Elli Wills, our fall 2018 Social Media intern, interviewed intern Valeria Stutz for our Intern Spotlight series, which highlights the varied opportunities and applicants within our internship program.
Summer internship opportunities are posted now!
University of Chicago
Why did you want to intern at the MCA?
I wanted to intern at the MCA because I’m exploring a curatorial career. I wanted to understand the practice—what do contemporary art curators do? This was a chance to do that and to gain some experience working with curators directly. One of the reasons I am interested in curatorial work is that exhibits are ways of telling stories and beginning conversations. Art, at its base, is about human feelings and human struggles, so exhibits have the ability to explore what it means to have a good life. I’m interested in how art is a way to explore questions about identity and what it means to flourish in society when you don’t have a dominant identity.
As a Latina, I’m particularly interested in the experience of Latinxs and have experienced art as a way to process that. Curators are able to promote artists and make space in institutions to tell stories that usually aren’t told. I think the MCA is doing that with curators like José Esparza Chong Cuy* and Naomi Beckwith. I have a background in museum education as well, so I was also interested in seeing how curators and museum educators can work together to make museum exhibitions more accessible and relevant for people who don’t have art backgrounds.
*Esparza Chong Cuy is a former MCA curator.
What is your favorite current or past exhibition at the MCA?
My favorite past exhibition is on the work of the Nigerian artist Otobong Nkanga; it was called To Dig a Hole That Collapses Again, and I loved it because there was a lot to interact with, it was very sensory. I loved the piece called Anamnesis, which was made of spices. I loved that a lot of the images were easy to decipher in the sense that they were recognizable humans and objects from everyday life, like machinery, buildings, fields . . . . There was an interesting narrative going on throughout the exhibition that was intriguing—it wasn’t clear what was going on in her work, kind of pulled you in.
If you could host a talk show, who would be your first guest?
There’s this author that I love named Gloria Anzaldúa. She is a Chicana, a first-generation Mexican-American scholar who is actually deceased, so I would have to bring her back to life! (But I really admire her work, so I would want to bring her to my talk show.) She focused on writing about the identity of Latinas on the Mexico-US border and often of queer Latinas. And she has this term, nepantla, that she borrows from indigenous Aztec cosmology—and she takes this term and uses it to describe the position that many Chicana women are in on the borderland of Mexico and the US.
She has this book called Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza that is dedicated to talking about this identity, these Chicana women who live in an in-between state: a state of not being considered fully American, because they’re not white, but also not being considered fully Mexican, because they’re born on US land and have not grown up speaking Spanish within Mexican territory. She talks about these women being nepantleras, being neither one thing nor the other, being in this liminal space that is on the one hand kind of alienating and anguishing, but is also a place of power, a special power that permits them to shape-shift and to be a bridge between different worlds and to adapt. I’m Latina but I’m white-skinned, so in my everyday life I'm white-passing. I'm often switching between different cultural codes, so I find it very comforting and empowering to draw from that idea of nepantla. So I would want Anzaldúa to come on my guest show and I would ask her more about her work and tell more people about it and thank her.
What is one of the things you would put on your “bucket” list?
At some point I want to do a pilgrimage. I would love to walk the Camino de Santiago trail. It’s this walking path that cuts through Spain, primarily. It’s traditionally a Catholic pilgrimage; I’m not Catholic, but I am Christian. I’m of the Mennonite tradition, which is a little bit related to a more contemplative spirituality. Contemplative spiritualities often have to do with prayer and breath and using the senses to be full in your body, kind of like meditation in Buddhism or Hinduism. The idea of walking a spiritual path is an interesting way to travel, to meet people. Also, this particular part of Spain that the path goes through is kind of arid, desert-like—which is one of my favorite kinds of landscapes.
If you were a fruit or a vegetable, what would you be?
I think I’m a pomegranate because they are very passionate fruits. They’re passionate, obviously, because of their color, red—and because of the seeds. The seeds themselves are tiny and translucent and they seem like maybe they could be a little bit fragile or could fall apart, but in reality they’re very strong and resilient and leave a mark. Right? Like pomegranates stain your clothing. They have a lot to offer. And I also love that pomegranates are a big part of literature and mythology in the Mediterranean, and that in Persian and Eastern mythology they are often associated with women, with female sexuality, fertility, and power. I think that’s powerful—I love that, I identify with that.
What advice do you have for prospective interns?
Firstly, start the internship motivated by excitement and by the reasons that inspired you to begin an internship at the MCA: your passions. Don’t be afraid to show your passion to the people you’re working with. I think it can often be intimidating to work with people that you really admire—and one can be sometimes doubtful of showing a lot of excitement—but that’s why we’re here, so I think it’s important to be grounded in that, in our passion.
Secondly, be organized in the sense of coming in with clear goals. Thinking of what you want to understand. For example, since I’m doing a curatorial internship, I want to understand the process of putting together an exhibition. What are all the steps that curators take? Or perhaps I might want to have an understanding of all the departments that a curator works with. I think it’s important to have clear, concrete goals so that by the end of the internship you’ve accomplished what you set out to do.