RISD’s studios and classrooms are once again bustling with ideas, discussion and newly launched projects by returning students, among them 11 grad students who joined the community last fall as presidential fellows. Launched in 2019 with the support of generous donors, the Society of Presidential Fellows recruits outstanding grad students from a wide range of backgrounds, covers tuition and other expenses and connects fellows with thought leaders in art and design through special events and with alumni through dedicated mentors.
“Students in the 2021–22 cohort are truly exceptional,” says Provost Anais Missakian 84 TX, “and come from US-based undergraduate programs as well as Cuba, Ghana, the UAE and elsewhere around the world. They view art and design through a global lens and contribute to the discourse in rich and expansive ways.”
Six of the fellows are pursuing MFAs in the Fine Arts division: Mari Claudia Garcia MFA 23 SC in Sculpture, Dina Khorchid MFA 23 TX in Textiles, Janice Lardey MFA 23 PR in Printmaking, Ayesha Mohyuddin MFA 23 JM in Jewelry + Metalsmithing and Jahi Lendor MFA 23 PT and Gabriel Rojas MFA 23 PT in Painting.
Garcia was born and raised in Havana, where she earned a BFA and an MA from the University of the Arts before going on to teach there. She says that her practice is expanding at RISD thanks to “access to so many resources, materials, techniques and amazing workshops, which are so important for staying active, engaged and motivated. I worked with glass for the first time last year, and its qualities and possibilities have opened a new path for me to explore.”
Khorchid, one of four student speakers who welcomed the Class of 2026 at convocation in September, earned a bachelor’s degree in visual communication from the American University of Sharjah in the UAE and was a fellow at the Ashkal Alwan Home Workspace Program and the Salama bint Hamdan Emerging Artists Fellowship at RISD. She says that the first year of her MFA program offered numerous opportunities to expand on her practice and navigate new spaces, landscapes and languages.
Lardey, who hails from the suburbs of Kumasi, Ghana’s capital, developed a passion for design and form at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. Drawing inspiration from such artists as Aboubakar Fofana, Anni Albers and Zohra Opoku, she deliberately incorporates into her practice artistic techniques traditionally practiced by men in her community in an effort to subvert stereotypes and patriarchal limitations.
Mohyuddin is also interested in “bypassing polarities” and navigates her Muslim background by investigating ritual and spirituality through jewelry. “My work attempts to unravel regularity and repetition, mapping out bodily motions to find subtle nuances within the familiar that reveal a deeper understanding between tactile action and sacred significance,” she explains.
Lendor views language, medium, materials and objects as ways to process the world around him, he says, striving “to show an honest representation of everyday Blackness, ranging from trauma to beauty.” He relishes the rigorous program at RISD, where he is using painting to explore identity, collective memory and erasure.
Also in the Painting department, Rojas seeks to create “productive tension” in his work, building layers with disparate references ranging from ancestral heritage to biological systems to science fiction and graffiti. At RISD he is experimenting with new mediums and interdisciplinary practices.
Four of the fellows in this cohort are making their marks in RISD’s Architecture and Design division: Denzel Amoah MLA 24 in Landscape Architecture, Jay Costello MArch 24 in Architecture, and Elbert Giron MID 24 and Maximilian Werner MID 23 in Industrial Design.
As an undergrad at Worcester State University, Amoah explored issues of poverty, housing discrimination, urban exclusion, public space and business zoning through a creative lens. His passion for landscape architecture reflects his focus on the intersection of human ecology and urban greening.
Costello is likewise interested in the dialogue between people and places. “I use my work to explore how design may provide memorable, resilient and equitable solutions in a shared environment,” they explain.
Giron says that his approach to design is rooted in his “blue-collar background.” His work centers around finding accessible, natural and functional solutions to the problems that need solving. “RISD has definitely surpassed my expectations,” he adds. “I was anticipating great resources but was surprised by the wide variety and quality of lectures, career help and faculty mentoring. I've been particularly inspired by [2021–22 faculty member] Charlotte McCurdy, whose approach has helped me consider the many facets of sustainability.”
Fellow industrial designer Werner, who thrives in collaborative environments like RISD’s, says that he “is passionate about sound, nature, touch, form, critique and the experiences of others.”
Finally, Victor Rivera-Díaz MA 22 NCSS, who is working on a Nature-Culture-Sustainability Studies degree in the Liberal Arts division, is focusing on environmental aesthetics, green urbanisms and nature in visual culture. “At RISD, I’ve had the chance to work with architects and other makers and am attempting in my thesis project to apply a documentary lens to public gardens and urban green spaces,” he says. “I work at RISD's Center for Arts & Language as a graduate peer tutor, and I’m learning about using visual language and nonverbal communication to describe concepts that are hard to capture in words. That’s an approach I hope to take with me when I leave RISD.