Ghenwa Hayek appointed Interim Director of the Richard and Mary L. Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry for 2020-21

Jul 02, 2020


David Levin, Senior Advisor to the Provost for Arts at The University of Chicago announced today that Ghenwa Hayek, Associate Professor of Modern Arabic Literature in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations and the College, has been appointed Interim Director of the Richard and Mary L. Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry. Hayek will serve as Interim Director while Seth Brodsky, Gray Center Director and Associate Professor of Music in the Humanities and the College, is on sabbatical for the 2020-21 academic year.

Professor Hayek received her PhD in Comparative Literature at Brown University in 2011; she joined the UChicago faculty in 2015. Her research examines the entangled relationships between literary and cultural production, space and place, and identity formation in the modern Arab Middle East, with a specific focus on Lebanon. She is the author of Beirut, Imagining the City: Space and Place in Lebanese Literature, published by IB Taurus. 

“I am thrilled that Ghenwa will be serving as Interim Director of the Gray Center,” commented Levin, who is also the Gray Center’s founding Director. “She brings an interdisciplinary ethos to the Center as well as a deep-seated curiosity about the possible forms that the relationship between scholarly and artistic work can take. But more than anything, Ghenwa’s work is marked by a palpable sense of intellectual adventure, and it is that commitment to inventive exploration that makes her such a great fit for the Gray Center.”

Hayek received a Gray Center Mellon Collaborative Fellowship in 2019 along with artists Fadi “the Fdz” Baki and Omar Khouri for an experimental project entitled Redrawing the Arab World, which uses the medium of the graphic novel to re-imagine the historical periods of Jāhiliyya and the Nahḍa through an Arabofuturist idiom.

“I remember very clearly when I met Ghenwa,” recalls Brodsky. “It was my very first meeting as Interim Gray Director, and she was proposing what would soon become a brilliant fellowship with collaborators Fadi Baki and Omar Khouri. I was so struck by Ghenwa’s spirit of exploration, humor, risk, and camaraderie, which would go on to define the fellowship. I am so excited to see all those qualities at the helm of the Gray Center. They define the place, and Ghenwa is such a natural fit.”

“I’m thrilled to be stewarding the Gray Center this year while Seth takes a much-deserved sabbatical,” said Hayek. “Seth has been such an exemplary model of enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and generous leadership and I hope to continue his excellent work.”

In her role as Interim Director, Hayek will work closely with the Gray Center’s Faculty Advisory Committee, its Director of Programs and Fellowships, Zachary Cahill, and the rest of the Gray Center staff and fellows.

“I am really looking forward to continuing to work with Ghenwa in her new capacity as Interim Director,” said Cahill, who also serves as the Editor-in-Chief of the Gray Center’s new publication Portable Gray. “She has already worked with us in nearly every facet of what we do at the Center: from going through our rigorous fellowship proposal process, to participating in our Sidebar conversation series, to working with us on the journal, to teaching one of our co-taught seminars with Omar and Fadi as part of their fellowship. She possesses a deep understanding of the experimental and collaborative nature of the work we do at the Gray Center.”

The Gray Center has put together a robust schedule for the 2020-21 academic year, including collaborative fellowships such as Valuation, Economies, and Revised Ecologies for the Black Image, with artist and professor in the Department of Visual Arts Theaster Gates and art historian Romi Crawford; Common Place, a fellowship comprised of UChicago Medicine physicians Monica Peek and Elizabeth Tung and illustrator Julia Kuo; Documenting Blakelock, a fellowship involving associate professor of English and Comparative Literature Larry Rothfield and filmmaker Ric Burns; and Wells, a fellowship with senior lecturer in the College Susan Gzesh, Smart Museum MacArthur Curator Abigail Winograd, and artist Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle. Adding to the enrichment of this collaborative work at the university, during the spring quarter the Gray Center awarded a new round of fellowships. Assistant professor of Cinema and Media Studies Salomé Aguilera Skvirsky will work with artist, musician, and theorist Seth Kim-Cohen and professor of English Leigh Claire La Berge on a fellowship entitled Economic Objects; assistant professor of Comparative Literature Leah Feldman and the artist collective Slavs and Tatars will collaborate on a fellowship entitled Radical Reading; and, rounding out this year’s cohort, an artist team consisting of Department of Visual Arts Lecturer Amber Ginsburg and artist Sara Black will work with professor of political science Samantha Frost on a fellowship entitled Untidy Objects. In addition to this fellowship work and regular Gray Center programming, Hayek is also planning to convene an international symposium on Arabofuturism, the foundation for which was laid during her time as a fellow.

“The Gray Center is a space for approaching artistic and scholarly problems in an unconventional manner and I am excited to be working alongside the faculty advisory committee, Zachary, and the rest of the wonderful team,” commented Hayek. “2020 has already posed some exceptionally tough questions to us all as scholars, artists, and human beings and I hope that during my time at the Gray Center, we can collectively marshal our considerable creative and intellectual energies and practices to thinking collaboratively about how we can best inhabit our present and imagine our futures.”

In addition to the Mellon Residential Fellowships for Arts Practice and Scholarship, the Gray Center’s programs include international conferences, incubator initiatives, salons, and institutional collaborations across divisions, departments, and other programs at UChicago. To learn more about the Richard and Mary L. Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry, visit