Distance and Perception in the Wake of Climate Change

Tuesday, April 2, 2019 7:00 - 8:00pm

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Nautical Dusk. Colby College Museum of Art, 2018. Photograph by Gabe Souza.

In conjunction with her exhibition I Can Drink the Distance, a solo exhibition at the 41 Cooper Gallery, artist Torkwase Dyson will deliver a free, public lecture about her work in Cooper Union’s Great Hall on Tuesday, April 2 at 7pm. The lecture will be followed by a conversation with moderator Mario Gooden, as well as an opening reception in the 41 Cooper Gallery, located at 41 Cooper Square.

RSVP required. 

Dyson, the Spring 2019 Robert Gwathmey Chair in Architecture and Art, was born in Chicago, Illinois, and spent her developmental years between North Carolina and Mississippi. Traversing these regions helped her develop a fundamental sensitivity towards urban development, southern landscape, and black spatial justice. During her years at Tougaloo College, where she majored in sociology and double minored in social work and fine art, she began to examine the spatial dynamics of black history and how these histories were connected geographically. Over the next 10 years, Dyson traveled to Africa and South and Central America to strategize with communities of color on ways to attain resource equality. During this time she earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting from Virginia Commonwealth University and her Master of Fine Arts in painting from the Yale School of Art. In 2016 Dyson designed and built Studio South Zero (SSZ), a solar-powered mobile studio where the context of nomadicity became the framework for learning and making art about the environment. It was traveling with SSZ that inspired her experimental project The Wynter-Wells Drawing School for Environmental Liberation, where she explores contemporary theorizations of space, architecture, and the infrastructure of extraction economies.

Though she works with multiple mediums, Torkwase Dyson describes herself as a painter who
uses distilled geometric abstraction to create an idiosyncratic language that is both diagrammatic and expressive. The works are deconstructions of natural and built environments that consider how individuals negotiate and negate various types of systems and spatial order. Dyson’s work has been exhibited at the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Whitney Museum of American Art, The Drawing Center, the Museum of Modern Art, the Corcoran College of Art and Design, the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education, and the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art. Dyson has been awarded the Joan Mitchell Painters and Sculptors Grant, a Nancy Graves Grant for Visual Artists, the Lunder Institute of American Art Fellowship, the Spelman College Art Fellowship, a Brooklyn Arts Council grant, the Yale University Barry Cohen Scholarship, the Yale University Paul Harper Residency at Vermont Studio Center, the Culture Push Fellowship for Utopian Practices, a FSP/Jerome Fellowship, and a Yaddo residency. Dyson’s work has also been supported by Lower Manhattan Cultural Center, The Laundromat Projects, the Green Festival of New York, the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, the Mural Arts Program of Philadelphia, The Kitchen, and the Rebuild Foundation. In 2016 Dyson was elected to the board of The Architectural League of New York as Vice President of Visual Arts. Torkwase Dyson lives and works in Newburgh, New York and is a critic at the Yale School of Art.

This lecture is co-sponsored with the School of Art and The Architectural League of New York.

The Robert Gwathmey Chair, a rotating professorship in art and architecture, was established by Charles Gwathmey in 1993, in honor of his father, Robert Gwathmey, a professor of art at Cooper Union from 1942 to 1968.


Located in The Great Hall, in the Foundation Building, 7 East 7th Street, between Third and Fourth Avenues

  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.