Recent MFA Graduate Prerna Headed to Skowhegan School
If you saw the MFA thesis exhibition what moves between at the Katherine E. Nash Gallery this past semester, you know that this graduating class is on track to do great things. And multi-disciplinary artist Prerna (MFA '22) is not wasting any time, heading off this week to attend a nine-week summer residency at the widely esteemed Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture.
Originally from Mumbai and living and working here as a non-resident alien with no last name, Prerna uses a variety of processes and materials to investigate both bureaucratic barriers and domestic life through the lens of language. Having grown up learning English, Hindi, Marathi, and Tamil, Prerna examines her own identity through text – some as fluid and personal as her mother's handwriting, others as staunch and detached as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration forms. Her sculptural installations interrupt space and invite the viewer to think about the unseen and implied forces at work in art galleries, behind the drywall of our homes, and in the empty air around a lawn chair.
"I am exploring how typed text, as opposed to handwriting, is the epitome of bureaucracy," she writes in her artist statement. "It is trying to disguise itself as something unnoticeable, nudging you to simply consume it for the knowledge it imparts or for the systems it needs you to navigate... Thus I turn to handwriting; to me it's accountable for the ways in which its uniqueness fails. Sometimes you cannot read handwriting, and that is the beauty of it: the refusal and the inability to change."
Her next chapter will begin this week, as she heads to Maine to begin her residency at Skowhegan as part of a large cohort of artists on their 350 acre campus. With access to an individual studio space, a sculpture studio, a fresco studio, a media lab, and a massive library, participants at Skowhegan "are encouraged to work free of the expectations of the marketplace and academia," according to their website. Alumni and faculty include some of the biggest names in contemporary American art: Jacob Lawrence, Lee Bontecou, Ben Shahn, Alice Neel, Louise Nevelson, and Merce Cunningham, to name a few.
And now we can add Prerna to that list. Before she takes off, we were able to sit down for a quick Q & A about her plans for the summer and what advice she'd give to other artists thinking about applying:
First of all, congrats on getting accepted to Skowhegan! Do you have any plans or projects in mind to start once you get there, or are you staying open to inspiration?
I am going in totally open-minded, which is a little scary and very different from the way I usually work. Part of the ask of the residency is that we come in with no big plans or ideas in order to allow ourselves to work differently than usual and let the environment and the community there inspire new ways of making. That said, I am bringing some small painting supplies and some carbon paper to mess around with while I settle in. I am very excited to try out fresco painting there; they have amazing facilities and resources for that!
It sounds like the Skowhegan School is built around the idea of community – each artist gets their own studio, but a big part of the experience is being a part of a unique cohort. I imagine it will be similar to a graduate school cohort in some ways. What do you enjoy about working in that kind of communal atmosphere? Is it collaborative or competitive or mostly just helpful in terms of energy and feedback?
I am a totally community and people oriented person, even outside of being an artist. I am always 100% living in relation to other folks, and similarly I believe art is not made in a vacuum. I am excited and curious to meet so many new people out there and learn from them and collaborate with them, which is a huge aspect of the residency. That said, I have my moments of feeling quite intimidated by the possibility of being in the presence of people I know for a fact will be the prominent artists of the future. That feels like a very exciting part of it, to know someone when they are on the brink of something. I hope it's not competitive, I would lose haha!
Skowhegan describes the residency as a "once-in-a-lifetime experience," and it is highly competitive to get in. Do you happen to know how many people were accepted out of the many applications?
I believe 54 artists have been accepted into the program, and there were 2400 or so applications. I feel very lucky!
What advice do you have for other artists looking to apply to residency programs like this?
As much as this has already been said, my advice would be to definitely apply. It's worth it just to get your work out there. I almost didn't apply to Skowhegan because I didn't think that the odds would be in my favour. I'm so glad I did – it never hurts to try!