New media artist and academic leader named School of Visual Arts director

August 04, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Vagner Mendonça-Whitehead, chair of the Department of Visual Arts at Texas Woman’s University, has been appointed director of the Penn State School of Visual Arts (SoVA), a unit of the College of Arts and Architecture, effective Sept. 15.

“I am pleased to welcome Vagner Mendonça-Whitehead as the next director of the School of Visual Arts,” said B. Stephen Carpenter II, dean of the College of Arts and Architecture. “As an exhibiting new media and video artist, writer and leader in professional organizations, Professor Mendonça-Whitehead brings an inspiring combination of experiences to this role.”

Vagner Mendonça-Whitehead

Vagner Mendonça-Whitehead has been named director of the Penn State School of Visual Arts, effective Sept. 15, 2020.

IMAGE: Provided

Mendonça-Whitehead’s practice encompasses traditional and newer media art-making, curatorial projects and creative writings on visual culture. His artworks display accidental and forced intersections of personal experiences, histories, geo-locations, languages and found artifacts, and manifest themselves through traditional and new media pieces, presented extensively in group and solo exhibitions in galleries and museums, as well as film and video festivals, nationally and internationally, including Latin America, Europe, Australia, India, Russia and United Arab Emirates. His writings unravel similar media/visual encounters in the form of critical and poetic essays.

“The School of Visual Arts at Penn State exemplifies excellence in the arts. We can further build upon and broaden its reach, to make SoVA a destination for contemporary art praxis and pedagogy, that is accessible, equitable, inclusive, critical, sustainable and relevant to our times,” said Mendonça-Whitehead. “I am thrilled to begin working and finding common values with a new community of colleagues, students and collaborators.”

Mendonça-Whitehead’s recent art projects have dealt with metaphorical representations and interpretations of fear and violence, aging and technological obsolescence, and imprisoned young brown bodies. His most recent published essay, “Queering New Media Art: Looking Back, Looking Forward,” in the Journal of the New Media Caucus, unpacked some possibilities for and problems with queering new media art.

In addition to presenting at national and international professional conferences, Mendonça-Whitehead has presented his works as a visiting artist at University of Kansas–Lawrence, University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire, Southern Illinois University–Edwardsville, Champlain College and San Jose State University, to name a few. He has also participated in artist residencies in the United States, Argentina and Scotland.

Mendonça-Whitehead was the president of the New Media Caucus from 2014 to 2017, where he has also served on the Board of Directors since 2011. In 2016 he was selected as an Emerging Arts Administrator Fellow with the National Council of Arts Administrators, and a fellow with the Advocacy Leadership Institute for the National Association for Latino Arts and Culture. Mendonça-Whitehead frequently serves the National Endowment for the Arts as a grant review panelist for its Art Works program. He currently serves on the board of directors for the National Council of Arts Administrators, focusing on equity and social media initiatives.

Carpenter notes Mendonça-Whitehead’s leadership and professional experience align with the College of Arts and Architecture’s mission.

“Professor Mendonça-Whitehead’s leadership is grounded in values of equity and diversity with particular focus on contemporary culture, visual technologies, collaborative engagements and supporting students, faculty and staff,” said Carpenter. “These areas are most appropriate for the current and future success of the school and the college.”

Before joining Texas Woman’s University, where he taught graduate-level courses in intermedia art, Mendonça-Whitehead had faculty positions at Oakland University (new media art) and Southern Illinois University (video art). He holds degrees from the Savannah College of Art and Design and University of Florida–Gainesville.

Last Updated April 15, 2021