The Inaugural Okwui Enwezor Postdoctoral Fellowship in Visual Culture, Performance Studies and Critical Humanities

Named in honor of the late Okwui Enwezor, the famed scholar, curator and art critic, whose contributions to the disciplines of art history, art criticism and cultural studies have left a groundbreaking and dynamic impact, this fellowship is open to emerging scholars whose work focuses on visual and performance studies and intersections with discourses of art history, performance studies and critical humanities.

Eligible applicants must have earned their doctoral degree (PhD) within the last five years, prior to assuming the fellowship.


Academics The Africa Institute Photo courtesy: Surafel Wondimu Abebe

Surafel Wondimu Abebe is the Inaugural Okwui Enwezor Postdoctoral Fellow in Visual Culture, Performance Studies and Critical Humanities. Wondimu is an assistant professor at the Centre for African Studies and College of Performing and Visual Arts, and a researcher at the Institute of Ethiopian Studies at Addis Ababa University. Wondimu completed his PhD in Performance Historiography at The University of Minnesota, minoring in Comparative Literature and Development and Social Change.

He obtained a BA degree in English Literature minoring in Political Science and International Relations, and MA in Cultural Studies, at Addis Ababa University where he later served as a lecturer and Assistant Dean in Humanities.

Wondimu is a co-founder of Crossing Boundaries, a festival-conference that focuses on North-East Africa, a board member of a multi-genre online journal, AGITATE, at the University of Minnesota, and a research associate at the Visual Identities in Art and Design (VIAD) at the University of Johannesburg. He has worked with the National Theatre in Addis Ababa and other cultural institutions in Ethiopia as an actor, playwright and director, and recently co-founded a new local television station called Asham TV. Surafel is co-editing a book titled The Imagined New: Or What Happens When History is a Catastrophe. Wondimu is a public intellectual who uses academia, performance, and media as sites of cultural politics from which to interrogate representational practices. Questioning the inadequacy of Ethiopian exceptionalism, which valorizes the country's ‘uncolonized’ position, Surafel engages with sedimented and embodied historiographies in order to understand what it means to be human in the here-and-now.

During his fellowship at The Africa Institute, Wondimu is editing and submitting several journal articles, in addition to developing his doctoral dissertation into a book manuscript. The book manuscript examines how performing Ethiopian female bodies engage with spaces, and maneuver within progressive, imperial (local and colonial), socialist, and neoliberal temporalities of the 20th and 21st centuries.


Academics The Africa Institute Photo courtesy: Nidhi Mahajan

Nidhi Mahajan is the inaugural Fatema Mernissi Postdoctoral Fellow in Social and Cultural Studies. Nidhi Mahagan is assistant professor in Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Mahajan obtained her PhD in Anthropology from Cornell University in 2015. Her research examines transregional maritime connections across the Indian Ocean through shipping and trade networks, ports, and their entanglements with state sovereignty.

Nidhi Mahajan is also an artist and has developed
multi-media exhibitions for the Fort Jesus Museum in Mombasa; Khoj International Artists’ Association in New Delhi, and the 2019 Sharjah Architecture Triennial. Mahajan’s publications include “Seasons of Sail.” In Smriti Srinivas, Bettina Ng’weno, and Neelima Jeychandran [eds.] Reimagining Indian Ocean Worlds. (New York and London: Routledge. 2019); "Dhow Itineraries: The Making of a Shadow Economy in the Western Indian Ocean." Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 39, no. 3: 407-419.
2018; “At Home, at Sea: Onboard a Dhow in the Western Indian Ocean.” In Prita Meier and Allyson Purpura [eds.], World on the Horizon. (Seattle: University of Washington Press.
2017); "Lamu, a battleground of memory and aspiration." In Tau Tavengwa and Leonie Newhouse [eds.] The Corridor: How the East African Corridor Spanning the Indian Ocean from Somalia to South Africa is being Radically Reshaped (Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity in Association with Cityscapes Magazine. Summer. Pp. 9-13).
During her residency at The Africa Institute, Mahajan will be working on her book manuscript titled “Moorings: The Dhow Trade, States and Capital Across the Indian Ocean”. Based on over ten years of archival and ethnographic research, the book is an historical ethnography that focuses on encounters between dhows or wooden sailing vessels and multiple regulatory regimes across the Indian Ocean.

The book explores the mutually constituted relationship between mobility, capitalism, and sovereignty in the Indian Ocean, examining how mobile dhow networks have been pushed into the underbelly of the global economy. Based on archival and ethnographic research across India, Kenya, the UK, Tanzania, the UAE, and Qatar the book examines how the dhow trade has articulated with different state forms to become a crucial intermediary between local, regional, and global circuits of exchange.

During her fellowship at the Africa Institute, Mahajan plans to continue research on a new project that examines multiple contestations over belonging and notions of sovereignty in contemporary coastal Kenya. Against the backdrop of the Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport Corridor Project – a new infrastructure project – she will work with civil society organizations, politicians and government officials examining how new forms of legitimacy and sovereignty based on Indian Ocean imaginaries are currently being revived in Lamu even as the region is being re-shaped by this mega port project.


