Catching Up with Abigail McEwen

What a summer it has been for Professor Abigail McEwen!

Earlier, in May, Professor McEwen learned that she achieved tenure in the Department and the University, and would be promoted to Associate Professor in August, a title she now enjoys. Relieved at the successful conclusion of this long process, Professor McEwen is especially grateful to colleagues in the Department for their support along the way, especially Professor Steven Mansbach, who chaired the committee reviewing her tenure submission.

In addition, her book, Revolutionary Horizons: Art and Polemics in 1950s Cuba, is to be published by Yale University Press in September. A work of scholarship that considers the rich diversity of the generation of artists working in Cuba in the 1950s leading up to the Revolution, in this book Professor McEwen particularly focuses on the avant-garde activity of these artists not only in the realm of art, but as well in politics. While certain artists were better known in the United States, such as Mario Carreño, a “slightly senior figure” whose work had been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art (and whose painting, “Southern Skies,” forms the front cover design of the book), Professor McEwen emphasizes the overall “horizontality of the generation” in this study. Her work promises to be a major contribution to the emerging scholarship of modernism in Cuba, and Professor McEwen rightly should be proud of this important achievement.

Professor McEwen will be taking a richly-deserved sabbatical for the academic year, during which she will be wrapping up a few outstanding projects and embarking on two new projects. One of these is an article-length project on the Puerto Rican artist Myrna Baez. An artist whose landscapes painted at the end of the twentieth century McEwen describes as arriving “from a post-colonial frame,” Baez fascinates McEwen for the ways in which she represents nature through a kind of displacement, a disembodiment effect that focuses on the social and ecological experience of colonialism.

Professor McEwen’s other project is book-length in nature. Excentric Bodies: Exodus and Erotics in Post-Revolutionary Cuban Art would seem, at least by chronology, to be a sequel to Revolutionary Horizons. However, in this upcoming project Professor McEwen will forgo the generational approach employed in Revolutionary Horizons for a sequence of case studies of artists - two of whom stayed in Cuba, three of whom left Cuba after the Revolution – and all of whom exhibit in their work what Professor McEwen terms “exilic consciousness.” Their work as a whole tends towards a post-minimalist, eccentric abstraction that is at once erotic and surreal.

When she returns from sabbatical, Professor McEwen surely will bring back to the classroom the intellectual generosity and stimulating career-enhancing opportunities that have characterized several of her past graduate seminars. Working with Professor McEwen in the role of an intellectual Virgil, students in the Department have enjoyed remarkable scholarly opportunities to work directly with objects from the collection of the Art Museum of the Americas. In the exhibition “Constellations,” graduate (and undergraduate) students developed and produced short films each focusing on one work of art. The results remain a source of just pride that can be accessed here. Recently students devised the broad themes of an exhibition curated by Professor McEwen and exhibited at the University of Maryland Art Gallery, “Streams of Being: Selections from the Art Museum of the Americas,” an exhibition that was as critically well-received as it was beautifully installed.

As she heads off into this sabbatical year, Professor McEwen should draw much satisfaction for her many jobs well done. Happy writing and good luck!