School of Art

University of Arizona School of Art Professor Sama Alshaibi is among 184 artists, writers, scholars and scientists to receive a 2021 Guggenheim Fellowship. 

Alshaibi, a photographic and video artist, is co-chair of the School of Art’s nationally ranked Photography, Video and Imaging program.

“I am honored to receive the Guggenheim Fellowship in Photography. I am also deeply grateful to my colleagues, students, and the community at the University of Arizona for their creative and intellectual engagement over the years,” said Alshaibi. “Our collaborations and conversations have greatly benefited my research and artwork.”

Portrait of artist Sama Alshaibi
Image: Zakiriya Gladney

Since its establishment in 1925, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation has granted nearly $400 million in Fellowships to over 18,000 individuals, many of whom went on to be named Nobel laureates, Pulitzer Prize winners, National Book Award winners, and other national and international honors.

This year’s recipients were chosen through a peer-review process of nearly 3,000 applicants.

“I am thrilled to see Sama Alshaibi on the distinguished list of Guggenheim Fellows for 2021,” said Andy Schulz, dean of the Fine Arts Dean. “Not only is this award a significant recognition of her standing as a leading figure in contemporary art, it also provides her with critical support as she continues to push the boundaries of her field. As we continue to elevate the arts at the University of Arizona, the groundbreaking work of Fine Arts faculty such as Sama provides important evidence that creative practice is a critical part of the university’s reputation as a leading research university.”

>> Sama Alshaibi’s website | See the complete list of Fellows.

“Recognition as a Guggenheim Fellow is one of the most prestigious and highly visible honors in the arts,” said School of Art Director Colin Blakely. “This achievement is the mark of an artist who has distinguished their work and its relevance in profound ways. I am delighted to see this well-earned honor bestowed upon Sama.”

Image of "The Cessation" artwork by Sama Alshaibi
Sama Alshaibi, “The Cessation” (2019), neon, aluminum, acrylic, palm fronds, water, copper, terracotta, and sound (commissioned by Artpace San Antonio, photo courtesy Seale Photography Studios)

To Speak of Silence

As a woman, a native of Iraq, and a naturalized U.S. citizen, Alshaibi uses her work as a code-switch, not only to culturally translate between the two vastly different countries but to use visual art to communicate complex and emotionally fraught topics.

Her Guggenheim Fellowship project, “To Speak of Silence,” brings to light the ways in which Iraqi women are exponentially affected in war time. 

Iraq has been engaged in political turmoil and upheaval for decades. Most of what the world sees of these conflicts is imagery of gun fights and bombings but the devastation goes far beyond the shooting and explosions.

“The devaluation of Iraqi women’s lives exists in the judicial sense, in terms of the new 2005 Iraqi constitution, and by the conditions of sexualized political violence accelerated by the rise and rule of ISIL,” said Alshaibi.

With a country constantly fighting with foreign and domestic adversaries, bureaucratic structures like the judiciary system are not able to meet the needs of those who are the least represented in governing bodies and the most in need of its services. Consequently, women are routinely harassed, kidnapped, or brutalized with no recourse or accountability.

“My practice is a union of these immediate concerns: a commitment to share an Arab American, feminist perspective through a bodily site of struggle and identification,” Alshaibi said.

Alshaibi was profiled as part of the University of Arizona’s “Wonder” campaign in the video. 

Sama Alshaibi Bio

Sama Alshaibi’s (b. 1973, Iraq) photographs and videos situate her own body as a site of performance in consideration of the social and gendered impacts of war and migration. Her work complicates the coding of the Arab female figure found in the image history of photographs and moving images. Alshaibi’s sculptural installations evoke the disappearance of the body and act as counter-memorials to war and forced exile. 

Alshaibi has been featured in several biennials including the Maldives Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale (Italy), the 21st International Art Biennial of Santa Cruz de la Sierra (Bolivia, 2020), and the 13th Cairo International Biennale (Egypt, 2019). She was also selected as one of 60 artists for the ‘State of The Art 2020’ (Crystal Bridges Museum of Art/the Momentary, Arkansas, 2020), and recently held solo exhibitions at Ayyam Gallery (Dubai, 2019) and at Artpace, where she participated as the National Artist in Residence (San Antonio, 2019). 

She was awarded the prestigious Fulbright Scholar Fellowship in 2014-2015 as part of a year-long residency at the Palestine Museum in Ramallah, where she developed an education program while conducting independent research.

Born in Basra to an Iraqi father and Palestinian mother, Alshaibi holds a BA in Photography from Columbia College Chicago and an MFA in Photography, Video, and Media Arts from the University of Colorado at Boulder. 

>> View her complete bio here.