The Photography, Video and Imaging Professor will use the award for a project highlighting the experiences of women and girls in war-torn Iraq.
Alshaibi, a photographic and video artist, is co-chair of the School of Art’s nationally ranked Photography, Video and Imaging program.
“I am honored to receive the Guggenheim Fellowship in Photography. I am also deeply grateful to my colleagues, students and the community at the University of Arizona for their creative and intellectual engagement over the years,” Alshaibi said. “Our collaborations and conversations have greatly benefited my research and artwork.”
Since 1925, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation has granted nearly $400 million in fellowships to over 18,000 individuals, many of whom went on to be named Nobel laureates, Pulitzer Prize winners, poets laureate and recipients of other national and international honors.
This year’s recipients were chosen through a peer-review process of nearly 3,000 applicants.
“I am thrilled to see Sama Alshaibi on the distinguished list of Guggenheim Fellows for 2021,” said Andy Schulz, dean of the College of Fine Arts. “Not only is this award a significant recognition of her standing as a leading figure in contemporary art, it also provides her with critical support as she continues to push the boundaries of her field. As we continue to elevate the arts at the University of Arizona, the groundbreaking work of fine arts faculty such as Sama provides important evidence that creative practice is a critical part of the university’s reputation as a leading research university.”
“Recognition as a Guggenheim fellow is one of the most prestigious and highly visible honors in the arts,” said Colin Blakely, director of the School of Art. “This achievement is the mark of an artist who has distinguished their work and its relevance in profound ways. I am delighted to see this well-earned honor bestowed upon Sama.”
‘To Speak of Silence’
As a woman, a native of Iraq and a naturalized U.S. citizen, Alshaibi uses her work not only to culturally translate between two vastly different countries but to communicate complex and emotionally fraught topics.
Her Guggenheim Fellowship project, “To Speak of Silence,” will use images, video and text to shed light on the ways in which Iraqi women are affected in wartime.
Iraq has experienced political turmoil and upheaval for decades. Much of what the world sees of those conflicts is imagery of gunfights and bombings, but Alshaibi focuses on the devastation beyond the shooting and explosions.
“The devaluation of Iraqi women’s lives exists in the judicial sense, in terms of the new 2005 Iraqi constitution, and by the conditions of sexualized political violence accelerated by the rise and rule of ISIL,” Alshaibi said.
With a country constantly fighting with foreign and domestic adversaries, Alshaibi says bureaucratic structures like the judiciary system are not able to meet the needs of those who are the least represented in governing bodies and the most in need of its services. Consequently, she says women are routinely harassed, kidnapped, or brutalized with no recourse or accountability.
“My practice is a union of these immediate concerns: a commitment to share an Arab American, feminist perspective through a bodily site of struggle and identification,” Alshaibi said.
Alshaibi was profiled as part of the University of Arizona’s “Wonder” campaign. See her feature on YouTube.