In September 2022 the Block Museum welcomed Felipe Gutiérrez, a PhD student in the Department of Spanish and Portugese as the museum’s 2022-2023 graduate interdisciplinary 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.
Felipe holds a B.A. in Literary Studies from the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Bogotá, Colombia, and a M.A. in Latin American Literature and Culture from the Instituto Caro y Cuervo, also in Bogotá. He specializes in nineteenth and early twentieth century Latin American and Iberian cultures, with a particular focus on issues of material and visual culture, museum and heritage studies. We took a moment to sit down with Felipe to discuss his background and forthcoming work at the museum.
Can you tell us a bit about your background and your field of study?
I grew up in Bogotá, Colombia, a vibrant, multicultural city in the Andes where I earned my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Latin American literature. I worked as a high school literature teacher for a few years there until I joined the Northwestern community as a PhD student in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese in 2019. I specialize in 19th and early 20th century Latin American and Iberian cultures, with a particular emphasis on issues of material and visual culture. In my dissertation I focus on the relationship between tangible cultural heritage, literature and the visual arts in Colombia and Spain, particularly through the study of gold objects and treasures from a transatlantic perspective. My case studies range from sunken Spanish vessels filled with gold treasures, to ancient indigenous sacred gold pieces displayed in national museums. I try to analyze how gold becomes cultural heritage, and how literature and visuality intervene in that process or create heritage value by themselves. This research has led me to interact with very diverse objects and spaces, such as museums, exhibitions, collections, along with literary works and images.
What interests you about working within an art museum?
As a literary scholar who has primarily worked with texts, dealing with objects and images has been a fascinating and challenging task. I have been pushed to try and learn from different disciplines and acquire new skills that were not specific to my own discipline and previous work, as most of my case studies have been covered primarily by history, art history, archeology, or anthropology. But at the same time, literature and cultural studies have shed new light on the study of these objects, with different connections and unexplored perspectives. I guess that’s one of the most rewarding feelings of working at an art museum, discovering that I could be bridging separate fields of knowledge and, in doing so, broadening them as well.
What will you be focusing on while you are here?
I will be mainly focusing on the curatorial process of Rosalie Favell’s photographic exhibition planned for the fall of 2023 and her residency in Chicago. She is a Native-Canadian artist whose photography deals with indigenous legacies and identities. The exhibition comes as part of a bigger effort at the Block to acknowledge and engage with indigenous heritage in the Chicagoland area, the Midwest, and North America more broadly.
What drew you to the Block Museum mission, exhibitions, and collection?
When I came to Northwestern, the Pop América exhibition was on, and that was my first contact with the Block Museum. At that time, I had no idea that the Block existed or that there was a possibility for students to actively participate in the museum’s agenda. In one of my classes in my department, the professor, who participated in the exhibition, took us to see the exhibition. I was fascinated by the quality of the pieces, the curatorial narrative, and the fact that it was all happening on our campus. Also, while reading for my own project, I came across the Caravans of Gold catalog and it became an important reference for my dissertation bibliography. As I gathered more information about the Block and learned about the graduate fellowship, I decided to apply immediately!
Is there anything upcoming at the Block Museum or Northwestern you are particularly excited about?
Yes! I am very excited about Dario Robleto’s exhibition for the next winter and spring quarters, entitled The Heart’s Knowledge. The exhibition focuses on the artist’s intervention and interpretation of the visual records produced by medical technology to measure the behavior of the human heart since the 19th century, thus uniting art and science. I think it’s wonderful that the Block promotes interdisciplinary spaces in its program. I’m also super excited about the Woven Being project on Indigenous art in Chicago, which is happening in 2025, and which is also part of this collective effort that I mentioned in the Block to embrace indigenous artistic knowledge and practices as part of our past, present, and future. The Block is a unique space within our campus that always has a lively program and much to offer!