Teka Selman on Duke’s New MFA in Experimental and Documentary Arts

Teka Selman. Photograph by Chi Brown.

Teka Selman is the assistant director of Duke’s Master of Fine Arts in Experimental and Documentary Arts. Her experience in the arts ranges from commercial to nonprofit arts management, most recently as partner at Branch Gallery in Durham, North Carolina. Selman received an MA in Art History and Visual Cultures from Goldsmiths, University of London, and a BA in Art History and Anthropology from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She has lectured on such topics as artists of the African Diaspora, gallery practice, film, and new media at institutions and events including the 2010 Sydney Biennial, the International Curators Forum in Barbados, the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, and the Venice Biennale in Italy. Her writing on artists such as Mark Bradford, Coco Fusco, and Kara Walker, among other artists, has been featured in a number of publications including The Black Moving Cube (Green Box Kunstedition, 2006), Freestyle (Studio Museum in Harlem, 2001), and OneWorld Magazine.

The following is from an interview with Teka Selman conducted by CDS intern Katie Youmans.

KY: Could you tell me a little about your previous work and educational background?

TS: I studied art history and anthropology as an undergrad at the University of Michigan. From there, I worked in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and learned a lot about how museums are run. After a couple of years, I went to Goldsmiths for visual studies and critical theory. While there, I started at the Gagosian Gallery as an intern, and then worked with their marketing and communications person, which led me to work with them in New York. I eventually left there, and while working for another gallery, called Sikkema Jenkins & Co., as a director, I really discovered how much I love working with artists. My husband was offered the position of curator at the Nasher Museum here at Duke, and we moved to North Carolina about five years ago. I had a gallery with a friend of mine for a couple years, and then took a break to have a kid for a little while. When this opportunity came up to work with the MFA, I was excited because it was an opportunity to work with artists in a more formative stage in their career.

KY: What got you interested in being involved with the Experimental and Documentary Arts program?

TS: It was very exciting to be able to be involved with something from the beginning, and part of the appeal was to be working at Duke. It was really heartening to see some momentum behind graduate study in the visual arts on Duke’s campus. This will be Duke’s first MFA, so it was an excellent proposition to help formulate what will hopefully be the beginning of more formal study of the visual arts and performing arts practice on campus.

KY: How does the MFA fit into the Center for Documentary Studies’ other programs?

TS: CDS is already well respected as a place for documentary practice, and there’s been a demand for something like this here. People come here for the summer institutes and the certificate program, but there are people who want more time than a couple of weeks to devote to their practice. This will become a natural extension of the certificate program, with interaction between the MFA and CDS, so it seems like a natural fit.

KY: What can students expect when starting the MFAEDA?

TS: The program is set up with the goal of creating a sense of community within the group of students who are coming. Students will take courses in experimental film and video practice, in documentary fieldwork, theory courses, courses that examine computational media, and they can also select electives from anywhere in the university, so there may be some students who will take courses at the divinity school, others who might take a law or a medical course, all in the service of creating a work that pushes beyond the boundaries of what their traditional practice might be.

KY: Is there one aspect of the program that you find especially exciting?

TS: I am probably most excited about the second-year MFA exhibition; I think that will be something unlike anything Duke has ever seen before. Rather than a traditional MFA exhibition, it will be everywhere, on campus and in downtown Durham. Students can engage questions of community, access, audience, and it will likewise be a wonderful opportunity for the community to see what’s happening in the MFA at Duke.

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