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Visualizing Abolition Dissertation Workshop

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation funded Visualizing Abolition Initiative, directed by Prof. Gina Dent and Dr. Rachel Nelson at the University of California, Santa Cruz, invites applications for an all expense-paid residential dissertation workshop on prisons, art, and visual culture. Doctoral students chosen for the two-day workshop will work extensively with faculty, including Prof. Herman Gray and Prof. Setsu Shigematsu (bios below).

Call for Applications

Visualizing Abolition
Residential Dissertation Workshop
Westerbeke Ranch, Sonoma, California
May 1-4, 2022

New Application Deadline: March 25, 2022

We invite applications from doctoral students currently residing in the United States who have advanced to candidacy and whose projects speak broadly to one or more of a range of concerns—the role of art and culture in the historic and ongoing movement for abolition; visuality, prisons, and policing; feminist art practices and decarceration; visual criminology; popular culture and prisons; domestic and international movements for abolition engaging visual aesthetics; and other topics at the intersections of visual culture, prisons, and abolition.

Eight workshop participants will be selected on the basis of the quality of projects and the potential for fruitful exchanges among them, as well as in an effort to include a wide-range of disciplinary perspectives, intellectual traditions, and geopolitical sites. 

The workshop will take place at the Westerbeke Guest Ranch (five miles from the town of Sonoma) and will begin with dinner on Sunday, May 1 and end with breakfast on Wednesday, May 4.  Outdoor spaces will be available for convening. UC Santa Cruz Covid policies require that all participants submit proof of vaccination, including a booster. Depending on state and local mandates, medical grade masks may be required in all indoor settings. As UC Santa Cruz continues to monitor COVID-19 developments, mitigations and protocols may be adjusted.  The full cost of accommodation, meals, and travel will be covered by the award.  

To apply, please send the following application materials as PDF attachments to by March 25, 2022 and include “[Your Last Name] Application VA Dissertation Workshop” in the subject line of your message: 
One-page cover sheet including name, campus, department, contact information, title of dissertation, names and titles of dissertation committee members, projected date of completion, as well as a summary (in 250 words or less) of the relationship of the dissertation project to the workshop theme (kindly also let us know how you learned about the workshop)
Current curriculum vitae 
Project description of no more than ten double-spaced pages (proposal, prospectus, or abstract with chapter details, methodological description, and work plan)
One-page bibliography

Notification of awards will be made on March 28, 2022. Successful applicants should be prepared to circulate a writing sample for discussion at the workshop upon notification.  For further information, contact  

Rachel Nelson

Rachel Nelson (she/her), PhD, is Director of the Institute of the Arts and Sciences, University of California, Santa Cruz and adjunct professor in the History of Art and Visual Culture department. Nelson curates projects and writes extensively on contemporary art and geopolitics. Nelson is currently working on a monograph, Seeing in Whiteout, focusing on the strategies contemporary artists use to reveal and disturb the racialized histories and presents of prisons and policing in the United States. Recent publications include “In Perpetual Conflict” in Under the Skin: Feminist Art and Art Histories from the Middle East and North Africa Today, Oxford University Press, 2020, as well as exhibition catalogue essays, journal articles, and reviews, including in Brooklyn Rail, NKA, Third Text, Savvy, and African Arts.

Setsu Shigematsu

Setsu Shigematsu (xe, xir, xem) is an author and abolitionist filmmaker engaged in public-facing feminist media making. An Associate Professor in the Media & Cultural Studies Department at UC Riverside, xir research and intellectual concerns include the historical relationship between U.S. and Japanese imperialisms, transnational liberation movements, comparative feminist and critical theory. Setsu is the author of Scream from the Shadows: The Women’s Liberation Movement in Japan (2012), and the co-editor of Militarized Currents: Towards a Decolonized Future in Asia and the Pacific (2010). Professor Shigematsu directed and co-produced Visions of Abolition, a feature-length documentary about the prison industrial complex and the prison abolition movement updated in 2021 as Re-Visions of Abolition (visionsofabolition). Xe is currently finishing a new documentary #AbolishICE: Abolish Adelanto and All Border-Prisons. 

Gina Dent

Gina Dent (she/her), Associate Professor, Feminist Studies, History of Consciousness, and Legal Studies, UCSC, is a committed activist, scholar, and educator. Abolition. Feminism. Now. co-authored by Dent with Angela Davis, Beth Richie, and Erica Meiners, grows out of her work as an advocate for human rights and prison abolition. She is the editor of Black Popular Culture, and author of numerous articles on race, feminism, popular culture, and visual art.

Herman Gray

Herman Gray (he/him) is Emeritus Professor of Sociology at UC Santa Cruz where he taught graduate and undergraduate courses in media and television studies, cultural theory and politics and Black cultural studies.  Gray has published widely in scholarly journals like American Quarterly, International Journal of Communication, Cultural Studies and Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, and Television and New Media in the areas of black cultural politics, media and television studies.  His books on jazz, television, and black cultural politics include Producing Jazz, Watching Race, and Cultural Moves. He co-edited Toward a Sociology of the Trace with Macarena Gomez Barris and The Sage Handbook of Television Studies with Toby Miller and Milly Buonanno. His most recent book is co-edited with Sarah Banet Weiser and Roopali Mukherjee called Race, Post Race published by Duke University Press.  

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