Jason Vartikar’s “Ruth Asawa’s Early Wire Sculpture and a Biology of Equality" awarded Frost Essay Award honorable mention
This year, for the first time, the jury has awarded an honorable mention for the Patricia and Phillip Frost Essay Award. Jason Vartikar’s article, “Ruth Asawa’s Early Wire Sculpture and a Biology of Equality,” published in spring 2020, argues that sculptor Ruth Asawa’s biomorphic sculptures can be understood as metaphors for racial equality because they resemble the universal processes of cell reproduction and division. Vartikar connects an archival discovery, Asawa’s college biology notebook drawings, to the contemporaneous mid-20th-century efforts by UNESCO and other authorities to dispute ideologies of racial hierarchy, which they did by pointing out the molecular universality of life.
The jurors unanimously agreed that “Art is in many ways anticipatory, and that given the recent rise in attacks, suspicion, and racism of Asian communities, this essay struck us as very timely. Vartikar brings forth very sophisticated ideas about science and their insight about cellular structure and how Asawa used it as metaphor was profound.”
Vartikar is a doctoral candidate in Stanford University’s department of art and art history, where he has been a recipient of the Jeanette and William Hayden Jones Fellowship in American Art and Culture from 2016 to 2021. A critical race art historian, he is writing a dissertation about how Charles Burchfield, an early-20th-century American painter, expressed both the period’s emerging concepts of racial whiteness and an awakening to racism fomented by the early civil rights movement.