Two seniors were awarded Watson Fellowships on March 15. Emmanuel Whyte ’13 and Abdullah Awad ’13 will both receive $25,000 to pursue a year of international travel and independent study.
Whyte and Awad are two of this year’s 40 Watson Fellows, selected from among over 700 candidates. The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship Program was established in 1968 by the children and wife of Thomas J. Watson, Sr., the founder of IBM. More than 2700 Watson Fellows have been named since the program’s founding, including Lindsay Olsen ’12 last year.
According to the Watson Fellowship’s website, the fellowship is a grant for “a year of independent, purposeful exploration and travel,” to enhance the Fellows’ “capacity for resourcefulness, imagination, openness and leadership and to foster their humane and effective participation in the world community.”
Awad, a literary studies major from Amman, Jordan, will pursue a project titled “The Politics of Exile and the Transformative Power of Art.”
He will study “how those living within geopolitical, cultural, or religious exile gain recognition by creating new forms of artistic expression.” in communities of Palestinian immigrants in Chile, Muslims in India, indigenous Berbers in Morocco and Arab immigrants in France.*
“Thinking about the world outside of a conservative framework allows us to understand how we are implicated in the production of its meaning,” Awad said of his project. “With this understanding, I am interested in how aesthetic practices intervene in the production of particularly violent or exclusionary meaning.”
“The project was inspired by the people I met while undertaking previous fellowships in Eastern Europe and the Middle East,” Awad said. “The labor of my video, literary, installation and performance art – parts of which have come to engage, quite literally, the College campus – serves as the background for pursuing the project.”
He has “been motivated by the power of art” for most of his life, founding a creative writing center in high school. His art is intimately linked to his civic engagement, including founding Students for Palestinian Awareness at Williams and building an NGO in the Middle East. He also dances with the Columbia Debka Brigades, which also functions to educate others about Palestinian history.
After pursuing his Watson project, he plans to pursue a master’s degree in philosophy in political thought and intellectual history at the University of Cambridge.
Whyte is an art and psychology major from Bennington Vt., who intends to pursue a project titled “Engaging the Gaze: Exploring Race, Identity, and Masculinity through an Artistic Lens.” He will interact with artists and examine questions of racial identity in France, Ghana and Japan, while working on his own art.
In the College press release announcing the Watson Fellowship recipients, Whyte was quoted as saying, “By visiting France, Ghana and Japan, I aim to explore representations of blackness and black culture, maleness and masculinity. By creating visual commentaries through my artwork, I hope to discover answers to my questions.”
Whyte has long had an interest in identity and masculinity. He was raised with a Muslim background by an African American single mother in a conservative Christian home, is a football player and has developed an interest in drawing in his time at the College.
He worked with children from underrepresented groups through the Responding to Arts Involves Self Expression program and worked as a curatorial intern at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute.
“[The fellowship is] a huge honor, and it’s great to be recognized for one of my true passions, which is art,” Whyte said in the College’s press release, which was published on March 15.
*This article was updated to reflect changes in Awad’s project on Sept. 26, 2013.