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Exploring art in the classroom — and now on TV

February 13, 2020
by James Helicke

Lara Ayad is taking her passion for art from the classroom at Skidmore College to public television.

Ayad, a specialist in African art and assistant professor of art history, is the new host of the arts program “AHA! A House for Arts.” Launched in 2014, the program highlights stories about the arts, artists, culture, venues and organizations of New York’s Capital Region.

“I am enjoying the opportunity to engage in the field of art history more broadly and engage in the broader community, where I get to meet amazing people active in the arts scene,” said Ayad, adding that she hopes her academic background deepens her perspective on topics covered on the show. “I think my teaching helps me to think about patterns and develop questions for the interviews I conduct.”

A new season for “AHA!” got underway on Wednesday, Feb. 12. The first episode featured a behind-the-scenes look at Liveware (a performance group at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, EMPAC), an interview with Silvia Ruzanka of RPI’s arts department and a performance by Girl Blue, winner of the inaugural “Eddie” (the Capital Region Thomas Edison Music Award) for best solo artist.

At Skidmore, Ayad teaches a range of courses in art history, including courses on African art. Her classes also contribute to Skidmore programs in gender studies, black studies and international affairs.

Lara Ayad in the classroom

Ayad said her scholarship, which has examined the role of the peasant figure in modern Egyptian art, explores the intersection of race, sex, gender and class through art and ultimately probes the broader meaning of “Africa” to artists on the continent.

“When people first think of Africa, they often have a very specific idea in mind of what that looks like,” Ayad said. “I don’t think it’s right to define ‘Africa’ just by one part of the continent.”

Her work has been receiving acclaim both on and off campus. Last year, she received the Rhonda A. Saad Prize for her paper “Homegrown Heroes: Peasant Masculinity and Nation-Building in the Paintings of Aly Kamel al-Deeb.”

Mimi Hellman, chair of the Department of Art History, said Ayad is playing important roles in both the art history curriculum and Skidmore’s new program in black studies.

“Lara’s teaching and scholarship demonstrate the tremendous diversity and cultural complexity of African art,” Hellman said. “WMHT has chosen an excellent host for its program — viewers will enjoy Lara’s insights and enthusiasm.”

WMHT producer Matthew Rogowicz called Ayad a “wonderful addition” to its television program.

“Lara brings immense expertise and fascinating insight to ‘AHA!’” Rogowicz said.

New episodes of “AHA!” premiere Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m. on WMHT-TV and WMHT’s Facebook page and are also available on WMHT's website.

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