Mixed-media sculptor and Washington State University associate professor of fine arts Io Palmer uses her artistic skills to explore complex social issues and her teaching skills to inspire future artists.
Inaugural recipient of the Berry Family Distinguished Professorship in Liberal Arts at WSU, Palmer recently received a Fulbright-Nehru Academic and Professional Excellence Award and is preparing to deploy her diverse skills in new ways in a new environment.
In January, she will travel to India for six months to advance her multimedia work titled Created, Consumed, and Scrubbed, an investigation of the way fabrics in India are made, cared for, bought, and sold. In addition to conducting research for the project, she will serve as a resident artist at the Sanskriti Foundation in New Delhi.
While on the subcontinent, she will interact with artisans and laborers in the production of fabric for clothes and other products. She will examine the art, economics, and labor issues behind a burgeoning segment of the global fashion and home décor arena.
“By studying the fabrics of India, I hope to better understand this rich and diverse society,” Palmer said.
She plans to create a series of videos and drawings based on her experiences abroad. The hands-on research will greatly inform her future artwork and teaching, she said.
“Professor Palmer is a tireless advocate for arts diversity within a contemporary, global perspective, and her leadership in art and cultural production both challenges and raises the art department’s interdisciplinary arts mission for the good of students, the University, and community,” said fine arts faculty member Dennis DeHart. “These two awards will allow her much-needed quality time to focus on her research and art production.”
Ability to create more deeply
The combined financial support from Palmer’s Fulbright grant and her three-year Berry professorship will enable her to create more deeply within three current focus areas on three distinct, long-term projects, she said.
“The Fulbright will support my work in India, and the Berry funds will allow me to return to India the next year to follow up. They will help with my personal/scholarly work, too, by enabling me to purchase materials, hire an assistant, travel to exhibitions, and ship artwork for exhibiting.”
Her third big project to get a boost—called In Ceramics In Science—brings together fine arts students at WSU Pullman and medical students at WSU Spokane to create public art reflecting the role of ceramic materials across healthcare. From X-ray tubes and dental bridges to surgical implants and prosthetics, numerous everyday medical devices and tools contain ceramic components.
“The professorship underscores my interest in working with students outside of the classroom,” Palmer said. “The In Ceramics In Science project shows some of what the arts can do and have done on campus and beyond for years and years. Students can see that, with an arts degree, there’s a range of things you can do with your life, and that the arts can inform any career you choose.”
‘Investment in the arts’
Trained originally as a ceramicist, Palmer regularly teaches art foundations, performance, ceramics and sculpture at WSU. For fall semester on the Pullman campus, she is leading a newly designed Introduction to Art course which looks at the intersection of contemporary art and sports in modern society.
A member of WSU faculty since 2007, Palmer has completed artist residencies across the United States and Asia, including at the Kathmandu Contemporary Art Center in Nepal, the Sanskriti Foundation in New Delhi, and the Art Channel Artist Residency in Beijing.
Her large-scale works often employ a variety of materials and processes—from fabric and steel to video and sound—to explore issues of race, class, capitalism, and societal excess. An example of her work examining selfishness and excess is now on display in the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at WSU Pullman.
“Receiving this wonderful Berry Family Professorship really speaks to the Department of Fine Arts as well as the arts at large across the University—the School of Music, the art museum, and many things going on in the community,” Palmer said. “It is an investment in me, but the bigger picture is that it’s an investment in the arts at WSU as a whole.”