An Interview with Lara Stein Pardo, the Center’s New Public Humanities Post-doctoral Research Associate

September 24, 2013

Items discussed: The Public, The Internet, Mapping in general, Mapping Arts Project, research vs. museum and display, Miami, Cuba, themes of migration in contemporary art, African Diaspora, Lose your Mother (Saidiya Hartman), Cuban Coffee, failure at making Cuban Coffee, openness to opportunity, excitement for the year to come.

Jenna Legault (Manager, Center for Public Humanities, hereafter "JL"): We always ask our students to write a three-sentence profile statement in the first person that describes their interests in the Public Humanities.  We know you are a post-doctoral research associate, so I'll give you five sentences: Go!

Lara Stein Pardo (New Post-doctoral Research Associate, hereafter "LSP"): I am a cultural anthropologist and visual artist. My research and teaching surround themes of anthropology and ethnographic methods, arts and artistic practice, diaspora, migrations, race, gender, space, place, mapping, archives, and performance. I work primarily in the US and the Caribbean, and I think a lot about how these concepts work theoretically and also in practice, in the public sphere. In the Public Humanities in particular, I find it useful to consider what we mean by ‘the public,’ and how everyday life and digital technology shapes the type of work we can produce and also the accessibility of that work. I’ve to worked in a number of settings including high schools, museums, universities, art studios, galleries, public spaces, and the Internet, which have informed how I understand research, teaching, and public engagement with both scholarly research and the arts.

JL: Smithsonian American Art Museum fellowship? Cuban Heritage Collection fellowship?  Tell me some highlights from each: How did these opportunities inform your professional trajectory?

LSP: Ok, well, the Smithsonian Institution is really a whole word unto itself. So, besides researching and writing for my dissertation, it was a great opportunity to learn more about the role of institutions in American life, and how different institutions operate with different goals and outcomes in mind. I appreciated that the Smithsonian American Art Museum was as much about research as it was about the museum and display. There’s such a wealth of information there that a yearlong fellowship was hardly long enough. Another major highlight of my time there was getting to know the other fellows who were in residence at the same time.

At the Cuban Heritage Collection, there are a couple of things that really stand out. First, this was the first research fellowship I’ve held in my home city and research site of Miami. It was a chance for me to dig into local archives and corroborate that material with my ethnographic research. Second, the collection has some remarkable items reflecting Cuban life in Cuba and Miami. I still remember reading through the correspondence between Lydia Cabrera and Katherine Dunham, two artists and scholars that I did not know had been in such close contact. Cabrera was based in Miami at the time, and Dunham in Illinois. They were discussing research plans, and logistics for fellowships, research talks, and budgets. The fellowships informed my professional trajectory primarily through providing the opportunity for encounters and exchanges. I encountered new people, ideas, archives, and artwork, and I had the chance to share ideas with curators, researchers, and artists. Technology is making it easier than ever to stay in contact, and I have found it productive to stay in communication to keep the conversations going across time and place. 

JL: You are an artist and cultural anthropologist.  How do those roles intersect?  What are your current artistic and cultural anthropological pursuits?

The interaction between my work as an artist and as a cultural anthropologist is constant. I write about art and art practice, and I am involved in my own practice as an artist. Also, the themes that I write about and make artwork about overlap- space, place, race, and generally people’s movements in the world.

Currently, I’m working on the Mapping Arts Project, an ethnographic project about Caribbean diaspora and contemporary art in Miami, and two newer art pieces – one called Archival Performances and one yet to be titled text-based print series.

JL: Regarding your PhD dissertation: Artists, Aesthetics, and Migrations: Contemporary Visual Arts and Caribbean Diaspora in Miami, Florida.  Describe your findings as though it were an exhibition label on a visual piece. 


Artists, Aesthetics, and Migrations: Contemporary Visual Arts and Caribbean Diaspora in Miami, Florida
Text and Photographic Reproductions
 8 ½ x 11 inches, 373 sheets

This work tells the story of contemporary visual arts and Caribbean diaspora in Miami, Florida. The first part of the piece discusses the history and foundations of the art scene in Miami as well as patterns of Caribbean migration. It then addresses the work of contemporary artists to show how their work reflects themes of migration. Throughout the work, there is a sense of absence and presence, a tension that exists in the history of Miami, and also in the work of contemporary artists. While tropes of tropicality attempt to silence the full range of visual realities, this piece shows that artists and their work are not resigned to be exotic items in collections akin to the cabinets of curiosities of early scientists and explorers. Instead, artists act to render themselves visible. The very existence of the artwork changes the possibilities for how we understand migration and visuality, not only in Miami, but globally.


JL: Nicely done!  Whatcha teaching this year at Brown?

LSP: I’m teaching a class called Space and Place: Geographies of the Black Atlantic. In the class we will analyze and engage with the concepts of space and place through a focus on African diasporas. We will work with a number of approaches to these themes including theoretical, artistic, literary, and geographic. Students in the class will work with a number of digital tools as we consider how to present research in the public sphere. In the class there are a couple of mapping projects. The first, a mapping of the book Lose Your Mother and the second, and final project, is the launching of the next city in the Mapping Arts Project.

JL: What is the one thing that you think students at Brown should know about you?

LSP: I really like coffee, but only in the morning. Oh, and I will most likely express a longing for Cuban coffee at least a few times while I’m in Providence. I’m still no good at making it.

JL: Do you have any specific plans at Brown during the coming academic year?  Elaborate!

LSP: Yes, I have a lot of plans. Probably too many, but that’s just how I am. Briefly, I plan to continue working on the Mapping Arts Project, both the Miami edition and the new city that we will launch in the class, revise an article about Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons and performance photography, work with the Association of Black Anthropologists on a mapping project, prepare a book proposal about art and  Caribbean diaspora in Miami, draft an article proposal about Caribbean memory and archives, work with students in the Space and Place class as well as the to be determined Spring class, produce new series of text-based prints, and get to know much more about Brown and Providence. 

JL: Lastly: What advice or words of wisdom would you give Public Humanities MA candidates?  

LSP: Hmmm, that’s a good one, and it’s the same question I asked artists during my ethnographic research. I actually haven’t asked it of myself. At this moment, the best advice I have for MA candidates is to stay open to the possibilities and opportunities that come your way. One way to look at it is to get out of your own way. It’s sometimes too easy to think of all the reasons why something won’t work, and other people may tell you ‘no’ – a lot - but I would encourage everyone in the program keep thinking creatively about their ideas and find ways to make the important ones work.

Thanks Lara Stein Pardo; it’s been fun.

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