Today, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced the newest class of 25 fellows to be awarded the MacArthur “Genius” grant, one of America’s most coveted accolades which comes with an unrestricted gift of $625,000.
Among the 2021 winners are painter Jordan Casteel—who at age 32 is the youngest fellow on the list—sculptor and painter Daniel Lind-Ramos, art historian and curator Nicole Fleetwood, and filmmaker and media artist Alex Rivera. Outside of the visual arts, digital media scholar Safiya Noble, cinema studies scholar and curator Jacqueline Stewart, who is the chief artistic and programming officer of the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, and author of the 2020 book Ibram X. Kendi were also named winners.
“As we emerge from the shadows of the past two years, this class of 25 Fellows helps us reimagine what’s possible,” Cecilia Conrad, managing director of MacArthur Fellows, said in a statement. “They demonstrate that creativity has no boundaries. It happens in all fields of endeavor, among the relatively young and more seasoned, in Iowa and Puerto Rico.”
Hundreds of anonymous individuals are tasked with nominating the Fellows, and that list is whittled down to around 30 names by a smaller committee; the program does not accept applications or public nominations.
After graduating from Yale’s prestigious art school, Casteel began exhibiting intimate portraits of Black men from her neighborhood based on snapshots. Artnet News’s Taylor Dafoe has described them as “the offspring of Alice Neel and Kerry James Marshall.”
“I was really interested in humanizing a history that is often criticized and sexualized,” Casteel told Art21 in 2019, of her focus on male subjects. “I didn’t want the Black male body to be taken advantage of any more than it historically has been.”
Casteel was the subject of a solo show at the New Museum in 2020, and her work has been slated to appear in 13 group shows in 2021.
Nicole R. Fleetwood is an art historian who in June was named as the inaugural James Weldon Johnson professor at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. Fleetwood is the curator of the exhibition “Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration,” which was on view at MoMA PS1 through this past April, and explored art created by some of the more than two million inmates in the United States.
Born in Loíza, Puerto Rico, sculptor and painter Daniel Lind-Ramos makes assemblages from everyday materials that often calls attention to the marginalization of Black Puerto Ricans. His work in the 2019 Whitney Biennial, incorporates bright blue FEMA disaster tarps that were ubiquitous in the aftermath of the hurricane that lent the piece its title. The vertical, totem-like sculpture also nods to the graceful Virgin Mary-esque seated figure with coconuts at her feet.Daniel Lind-Ramos. Photo: John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
Since the onset of the pandemic, the MacArthur Foundation has been pledging more money to support those affected by the crisis, as well as to advance racial and ethnic justice initiatives. In July 2021, it announced around $80 million in equitable recovery grants, in response to the dual crises of racial inequity and the pandemic, centered on advancing racial and ethnic justice. In 2020, it joined 15 other major donors led by the Ford Foundation to give more than $156 million to Black, Latinx, Asian, and Indigenous arts organizations across the country that came on the heels of the historic bond initiative launched in June, to support the groups.