Academics The Africa Institute Photo courtesy: Nidhi Mahajan

Dagmawi Woubshet is the Ahuja Family Presidential Associate Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania. A scholar of African American literature and art, Dagmawi Woubshet works at the intersections of African American, LGBTQ, and African studies. These overlapping areas o¬f inquiry inform his scholarship and research, including his book The Calendar of Loss: Race, Sexuality, and Mourning in the Early Era of AIDS (Johns Hopkins University¬ Press, 2015), and the co-edited volume Ethiopia: Literature, Art, and Culture, a special issue of Callaloo (2010). His writings have appeared in various publications including Transition, NKA: Journal of Contemporary African Art, Aperture, The Atlantic, and African Lives: An Anthology.

Woubshet is an associate editor of Callaloo and has served on the Board of Directors of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies (CLAGS) at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. He has been a fellow at the Institute of Ethiopian Studies at Addis Ababa University, and, as a Scholar-in-Residence at the Modern Art Museum in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, he curated Julie Mehretu: The Addis Show (2016).

He was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2010. Before joining the University of Pennsylvania in 2017, Woubshet taught at Cornell University where he was named one of “The 10 Best Professors at Cornell”. He received his PhD in the History of American Civilization from Harvard University and his BA in Political Science and History from Duke University.

During his residency at The Africa Institute, Dagmawi Woubshet is focusing on completing his second book, Here Be Saints: James Baldwin’s Late-Style, and the first English translation of Sebhat Gebre Egziabher’s 1966 Amharic novel, ሰባተኛው መላክ Säbatägnaw Mälak [The Seventh Angel], in addition to several articles for periodical and as book chapters.


Academics The Africa Institute Photo courtesy: Nidhi Mahajan

Elizabeth W. Giorgis has been awarded the inaugural Ali A. Mazrui Senior Fellowship in Global African Studies. Giorgis is an Associate Professor of Art History, Criticism and Theory in the College of Performing and Visual Art and the Center for African and Asian Studies at University of Addis Ababa. She received her PhD in the History of Art and Visual Studies from Cornell University and her MA in museum studies from New York University. She previously served as Director of the Modern Art Museum: Gebre Kristos Desta Center, Dean of the College of Performing and Visual Art and Director of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies at Addis Ababa University.

She is a member of the editorial board for North East African Studies (NEAS) and for the Ethiopian Journal of Social Sciences (EJSS), and is an advisory editorial board member for Callaloo Art and contributing editor for Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East (CSSAAME). Giorgis has authored several publications including Unheard Voices: Contestations Over Representation for a collaborative project between SOAS and University of Addis Ababa called “Parliament for People”, “Skunder Boghossian: The Man and the Artist” published in for Callaloo Art, The Art of Skunder Boghossian for Sotheby’s London, World of Malls: Architecture of Consumption, published by the Art Academy of Vienna, Time Sensitive Activity: The Works of Olafur Eliasson, the companion catalogue for the exhibition of Olafur Eliasson at the Modern Art Museum: Gebre Kristos Desta. She also edited Zemenawinet on Zemenawinet: Ethiopian Modernity and Modernism, and guest-edited a special Issue on Engaging the Image of Art, Culture and Philosophy: Particular Perspectives on Ethiopian Modernity and Modernism published by NEAS, and co-edited a special issue on “Ethiopian Literature, Art and Culture” for Callaloo Journal of the African Diaspora. Giorgis has curated several exhibitions at the Modern Art Museum: Gebre Kristos Desta Center.

Elizabeth Giorgis has also participated in several international conferences and public lectures. In January 2019, she served as convener for the first African Humanities Initiative called “Africa as Concept: Decolonization, Emancipation and Freedom” that was sponsored by the Mellon Foundation and the Consortium of the Humanities, Centers and Institutes. She is a recipient of several fellowships including a distinguished visiting scholar at Brown University, a visiting professor at the Academy of Fine Art in Vienna, a fellow at the Rockefeller Bellagio Center Academic Writing Resident Fellows Program, and a scholar-in-residency at The Institute for Comparative Modernities (ICM) at Cornell University.

Her book, Modernist Art in Ethiopia (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2019) has been shortlisted for several book awards including the African Studies Association Book Award (formerly known as the Melville J. Herskovits prize), and for the African Studies Association’s 2020 Bethwell A. Ogbot Book Prize as the best book on East African Studies, in addition to The African Studies Association-UK’s Fage and Oliver Prize. Modernist Art in Ethiopia represents the first comprehensive study of Ethiopian visual modernism within a broader social and intellectual history.

Giorgis’s current research – to be conducted during her residency at The Africa Institute – focuses on developing a book manuscript on gender, inequality and visual culture which takes Ethiopian women’s aesthetic in the context of the wider politics of exclusion as a case study.

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