MFA|EDA Grad Felicity Palma Wins $10,000 Cassilhaus Travel Fellowship

Still from "Medusa and The Abyss." Two children's hands hold toys against a bright blue sky with clouds.

The Cassilhaus Travel Fellowship is made possible through a three-way partnership between Cassilhaus, an arts incubator featuring an artist residency and exhibition program, and the Duke Master of Fine Arts in Experimental and Documentary Arts (MFA|EDA), the Duke Center for Documentary Studies (CDS). It was created with the idea that travel can be transformative in the life of an emerging artist. The biennial $10,000 fellowship, funded by Cassilhaus founders Ellen Cassilly and Frank Konhaus, supports Duke University MFA|EDA graduates for an eighteen-month period in their artistic research and practice beyond the traditional educational environment. “Working so closely with the students in the Duke MFA|EDA program has been an exceptionally rich experience for us,” say Cassilly and Konhaus. “We hope that this travel fellowship can continue to help recent graduates in their artistic explorations.”

The recipient of the 2022 Cassilhaus Travel Fellowship is Felicity Palma (MFA|EDA Class of 2019), who will be traveling to Puglia, Italy, to “work on an auto-ethnographic experimental film that examines the effects of cancer treatment on a young, working-class woman’s body through the use of archives, performance, soundscapes, and interventions with the lens and filmic body.” As part of her fellowship, Palma is planning to participate in a residency at the Domus Artist Center in Galatina “researching southern Italian folk dance as a symbol of emotional and physical suffering”; she will also conduct research through a residency at Duke’s Rubenstein Library, working with texts by Kathy Acker and Eve Sedgwick. Palma’s fellowship, which begins in September 2022, will culminate in the creation of a work to be presented to the public in Durham in spring 2024.

“This is a deeply personal project for me,” Palma says, “the Covid-19 pandemic showed us that while illness is a universal human experience, pain and suffering are not always equally distributed. Lockdowns for me meant a heightening of an already precarious life: I had no access to the regular medical care I needed and was underemployed before the pandemic even began. The impetus behind this project is a desire to examine, unpack, and perhaps reclaim ownership over what it means to ‘survive.’ By looking to artists, thinkers, and writers who also had breast cancer, I hope to trace the threads between our varied experiences to discern how a shared language of care and vulnerability might give us guidance on how to thrive. I am so grateful to Frank, Ellen, and the selection committee for this life-changing opportunity to expand my practice through archival research, play, and experimentation, and to return to southern Italy, a place that holds so much meaning for me.”
 
“We are thrilled that Felicity has been awarded the third Cassilhaus Travel Fellowship for her thoughtful project and are particularly excited that she plans to include an artist residency component,” Ellen Cassilly and Frank Konhaus said of the announcement. “This fellowship honors our parents as great champions of both education and travel. We believe extended travel has a unique power to educate, enrich, and transform people and take them places far beyond the place from which they initially disembarked. We feel fortunate to have the MFA|EDA and the Center for Documentary Studies as partners in this adventure.”
 
Alina Taalman (’15) was the inaugural Cassilhaus Travel Fellow; her fellowship project, the film Kolmas Punkt, was screened as part of the 2019 Full Frame Documentary Film Festival. The second Cassilhaus Travel Fellow was Jason Sudak (’17); his project, Night Waves, premiered at the Power Plant Gallery in 2021. 
 
Guidelines for the next Cassilhaus Travel Fellowship competition will be shared at the time of Palma’s 2024 presentation.

Feature image: "Medusa and the Abyss," Felicity Palma; 16mm transferred to 2k digital, color, sound (Italy, 2019). "Notions of belonging and the ethics of travel are questioned through female rite and ritual, pointing at the pervasive and contradictory presence of history and myth in present-day Sicily."

Headshot: Felicity Palma at Duke University, 2019; photographer unknown.