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August 30, 2023

Sharpe joins CIA following prestigious Getty fellowship

CIA faculty member Gemma Sharpe, right, joins fellow Getty fellowship recipients, from left, Álvaro Luís Lima, Kayleigh Perkov, Gretel Rodriguez and Matthew Worsnick at the Getty Center in Los Angeles. Submitted photo.

By Carlo Wolff

Gemma Sharpe, PhD did not expect to be awarded a coveted international fellowship in 2022. To her surprise, she secured one—the Getty/American Council of Learned Societies Postdoctoral Fellowship in the History of Art—enabling her to further develop Modernist Agencies: Art and Cold War Politics in Pakistan. Her book-in-progress explores the often-testy relationship between modern art and modern politics in Pakistan and pre-1971 Bangladesh between the 1940s and 1990s.

Sharpe officially joined the Cleveland Institute of Art as an assistant professor of Art History for the 2022–23 academic year, but thanks to the Getty fellowship, her first semester in a CIA classroom is this fall. She hopes above all to equip her students with the poise and authority she tapped into when she applied for the fellowship.

Sharpe’s credentials include publishing articles in all kinds of publications, graduate work at the City University of New York, and appointments at various schools in Karachi, Pakistan. The Getty award broadens her academic portfolio.

“It’s a rare and wonderful scholarship because it’s non-residential, which means you have a year of salary and some travel funding to just think and write,” she says. “There was no way I was going to get this opportunity, I thought, so I might as well be brutally honest about my project and where it is controversial within the field. I put all my cards on the table, though usually I’m much more diplomatic and measured. It turns out to have been a winning formula.”

Sharpe had never been to Cleveland before she interviewed for her job, “but it immediately felt familiar to me.” She was born in Nottingham and grew up in the Lake District, in the north of England. “The nearest big cities to me back home were Newcastle, Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow, all port cities that flourished in the 19th century and have since fallen on hard times.” Cleveland’s ornate facades, elegant city centers, and signs of vanished industry resonate for her.

In addition to scholarship, Sharpe relishes teaching. A full-time faculty position at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture in Karachi, Pakistan gave her a sense of what her CIA post will be like. “I’m delighted to be back in a similar institution here,” she says.

Worldliness is a term that certainly applies to Sharpe. It’s also a CIA value, says Greg Watts, Vice President of Academic Affairs + Dean of Faculty.

Like Sharpe, Watts has led a peripatetic life. A native of Cambridge, England, he joined CIA last year from the College of Visual Arts and Design at the University of North Texas, where he served as dean for six years. Before that, he was Chair of the Art Department at the Metropolitan State University of Denver.

“Hiring faculty with different lived experiences enriches our community,” Watts says. “Worldliness should be reciprocal. If we bring the world to Cleveland, we can in return take Cleveland to the world.”

The world, in the meantime, is coming to Cleveland in the person of Gemma Sharpe. Her goal is to build intellectual confidence among her students.

“If I’m teaching a survey course in Art History, I want students to come out of the class feeling like they can walk through the Cleveland Museum of Art with a spring in their step and a sense of ownership over their experience,” Sharpe says. “They’re not drifting through the museum in a state of confusion and intimidation, but with assuredness and expertise.”

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