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MSU Denver receives third Fulbright-Hays grant

The prestigious award will support a four-week seminar in Morocco next summer.

By Lindsey Coulter

July 28, 2020

Fulbright logoThe U.S. Department of Education has awarded Metropolitan State University of Denver an $80,800 Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad program grant to conduct a four-week international seminar, “Women, Art and Development in Contemporary Morocco.” This is MSU Denver’s third Fulbright-Hays award in the past five years. The first was awarded in 2015 to fund a seminar in Morocco and the second in 2018 to fund a seminar in India.

Leila Armstrong, senior lecturer of art history, will be the seminar’s primary faculty leader, guiding 14 participants including MSU Denver faculty and education students as well as Denver Center for International Studies educators. The seminar will include a four-week stay in Morocco next summer with a full schedule of lectures, field visits and interactions with a wide range of Moroccan women scholars, artists and entrepreneurs. Participants will be hosted by the Moroccan-American Commission for Educational and Cultural Exchange. Slots will be available for four education students, including those pursuing art education.

“This award is prestigious and highly competitive,” said Ali Thobhani, Ph.D., executive director, Office of International Studies. “By making this award, the U.S. Department of Education and the Fulbright Group Projects Abroad Program recognize the expertise of MSU Denver faculty and the importance that MSU Denver places on promoting internationalization.”

The Early Bird spoke with Armstrong and Thobhani to learn more.

Early Bird: Why is contemporary Moroccan art such an exciting area of academic study?

Armstrong: A couple of things make this area so rich; one is the history of Morocco. Morocco never came under the control of the Ottoman Empire, so its artistic trajectory is entirely different from much of the Islamic world. Craft and art traditions never underwent what we call “Ottomanization,” which had the effect of flattening out the arts in terms of style throughout the Ottoman Empire. So the artistic tradition of Morocco was largely unbroken until the colonial period, and yet it is one of the least published areas in terms of Islamic art.

A second factor is the makeup of Moroccan society. You have this incredibly diverse group of people – Amazigh, Arabs, Africans, Muslims, Christians, Jews (up until the creation of Israel), Europeans and more – which even before the Ottoman Empire (and to this day) created an aesthetic that was hybrid and very cosmopolitan. As Morocco is a quickly developing country, there is a tension between a more traditional aesthetic and the artists who want to participate in the global art market. This development has opened the door for many women to emerge as artists, artisans and entrepreneurs, which sets Morocco apart from some other predominantly Islamic countries.

Early Bird: What will participants gain from this seminar, and how will it also enrich the department?

Armstrong: Participants will hopefully gain a less Western-centric understanding of Islam, Morocco, Moroccan women and Africa at large. Western culture is often dismissive and largely ignorant of anything outside of the West, reliant on faulty media narratives for information on Africa, the Middle East and more. I think this seminar resonates even more at this particular moment as we reflect on our treatment of marginalized communities across the U.S.

It will also enrich our MSU Denver departments by immersing participants in Moroccan culture, which they will bring back to their classrooms, supporting one of the key goals of both the department and the University, which is a global, diverse education. Furthermore, while in Morocco, participants will be encouraged to make connections for future collaborations both as professionals and for their students.

Early Bird: What do you hope participants will share with their Moroccan counterparts?

Thobhani: We hope participants will share aspects of their own individual expertise and experiences; discuss areas of possible research and professional collaboration; explore ways in which they can promote greater mutual understanding of U.S. and Moroccan cultures; and discuss ways of building bridges between Moroccan women artists and MSU Denver and DCIS.

Topics: Academics, Arts, Excellence, Funding, Grant

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