Meet Block Museum Fellow Sarah Dwider

In September 2021 the Block Museum welcomed  Sarah Dwider as a 2021-2022 graduate fellow.  Block Museum Graduate Fellowships are offered to two graduate students annually, one from Art History and one from any department within the Graduate School.  Fellows are integral members of the museum staff supporting projects through exhibition and collection research, curating, writing, and catalog production.  We took a moment to sit down with Dwider, a PhD student in the Department of Art History, to discuss her background and forthcoming work.

Can you tell us a bit about your background and your field of study?

I am a 4th year PhD student in the Department of Art History working on modern and contemporary art of the Middle East, with a focus on modernism in Egypt. My dissertation work looks at the intersections of art and development politics in Egypt in the 1950s and 60s. As an undergraduate, I majored in both Art History and Middle Eastern Studies, and I received my MA in Art History from the University of North Texas. Before beginning my PhD at Northwestern, I was a curatorial assistant for the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Project, where I worked on building the museum’s permanent collection and helped organize exhibitions previewing the museum’s curatorial strategy and acquisitions.  

What interests you about working within an art museum?

While research and writing can often be a solo endeavor, museums are spaces that invite so much collaboration. From building a collection or getting an exhibition up and running in a space to generating programming and outreach, almost every aspect of museum work is cooperative work. Because of this, I find curating and exhibition planning to be a very energizing approach to art history. I’m looking forward to working with the Block’s staff on a few specific projects, but also being part of the day-to-day hum museum work.

What will you be focusing on while you are here?

Throughout the year, I’ll be working on preparing the arrival of Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab World: 1950s­­—1980s to the Block Museum. The exhibition presents an incredible selection of abstract works from across the Middle East held in the Barjeel Art Foundation’s collection. I’m excited to see the show realized at the Block and for the Northwestern community to have access to these paintings. I’ll also be working with the Block’s curatorial team on acquisitions and joining in conversations about acquisition strategy. For me, this is some of the most creative and impactful curatorial work that happens behind the scenes at museums, so I’m excited to be involved here at the Block.

What museum exhibitions or programs (outside the Block) have inspired you lately?

Over the summer, I had the chance to catch Huguette Caland: Tête-à-Tête at The Drawing Center in New York and loved seeing her exuberant artworks in person. Caland had a very playful approach to art-making, especially in her dense depictions of bodies, and the show offered some welcome levity and visual compression after a long socially distanced year. The exhibition included a short documentary about her life that really enlivened the presentation of her work. In Chicago, I’m looking forward to seeing If only this mountain between us could be ground to dust at the Art Institute of Chicago, the first major museum exhibition of Palestinian artists Basel Abbas and Rouane Abou-Rahm.

Is there anything upcoming at the Block Museum or Northwestern you are particularly excited about?

Aside from Taking Shape, I’m very happy to be overlapping with the exhibition Who Says, Who Shows, Who Counts: Thinking about History with The Block’s Collection. It’s great to start at the Block just as an exhibition showcasing recent acquisitions and reflecting on the role of museums like the Block goes up. I’m also looking forward to attending Block Cinema screenings in person again!

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