A wide shot of a ceramics studio, featuring students working with pottery wheels and other tools.

SAIC Alums Jeffrey Gibson and Walter Hood Named MacArthur “Geniuses”

Dear SAIC Community,

There are many rewarding aspects to being president of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), but the most intellectually challenging, emotionally stirring, and altogether fulfilling part of my job is getting to see the amazing work of the artists, designers, and scholars that comprise SAIC. When I witness that a faculty member’s wisdom sparked a student’s imagination or marvel at an alum’s exploration in the studio, I know I am getting a privileged glimpse at the truly genius work that’s being tried, iterated, and renewed throughout our community. Every so often, however, some of us are recognized in truly extraordinary ways, and I want to celebrate alums Jeffrey Gibson (BFA 1995) and Walter Hood (MFA 2013)—who earlier this week were named 2019 MacArthur Fellows, colloquially known as recipients of the “genius” grant—and their impactful work about identity, sustainability, and inclusivity with you.

As described in the MacArthur Foundation citation, interdisciplinary artist and craftsperson “Gibson, a member of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and of Cherokee descent, is forging a multifarious practice that redresses the exclusion and erasure of indigenous art traditions from the history of Western art as it explores the complexity and fluidity of identity.” He will give the Distinguished Alumni Lecture at SAIC on October 28, as part of our Visiting Artists Program. Paintings, sculptures, and quilts by Gibson—which combine handiwork, text, and abstraction—are on view in his solo exhibition CAN YOU FEEL IT, which runs through December 14, at Kavi Gupta gallery in Chicago.

Meanwhile, landscape and public artist Hood “melds architectural and fine arts expertise [in his work] with a commitment to designing ecologically sustainable public spaces that empower marginalized communities.” The founder of Hood Design Studio, his work commissioned for the 2019 Chicago Architecture Biennial, Three Trees: Jackson, Obama, Washington, uses fallen trees from Chicago’s South Side to represent the ongoing dialogue surrounding the location of the Obama Presidential Library and recognize memory’s persistence in landscape and architecture. The finished work is on view until January 5, 2020, at the Chicago Cultural Center.

With this recognition, Gibson and Hood mark the fifth time since 2001 that a member of our community has received a MacArthur Fellowship. They join 2018 recipient Wu Tsang (BFA 2004), 2017 recipient Trevor Paglen (MFA 2002), and 2015 recipient Associate Professor LaToya Ruby Frazier as well as 2001 recipient Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle (MFA 1989) in this exceptional distinction. Committed, complex, and critical work such as theirs typifies practices throughout our community, inspires us to be bold and passionate in our explorations, and exemplifies the effect we all aspire to as citizen artists, who, no matter where we come from, use our practices to help make our shared society better.

In celebration,

Elissa Tenny