Q&A with Wilder Winner Noel Maghathe

Artists draw inspiration from many places including the environment that surrounds them. The opportunity for a change of scenery can prove especially valuable. At the Art Academy of Cincinnati the Stephen H. Wilder Traveling Scholarship provides just that, affording art students of all disciplines the chance to explore the world around them as fuel for their creative expression.

Noel Maghathe is a Mixed Palestinian American artist and graduate of the Art Academy. Dedicated to radical gender and identity politics, Maghathe uses performance, photography, sculpture, and installation to advance socially conscious dialogues centering queer voices.

Check out a Q&A with Maghathe below to learn more about Noel’s experience traveling on the Wilder Scholarship.

Q: You were one of last year’s recipients of the Wilder Traveling Scholarship. Where did you go and how did you use this award to continue your practice and research?

I was lucky enough to travel with my father to his home in Halhul, West Bank, Palestine.

I decided to use Wilder Traveling Scholarship to experience being a queer person/femme in Palestine first hand, but to also reconnect as an adult with this whole side of my life. Using several social media outlets, I connected with other queer Palestinians to listen to their experiences and collaborate.

Q: Can you share with us your experience in Palestine?

I spent the majority of my time in the small town of Halhul, where my grandmother lives. My father was born and raised in this rural town.

It was a wild experience full of ups and downs; two men asked for my hand, conversations of marriage, conversations of equality. I gained and lost feelings of wonder, revisiting a home after seven years brings comfort but distortion.

It became so much more than me being queer, but re-birthing the home in my heart for this place. When creating with my new friends, I felt happy and strong finally being here after all of this hard work.

I sat and spoke with my friend Rawand from Ramallah for an hour as we did each other’s hair after we’d just met. I thought back to my childhood where I spent hours sitting with my sisters straightening our hair for school the next day, we spent so much time laughing and intertwining. After our hair, we did our makeup and she took me to the old city of Birzeit, where we interacting with the space using my cellophane forms I had been making in Halhul.

It was an enduring experience with a lifetime friendship, I plan on coming back and studying at Birzeit for gender studies in the next couple years.

Q: How did your experience in  Palestine change your work?

It changed the way I thought of art making and what it can impact.

Q: After returning, you went on to become an Agent of Change delegate to this year’s UN Commission on the Status of Womxn. Was this a continuation of your work during your time in Palestine?

This was a continuation of my path as an artist. I was shown and recommended this opportunity by a new friend, Mitchell Sutika Sipus.

He spoke at graduation last May and we connected after hearing about the work he has done overseas. I was encouraged to apply after he expressed that we need more artists outside of this form to be involved in global conversations.

Q: Could you tell us more about your experience as an Agent of Change?

It was an overwhelming time!

I loved being in NYC and to be at the United Nations HQ every day was hair-raising. I spent every morning taking a train and bus over to Manhattan then heading to a conference room full of people from all over the world. I’m just sitting here two seats from the minister of women of New Zealand, speaking of the economic empowerment of rural women in NZ.

I’m in awe that I am here and able to be a part of the conversation. Speaking and hearing views of these gender issues and the lack of universal conversation of the trans and gender non-conforming community really pushed me to my choice of gender studies for masters.

I hope to connect more with ILGA (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association ) in the future for this matter, they were the only group to truly address these issues within the whole commission. Shout out to Zhan Chiam! I met so many people that were doing amazing things to help further the gender equality from Fiji to Indonesia to Estonia.

I am so thankful for the time I spent not only at the United Nations, but the people I met in New York. What a beautiful time I had.

Q: Where do you see your work going from here and how do you feel your art/design will make an impact on the world?

I see myself going in a completely new direction after this conference, I was very torn on whether to continue fine arts in grad school, but I have decided to dive into gender studies as well as Arab studies.

I will always make work and perform, but I need to be involved in these issues and use my art and performances in those environments as one. Especially with what is happening this moment with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict with the Land Day peaceful protests, I can’t just bury my head.

Q: How do you view yourself as a change maker?

I’m still learning how I can make a change. Thus far I’ve been advocating as much as possible and my performances are becoming more political and facing these issues head-on.