Abakanowicz Fellows

2021-2022 Fellows

Inés Arango-Guingue (MAAAP 2023)

Inés Arango-Guingue is an independent curator, writer and artist from Bogotá, Colombia. She has worked and organized solo and group exhibitions in Bogotá, New York City, and Cali, and led residency and art education programs in Colombia. She is assistant curator of Athénée Press, a contemporary art publishing house working closely with contemporary artists to create research-driven books that explore the intersection between site, language, and cultural memory.

As part of her work with Athénée Press, she is currently collaborating with The Calder Foundation and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s EMPAC in Athénée’s upcoming book “Tuning Calder’s Clouds”. She most recently curated and facilitated Fantasmas Y Paratexto (Ghosts and Paratext) at Museo del Banco de La República in Bogotá, a five-month long residency and exhibition program financed with a grant awarded by the city of Bogotá. As part of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Master of Arts Administration and Policy’s 2023 cohort, Inés is co-editor of the department’s journal, Emerge.

Elisa Elena Benzo (MAVCS 2023)

Elisa Elena Benzo is a Venezuelan-American visual researcher and aspiring curator, with a background in fashion styling and creative direction. Her artistic and scholarly praxis is an ever-evolving, trans-disciplinary amalgam that seeks to understand the alchemic potentialities of art and their social and political applications. Her process consists of an embodied, critical exploration — of self, other, systems, place, cosmos — made tangible in rituals, movement, meditations, a-ha moments, jotted-down notes, reflections, conversations, photographs, and audio and video recordings. Currently, she is expending a lot of psychic energy trying to imagine the formal and metaphysical qualities of a future community arts space.

She is presently pursuing an MA in Visual and Critical Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and is the ’21-22 McMullen Arts Leadership Intern in Innovation and Creativity, Department of Learning and Public Engagement, at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Sophie Buchmueller (MAHA 2022)

Sophie Buchmueller is a curator and art historian currently based in Chicago. She is driven by the potential of contemporary art to serve as a framework for understanding the world—not just as a reflection of reality, but as a mode of active engagement with our often-precarious surroundings. Her curatorial practice seeks to develop spaces of contemplation and dialogue, as well as explore the range of possibilities and emotions art enables. She holds a BA in American Studies and French from Carleton College and is pursuing dual master’s degrees in Art History and Arts Administration & Policy at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Johnny Doley (MFA 2023, Sculpture)

Johnny Doley grew up surrounded by oak trees in Virginia, and now lives in the arms of an ash tree in Chicago. An avid birder, he spends his free mornings at Montrose Point, hanging out with the vireos and flycatchers. Johnny’s artistic practice revolves around connecting with the many different non-human neighbors that we share space with. He aims to re-examine the human-centered concept of nature, question the hierarchy with which we assess living beings, and advocate for an expanded awareness of the multitudes of non-human beings who we cross paths with every single day. Johnny has received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting from Boston University and was a Stoeckle Fellow at Yale Norfolk School of Art. He is currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts in Sculpture at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Jad El Khoury (Master of Art and Public Place 2022, Oslo National Academy of the Arts)

My practice intertwines reality with fiction, facts with uncertainty, architecture with art, collective memory with collective consciousness.

From Illustrating repetitive meditative patterns with ink on paper, to monumental installations out in the city, the mediums I work with metamorphose constantly based on the context and serendipities which I encounter.

Currently at KHIO+MAPS I am learning about new contexts and contextualizing methods. Bringing broader theory images into my practice, allowing more of the tentacular thinking to happen, developing my linguistics and accessible writings.

Follow my Master studies progress and updates.

Previous works + More info

Miguel Angel Espinoza (BFA 2023, Painting and Drawing)

I find pleasure in traveling. I dance my way between corny walls and cheesy bridges, translating the double bind, to trip to triple binds. I draw and I paint, and sometimes illustrate at a pace, or a multiple character word rate.

For me, it would be ignorant to not consider classic works of the past and to find ways to acknowledge patterns, tropes or notable shifts that rhyme with today’s breath. When I make the time to write, draw, or paint, I always begin from life and memory, and that guides the feeling, that directs a gesture, which leads to the library, then back to the painting.

“…Jumping borders at ease, jumping borders with pleasure…” – Guillermo Gómez Peña

Ella Fainaru-Wada (BFA 2022)

Ella Fainaru-Wada is an artist, a student, a self-described introspective detective. Born and raised in Northern California, Ella’s inquisitiveness and love of learning developed in tandem with a need to create, eventually generating passions for sustainability and self-analysis as accidental byproducts. Ella is currently based in Chicago, where she is pursuing a BFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Ella’s works are born from places of friction and curiosity: mental health, decision fatigue, addictive behaviors, coping mechanisms, and desires to understand motivation, attraction, perfectionism, happiness, and habit-building all drive her artwork, sometimes subconsciously. Despite these serious topics, humor and play have a home in her work.

