The Board of Trustees of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation awarded UC Santa Barbara professors Sylvester Okwunodu Ogbechie and Toshiro Tanimoto with Guggenheim Fellowships — a highly competitive grant given to a select group from nearly 2,500 applicants — in April.  The professors are two of 180 Guggenheim Fellows for 2022. 

The professors are two of 180 Guggenheim Fellows for 2022. Courtesy of UCSB Current

Guggenheim Fellowships are awarded to “mid-career individuals who have demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts and exhibit great promise for their future endeavors,” the foundation’s website read

Fellows chosen from the application process are given a significant fiscal grant to support their research and projects for a year. 

Ogbechie is a tenured, full-time professor in the Department of History of Art and Architecture (HAA) for African and African Diaspora Arts and Visual Culture. Specializing in art history discourses in relation to African cultural patrimony amidst globalization, his life’s work speaks to his lifelong passions toward African and African Diaspora art history. 

As a newfound fellow, Ogbechie will be working on a book project titled, “The Curator as Culture Broker: Representing Africa in Global Contemporary Art,” to explore how African contemporary art is represented by curators and art historians as part of the global discourse surrounding global contemporary art.  

“I’m approaching my 30th year now as an art historian,” Ogbechie said. “This work has grown organically out of things I’ve been doing in the past 20 years, and the formulation that I put together to present to the Guggenheim Foundation was built out of research that I’ve been conducting now for almost eight years.” 

Tanimoto is a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Earth Science at UCSB, working as a geophysicist and seismologist specializing in seismic wave propagation and oscillations of the Earth. 

Tanimoto utilized the first 20 years of his research to understand the interior structure of the earth and understand the formulations of mantle convection through plate tectonics. He contributed to the discovery of Earth experiencing oscillations for 100 to 300 second periods even without the presence of earthquakes called background oscillations. Tanimoto wrote approximately 120 papers in relation to collected seismic data.

With the fellowship, Tanimoto hopes to develop a new seismological approach to study shallow elastic structure in the Arctic zone in polar regions to analyze the status of seasonally changing structure in the uppermost surface of the Earth. 

Ogbechie spoke of his initial reaction to receiving the news that he is a Guggenheim Fellow this year. 

“It was an extremely joyous occasion for me because the Guggenheim is simply the highest academic honor you can receive in terms of grant awards in the kind of work we do,” he said. “More than the grant itself, it’s that selection, it’s being appointed as a Fellow … that is the most rigorous assessment of work.” 

Ogbechie has been teaching at UCSB since 2001, and beyond his work with the Department of HAA, he has an affiliate appointment with the Department of Black Studies and has been active with various interdepartmental initiatives throughout his time at UCSB. For instance, he is part of the effort to expand the diversity of artists in the UCSB art programs following a $175,000 grant from the UC Office of the President to advance faculty diversity. 

“We’re working to create several initiatives on campus to expand the diversity and representation of artists in the UCSB art programs, we’re doing residencies and artists demonstrations and things of that sort,” Ogbechie said. 

This project will cultivate a review of a number of curators of African descent and African ancestry who contributed to the emergence of contemporary African art between 1990 and 2020 to global artistry.

“The resurgence of interest has opened up a very good space for contemporary African artists,” Ogbechie said. “It’s a major site of attraction — art is always looking for the next big thing, and for now, it’s been promoted as the next big thing.” 

Throughout the year of this project, Ogbechie will be utilizing three sites to compound his research: the Robbins library at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C., the Herskovits library at Northwestern University and the library at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles. 

“I will spend a month each at these three libraries, finding out financing material and gathering additional pieces to put together,” Ogbechie said. “I’ll put in three or four months of writing and see what I have, then make a second trip to these libraries to pick up things, so I expect that by the end of one year, I will have enough material.” 

Ogbechie hopes this project and his anticipated book will allow his audience to change their assumptions about race and representation and ground the field of art history from the lens of African contemporary art in methodology and analysis. 

“We’re working on too many assumptions that are not grounded in reality,” he said. “I want to force the discourse of contemporary art to take a much better look at the impact of race and representation in their analysis.” 

Tanimoto is a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Earth Science at UCSB, working as a geophysicist and seismologist specializing in seismic wave propagation and oscillations of the Earth. 

Tanimoto utilized the first 20 years of his research to understand the interior structure of the earth and understand the formulations of mantle convection through plate tectonics. He contributed to the discovery of Earth experiencing oscillations for 100 to 300 second periods even without the presence of earthquakes called background oscillations. Tanimoto wrote approximately 120 papers in relation to collected seismic data.

With the fellowship, Tanimoto hopes to develop a new seismological approach to study shallow elastic structure in the Arctic zone in polar regions to analyze the status of seasonally changing structure in the uppermost surface of the Earth. 

“People tend to think [seismology] is about earthquakes, but I’m more interested in using seismic waves to learn about what’s going on inside the Earth,” Tanimoto said. “I’d like to understand not just earthquakes but everything about our surrounding environment through seismic waves.” 

Tanimoto spoke to the uniqueness of being selected for the fellowship as a scientist, as many of the chosen fellows are into other fields like social sciences, humanities and art. 

“Science seems different, but there is actually a similarity when it comes to work,” Tanimoto said. “Painters try to come up with an idea, and it has to go through a frustrating period to get the completed pieces.” 

With his grant, Tanimoto hopes to go abroad and collaborate with individuals in countries like Munich to utilize technology such as ring lasers to study aspects of earth science and geophysics. 

“They use the laser to measure certain properties of distance and how the ground is rotating,” he said. “It’s very sophisticated, very unique, and I started looking at it in 2014, and wrote a couple papers.” 

He also hopes to travel to France and the United Kingdom to continue his work in seismology. 

“Whether I’m here or other countries — some places have unique data, some places have particular people that I’ve worked with — we’re interested in the same question,” Tanimoto said. 

A version of this article appeared on p. __ of the May 12, 2022, print edition of the Daily Nexus

Print

Asumi Shuda
Asumi Shuda (she/they) is the Community Outreach Editor for the 2022-23 school year and the 2021-22 school year. Previously, Shuda was an assistant news editor during the 2020-21 school year. She can be reached at asumishuda@dailynexus.com or news@dailynexus.com.