SANTA FE, N. Mex. — “Liberty without responsibility is not real liberty,” reads a quote from revered Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh. Alongside is a quote from artist Simone Leigh from the Venice Biennale: “To be sovereign is to not be subject to another’s authority, another’s desires, or another’s gaze but rather to be the author of one’s own history.” These appear on the homepage for the Santa Fe Art Institute’s 2024 International Thematic Residency, the theme of which is Sovereignty. Applications for the residency are due April 9. 

Jamie Blosser, executive director at SFAI, tells Hyperallergic that the process of choosing a theme is complex. “We do a whole research project each fall and talk with our alumni and residents,” she says. “We try to keep our finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the world.” 

As the SFAI team considered the 2024 theme they took into account major US and world events and issues, such as the overturning of Roe v. Wade, in addition to the role that Indigenous communities around the world play in protecting the planet, and what big data is doing to the ownership of information. With all of this in mind, sovereignty stood out. “This is a creative call to action that challenges imperial and colonial concepts of sovereignty,” Blosser explained. “Those that have laid claim to land and personhood. There are all these different perspectives, and I am so excited to see what artists bring to that.” 

People from every continent except Antarctica have participated in this residency. In 2023 artists came from New Zealand, Africa, Mexico, Haiti, and around the United States. Choosing a theme that serves as a common thread is vital to the program. It gives artists with myriad backgrounds and practices a shared creative language, helping them form a type of collective consciousness. 

“The peer cohort is one of the most compelling things about this residency,” Blosser notes. “They will take these relationships with them into the rest of their lives, and many share their networks. So, it’s also professional development.” SFAI residents live in a semi-communal setting. They sleep in the same building and share kitchens and common spaces. Some residents choose to work together on collaborative projects, teaching each other new skills and working with new mediums. 

Kate Kendall, “Emerge: Fluvial Tapestries” (2018), exhibition view from Hurricane Harvey at the Buffalo Bayou Sunset Coffee Building Gallery, Houston, Texas (photo Kate Kendall)

The 2023 theme is Changing Climate, and resident Angél Faz says that being part of a peer group helped their practice evolve. “Good work doesn’t happen in a vacuum,” they assert. “I wanted to be part of the ecosystem of people who are selected to be part of the cohort and broaden my practice.” 

Faz is a multidisciplinary artist from Dallas, Texas, whose recent work has focused on waterways and rivers, specifically how they’ve been renamed, losing their original Indigenous titles, and abused as dumping grounds. “I have been looking at Indigenous histories and working with Indigenous communities to tell stories,” Faz relates. “My work intersected with the Changing Climate theme in what it means to be a steward of water.” 

During their time at SFAI, Faz has focused on the Colorado River Compact, an agreement written in 1922 that divided the Colorado River into two basins. It created water allotments for each basin and excluded many Indigenous communities from its consideration and framework. 

A fellow SFAI resident is the one who pointed Faz toward the Colorado River Compact. “In other residencies there is a competition or this gatekeeping of information, but with this cohort you have an opportunity, in the kitchen or in the studio, to have these conversations; they happen very casually. Fellow artists ask about your project and then they ask if you’ve thought about certain things,” Faz says. “The benefit of the cohort is this natural organic petri dish of people who are choosing to interact and cross-pollinating.”

The ability to share ideas and to be part of a diverse, inclusive community are among the criteria the SFAI team looks for when selecting applicants. They also seek artists whose practices naturally blend with the chosen theme. “We’re really looking at nuances of how that thematic work is already a part of their practice,” Blosser says, “or where they want to go with their practice.” 

Looking ahead, Blosser is excited to offer $500 grants to both BIPOC- and Indigenous-identifying applicants for the 2024 residency year. All of the work created in the SFAI residency belongs to the artist. “We honor creativity as a process, not a product and not a commodity,” she concludes. “We work to honor the inherent knowledge and expertise of artists and how their work is integral to shaping society.”

Weihui Lu, “Embrace” (2022), fabric, site-responsive installation at ChaNorth Artist Residency, 35 x 30 x 8 feet (photo Weihui Lu)
Exterior view of SFAI (courtesy Santa Fe Art Institute)

Applications for the Santa Fe Art Institute’s 2024 International Thematic Residency are due April 9.

Maria Manuela is a Chicana writer who was born and raised in Santa Fe, where she still lives with her husband and pups. Her work appears regularly in Edible NM and New Mexico Magazine, and she is currently...