Ella frequently finds herself diving into a topic and coming out somewhere else entirely.

Kelly R Johnston (MFA 2024, Sculpture)

Kelly R Johnston is pursuing an MFA in Sculpture at the School of the Art Institute Chicago. Johnston regularly exhibits internationally and extensively in the U.S. south. Notably, Johnston received the 2020 Durham Arts Council Emerging Artist Grant, the 2019 Emerging Regional Artist Residency at Artspace in Raleigh, opened a solo exhibition at the Durham Art Guild SunTrust Gallery and participated in residencies and workshops at the Vermont Studio Center, Torpedo Factory Art Center, the Hambidge Center, and the Anderson Ranch Arts Center.

Johnston’s work explores traditionally feminized modes of labor at the intersection of production and materiality. They examine these tensions by utilizing natural materials and identity objects (hair, teeth or other personal effects), incorporating mixed-media processes to create visceral sculptures and installations.

Alice Matthews (MAHA 2023)

Alice Matthews is an arts and culture worker with an interest in institutional governance and the active role of artists as big systems thinkers. With past experience in visitor engagement and museum education she is ready to imagine what art spaces look like in a postmuseum world. She received her BA in Art History and Italian Language and Literature from Smith College and is currently an MA Candidate in the Dual Degree Art History and Arts Administration program at SAIC.

Meghan McCray (MAAAP 2022)

Meghan McCray is an arts administrator with experience in management, museum fundraising, and corporate sales. In her professional role as Associate Director, Member and Visitor Engagement at the Art Institute of Chicago, Meghan leads a team committed to providing a  welcoming and meaningful experience for all. Meghan’s research interests include articulating alternative organizational forms by challenging mainstream organization theory and practice. Meghan received a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (2010) and is currently a MA candidate in the Arts Administration and Policy program (2022) and Graduate Fellow of the Institute for Curatorial Research and Practice at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Scott Ashley O’Brien (MAAAP 2023)

Scott Ashley holds B.A. degrees in both Painting and Printmaking from The University of Washington, Seattle and an M.F.A in New forms Sculpture and Conceptual Art from The Pratt Institute, New York. His professional experience includes serving as Director of Perimeter Gallery - Chicago, 2001 - 2016, Independent gallery development and design, Private art collection management, Art consultation and is currently the Director and Owner of The Council Gallery. Scott’s research interests are focused on sustainable art materials and practices and the environmentally conscientious curation/exhibition of contemporary art.

Vanessa Payne (BFA 2023)

I’m currently a third year student in the BFA Program specializing in Sculpture. Born and raised in South Central Los Angeles, I’ve spent the majority of my life in and around Inglewood, the Valley and other culturally diverse parts of California. A little bit about my history - my dad grew up and attended college during the civil rights era in the south and on east coast, my mother on the other hand spent the first twenty something years of her life in the Philippines before traveling to the US to become her family’s primary bread-winner. My parents met in the late 90’s by chance, my mother was a secretary who was picking up papers at my fathers office and a few years later tied the knot. In doing so, they blended their families from previous marriages and had me (much to everyone’s surprise). My practice, as a result, has become an inquiry into what it means to be American, especially since my greatest influences (my parents) have such specific and extreme perspectives on what holding this identity means.  Among many things, I'm interested in conversations between artist and audience concerning the American Dream, how “inalienable rights” actually function in our day to day lives and how racially significant icons and symbolism have evolved to adapt to today’s social climate.

Kirsten Schuck (MAHA 2022)

Kirsten Schuck is an arts administrator, art historian, and curator. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Studio Art and Art History from New York University. Currently pursuing a dual Master's degree in Arts Administration and Art History from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Kirsten previously worked at Pace Gallery in New York and at New York–based artist advisement firm, Hyphen, helping artists to realize large projects and major museum exhibitions. Her current research focuses on the post-colonial, anti-colonial, and ecological art practices of Indigenous and diasporic contemporary artists from the Pacific Islands and South East Asia. She has been selected to be one of three speakers in a panel devoted to New Perspectives in Art, Design, and Art History at the College Art Association's 110th Annual Conference.

Sarah Sekles (Master of Art and Public Place 2023, Oslo National Academy of the Arts)

Sarah Sekles is an artist and designer currently based in Oslo, Norway. In her artistic practice, she has explored her origin and heritage through different materials and mediums, using a wide range of crafting techniques while visualizing personal memories.

Research methods, e.g. revisiting personal history through dialogues, interviews or archiving systems, imagining public spaces as resources of ideas, formulating a catalog of own experiences, creates and shapes the base of her practice.

