Museum of American Art.

Sparling Williams will spend this fellowship investigating the intersections between technology, race, gender, and the body, with a specific emphasis on how those ideas connect to the works of women-identified artists of color.

Her project, which will span over the course of 2019, is made up of “comparative textual and conceptual analysis, close examination of bodies of work by female artists of color, and the production of an article for publication,” according to an announcement published in The Andover Gazette.

In an email to The Phillipian, Sparling Williams explained the motivations behind her investigation, which relies on a multi-faceted approach.

“Now that people of all races and genders are entering the digital realm in ways that extend their physical bodies and move beyond physical space, I’ve been increasingly interested in theorizing the effects this has on art and the culture that is produced at the intersections of humanity and technology,” wrote Sparling Williams.

According to Flavia Vidal, Director of the Brace Center for Gender Studies, the program is especially excited by the interdisciplinary nature of Sparling Williams’ project. Her proposal, which places notable focus on the representation of bodies, was chosen amongst many applications in the fellowship selection process.

“[Applicants for the fellowship] turn in a variety of materials — a project proposal, where they say what they would like to do and why this is important, and their curriculum vitae, so we know what their prior expertise is, both academic, professional, in relation to gender specifically, and in relation to this project. They also submit a preliminary bibliography. In the proposal, we ask that they speak to how the project can impact the community,” said Vidal.

Conducting professional research and designing community-oriented resources around an aspect of gender is an opportunity that the fellowship uniquely helps faculty members to carry out, according to Vidal.

“The idea that we encourage our adults to continue their learning, to continue their intellectual and scholarly development, and that we make room and time so that they can pursue these interests and share the result of their inquiries with other community members is really really important. It reinforces our overall mission of excellence as an educational institution,” said Vidal.

Sparling Williams’ proposal was informed both by her unique perspective as an art historian and visual cultural studies scholar and her role as a teacher in the Andover community.

“I have always been interested in art and bodies — both artists’ bodies and the bodies of spectators. My interest in technology and post-humanism has been recent, as many of the artists I study, as well as emerging artists broadly, have used various technologies in their work. Gaming is an entirely new interest — it is one way I am thinking about translating my research for broader audiences in this high school context,” wrote Sparling Williams.

Towards the end of Sparling Williams’ project, she will present and use her research to facilitate better discussions about the many relationships between humans and technology.

“I hope to get this community thinking critically and differently about humanity, and about bodies in particular. What are our limits as humans, where have we used technology to meet us in those limitations and extend the possibilities of our bodies, and what does this mean for, well, humanity?” wrote Sparling Williams.

In addition to impacting the community, Sparling Williams says she hopes that this project will help to address inquiries in her fields of interest as a whole.

Sparling Williams wrote, “Admittedly, I’m most interested in what this means for art, and how we understand art’s history when the lines become blurred between artists and computers, for example. Or, what this might mean for race and gender studies when our bodies are no longer our primary point of contact for our various experiences.”

Editor’s Note: Junah Jang is an Associate Commentary Editor for The Phillipian.