Liz Cohen to Join ASU School of Art Faculty This Fall

Liz Cohen. photographer and performance artist.
Ryan Debolski
Liz Cohen. photographer and performance artist.
Internationally renowned photographer and performance artist Liz Cohen is joining the faculty at Arizona State University.

Starting in the fall 2017 semester, Cohen will serve as associate professor for the School of Art, where she'll teach photography classes. The School of Art is part of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

Cohen comes to ASU from Michigan's Cranbook Art Museum, and Cranbrook officials announced Cohen’s plans on Wednesday, May 3. Cohen has been an artist-in-residence and head of the photography department at Cranbrook since 2008.

Her art practice includes creating conceptual, immersive multimedia work that blends art with ethnography. Often, she sets herself within those works, representing those who face significant challenges in speaking for themselves.

“She rides a knife edge with her work that takes risks doing things like exploring what it’s like to be an immigrant on the outside trying to belong, to be the ‘other’ sexually or racially, or to be one who is ignored in society,” says Mark Klett, regents' professor of photography at ASU.

click to enlarge Installation shot of Liz Cohen's "Him" installation for Cranbrook Art Museum. - CRANBROOK ART MUSEUM
Installation shot of Liz Cohen's "Him" installation for Cranbrook Art Museum.
Cranbrook Art Museum
Cohen is best-known for a decade-long project called Bodywork, which addressed hybrid identities using lowrider and custom-car culture. For her recent "Him" exhibition at Cranbrook Art Museum, Cohen channeled the experiences of a self-described eunuch named Eric Crosley through textile, sculpture, and image-based pieces.

Immigration is a common topic for Cohen, whose parents immigrated to the United States from Colombia. “Liz herself has deep roots in the Valley where she grew up,” Klett says. “So in a sense, she is coming home.”

Cohen's academic credentials include a master of fine arts degree in photography from California College of the Arts, a bachelor of fine arts degree in studio art from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, and a bachelor of arts degree in philosophy from Tufts University.

She's one of several renowned artists to join the Herberger Institute in recent years. Others include dance artist Liz Lerman, theater professional Michael Rohd, and composer Daniel Bernard Roumain. The trio heads ASU's Ensemble Lab in downtown Phoenix, a think tank focused on artist experimentation and community intervention.

In 2008, Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art included Cohen's work in its "Car Culture" exhibition. And Cohen organized a lowrider car show called Radical Mod for Scottsdale Public Art, infusing Scottsdale Civic Center Mall with lowrider culture.

Cohen’s return to Arizona is clearly well-timed.   

Longtime ASU faculty member Bill Jenkins recently retired and Betsy Schneider left the university for personal reasons, Klett says. Both taught in ASU's photography program. Current members of the ASU photography team include Julie Anand, Binh Danh, and Stephen Marc Smith, as well as Klett. Both Danh and Klett are represented by Lisa Sette Gallery.

The School of Art operates its own exhibition space dedicated to showing photography work by ASU students, alumni, and faculty. Called Northlight Gallery, it's located inside Grant Street Studios.

“Liz will help us fill the void that is being left, and also bring new strengths to our program,” Klett says. He considers Cohen’s greatest strengths her ability to move art beyond traditional spaces while engaging community members.

“I see Liz, the artist, as a fearless instigator,” Klett says.