Sarah Sekles has completed her Bachelor of Arts in Product Design in Berlin. She has worked as an artist assistant of Reijiro Wada and Tomas Saraceno, as well as a freelance Designer on several commissioned projects.

Katherine Skwira-Brown (BFA 2022)

Katherine Skwira-Brown is an undergraduate student in her last semester at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, pursuing a BFA. Originally from Duluth, MN she grew up on the tip of Lake Superior. Her artwork emerges from her experience of the power of natural spaces to ground us and foster stillness. Working mostly in the field of installation and sculpture, she filters light through painted plastic to control the atmosphere and morph the meaning of spaces. Fascinated by how we overlook the compositions and art in industrial forms, Katherine’s work highlights their beauty and slows down the viewer to create moments of rest in these makeshift sacred spaces. She plays with the arrangement of discarded objects to highlight their potential and materiality. By utilizing found material in new ways she explores this interest of inside/outside, artificial vs organic, and functional versus aesthetic.

Find her work on Instagram @katskwiraart

2020-2021 Fellows

Maysam Al-Ani

Maysam Al-Ani is a digital media artist, game designer, and filmmaker, and the lead artist for Atomic Chrysalis. Her work explores concepts of third-culture-kid and diasporic identities inspired by personal experiences. This includes narratives of fragmented relationships, memories, and identity surrounding the US invasion of Iraq, where she is originally from, and the influence of technology on media portrayals and language barriers, particularly between English and Arabic. Maysam holds a bachelor’s degree in Media Industries & Technology from Northwestern University, where she earned a Studio20Q fund to write and direct an animation “Where Are You Right Meow?” She is currently pursuing an MFA in Art & Technology Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Elise Butterfield

Elise Butterfield is a curator, arts administrator, dancer, and disability advocate. Her work, often through co-creation with others, deals with the interaction between bodies, ideas, and space. Currently a student in the dual MA in Arts Administration and Art History at SAIC, Elise previously worked as Programs and Gallery Director at Art Access in Salt Lake City, Utah. There she worked closely with artists to curate myriad exhibitions, and helped to start Breaking Barriers, a state-wide cultural accessibility training program. Elise, a 2021 Magdalena Abakanowicz Fellow, currently works with the SAIC Dept. of Exhibitions and is a company member of The Space Movement Project. A native Seattleite, Elise holds BAs, magna cum laude, in Dance and International Studies from the University of Washington. 

Hugo Ivan Juarez

Hugo Ivan Juarez identifies as Mexican-American and as a representative of culture he aims to share the familial through the medium of art. He is a co-founder of Familia Printmakers which is a community and member based printmaking shop in his hometown of Dallas, TX. His curatorial work began with the organization of pop-up exhibitions in dorms, apartments, houses, small businesses, and Airbnb’s. These untraditional venues were taken over with the work by artist's who occupy the space in between the museums and galleries. Above all he believes that art is a force of power that can change the world.

Robert Pierce

Robert is an independent curator and art scholar in Chicago, Illinois. He is the recipient of the 2019 San Francisco Art Institute Masters Fellowship, 2020 La Mirada Cultural Scholar-in-Residence, and 2021 Magdalena Abakanowicz Fellowship. He has delivered lectures at the California Art of the State and Community Built Association Conferences and was recently the guest curator for Francis McComas: Rediscovering California’s First Modernist at the Monterey Museum of Art. His current research focuses on identifying gaps in representational knowledge and providing a generative framework for the inclusion of marginalized voices in the institutional art world.

Vince Phan

Vince Phan is an interdisciplinary artist whose work is primarily ephemeral. Using flowers and other short-lived materials, his work explores the nature of beauty in relation to time and beauty in culture. He is a Graduate Scholar at Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. He holds a BA in Visual Arts from Columbia University. He is now pursuing an MFA in Sculpture at School of the Art Institute  of Chicago.  

Sofía Sanchez Borboa

Sofía is an art historian and curator. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Art History from Centro de Cultura Casa Lamm and a master’s degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in Visual and Critical Studies. In her curatorial practice, she works with ideas of kindness as a form of labor to make art more accessible and horizontal. She often works in a participatory environment. In her research, she focuses on issues of nation-state allegiance, ethnicity, identity politics,  postcolonialism, and feminism and how these are told through history and storytelling.

Taylor Shuck

Taylor Shuck is an independent curator and scholar based in Chicago, Illinois, and one of the co-lead artists for How do we trouble time? She holds a Bachelor's degree in Painting and Art History from Maryland Institute College of Art and a Masters degree in Arts Administration and Policy from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Taylor is a recipient of the 2021 Magdalena Abakanowicz Fellowship to curate and assist in the development of a site specific augmented reality installation. Her current research focuses on the interdisciplinary enmeshing of art, technology, and science with an interest in embodied social impact through interactive art.