Artist Torkwase Dyson Named 2019 Robert Gwathmey Chair

POSTED ON: March 1, 2019

Artist Torkwase Dyson was named the Spring 2019 Robert Gwathmey Chair. During her tenure, Dyson will show a new body of work, including a site-specific installation in the solo exhibition I Can Drink the Distance, on view from March 26 through April 25, 2019 in 41 Cooper Gallery, and present a free, public lecture about her art in conjunction with the exhibition on April 2, 2019 in the Great Hall. She will also present a design challenge to faculty and students from across the schools of art, architecture, and engineering, and utilize the gallery for an undergraduate design workshop in addition to teaching painting to School of Art students.

“Torkwase Dyson’s work explores practices that cannot easily fall into simple disciplinary silos. While taking on challenging social, political, and global issues, her work also delves into the spaces that bring varied perspectives into collaboration,” says Nader Tehrani, Dean of The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture. “To this end, her work at Cooper Union, and the prompt she has set forth for the Schools of Art, Architecture, and Engineering is a unique opportunity, not only to enter into the space of her imagination, but also into her very methodologies."

“Dyson’s practice which is rooted in radical resistance through black spatial history offers solution-driven advances for global human rights, and the opportunity for our art students to study with her both in a traditional studio classroom and through workshops that demonstrate how critical architecture and engineering become when creating larger sculptures is invaluable,” continues Mike Essl, Dean of the School of Art.

Born in Chicago, Illinois, Torkwase Dyson 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 first Bachelor of Sociology at Tougaloo College, a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting from Virginia Commonwealth University, and her Master of Fine Arts in painting from the Yale School of Art. Her work has been exhibited at the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, and more. In 2016 Dyson was elected to the board of the Architecture League of New York as Vice President of Visual Arts.

The Gwathmey Chair was established by architect Charles Gwathmey in his father’s name. Robert Gwathmey, a printer and painter, was a professor who taught drawing at The Cooper Union for many years. The rotating interdisciplinary professorship in art and architecture has previously been held by Bill T. Jones, Maya Lin, and Hans Haacke, to name a few.

  • 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.