Sunday, April 21, 2019

Isabella Myers, who will receive an MFA in book arts from the University of Iowa this May, is the winner of a Fulbright Arts grant in Bookmaking/Design to Cambodia for 2019-20

Isabella Myers

Hometown: Iowa City, IA
Award: 2019-20 Fulbright Arts grant in Bookmaking/Design to Cambodia
Degree: MFA book arts

Could you give me a brief synopsis of what you'll be doing with your Fulbright? 

My project will reconstruct the lost tradition of Buddhist manuscripts called kraing. These performative texts are written in Pali on handmade snay (mulberry) paper and they depict Buddhist funerary rites. I will be working out of a temple in Kampong Cham Province that houses some of the last surviving kraing paper manuscripts (late 19th to early 20th centuries). Through material analysis and field research, I hope to uncover more information about how these manuscripts were created, circulated, and used. Upon the conclusion of my research, I will hold an exhibition in Phnom Penh of handmade books and papers modeled after the extant manuscripts. As part of this, I will host a series of lectures and workshops in Cambodia with hands-on demonstrations of the papermaking process.

What drew you to this field of study? 

Initially, I was interested in learning more about papermaking in Mainland Southeast Asia, a region with limited canonical works written on the subject. There is some information written about Thai papers and even less about papers made in Laos and Cambodia. These countries all have a rich background in handmade paper made within a scribal tradition. I selected Cambodia because there is an urgency to conduct this research now. It is estimated that only 2% of these traditional manuscripts survive today; most were destroyed by the Khmer Rouge Regime, rough climate conditions, or looted.

How do you envision this will influence your future career? 

Archives-based research is a burgeoning field in Cambodia. I am honored to be a part of the field and to be supported by the leading experts in Cambodian manuscripts. It is very exciting to have this kind of research recognized and sponsored by Fulbright. It is my goal to publish detailed information about the manuscripts and their background. In doing so, I hope to not only advance my own career but to illuminate new pathways for contextualizing these traditional practices within the field of contemporary book arts.

What advice do you have for future students interested in applying for a Fulbright? 

I think the hardest part about applying for a Fulbright is picturing yourself in that role. To me, it seemed out of reach, but we have great institutional support here at the University of Iowa with faculty and administrators who continuously exceeded my expectations.

Are there individuals you'd like to thank for their investment in this process? 

Thank you, Dr. Karen Wachsmuth, for your dedicated support and wisdom in the process. I would like to thank all of my professors but especially Timothy Barrett, Sara Langworthy, Julia Leonard, and Karen Carcia. I'd also like to thank Dr. Chhany Sak-Humphry and the Center for Khmer Studies for their support. Thank you to the University of Iowa Graduate College for their generous support of my preliminary field research in Cambodia. A special thanks to my colleague Katharine Delamater and her partner Liz. I'd also like to thank the mentors who helped me get here: Jen Farrell, Martha Chiplis, and Dawn Gettler.


Explore the many funding opportunities open to UI students and alumni

Students are encouraged to begin their funding searches and applications at least six months to one year in advance.  Schedule an advising appointment with Karen Wachsmuth to discuss your interest in an international fellowship or begin an application (as a UI undergraduate student, graduate student, or alumna/us).