Our new host of AHA! Lara Ayad was born in Canada and grew up all over the United States.
“I guess you could say I’m a homegrown American,” said Ayad, who attended three high schools in Arizona, Florida and Virginia.
As a professor of African art history at Skidmore College, a position she’s held for about two years, Lara’s research and work have taken her all around the globe. She has co-organized a conference panel in Ghana and scoured the art and ethnography collections of old science museums in Cairo. Lara won a prize for an essay on masculinity in 20th century Egyptian painting and currently teaches courses on the history of art, photography, and travel in Africa.
Lara’s family is originally Egyptian and she wouldn’t be surprised if she gained her appreciation for the arts and sciences from her parents. “My mom is an interior designer, and my dad is an engineer. Both of their fathers were artists,” Lara observed.
When Lara is not writing articles for art history journals and prepping students for their next research assignment, you can find her making baklava from scratch, hiking the Adirondacks, or planning dinners with friends.
In another life, Lara would probably be a food critic, a criminal detective, or a mermaid. Or all of those things, at the same time.
We asked Lara some questions ahead of the season premiere on Feb. 12th of our all-new, all-local AHA! A House for Arts.
1. What drew you to study the arts?
Growing up, I used to draw ink and pencil portraits of my family, mythical creatures, and animals. My maternal grandfather's paintings covered nearly every wall in the house. But art gained new importance for me as an adult: I began exploring the connection between art and the human experience in college, and in my daydreams after class. Art can tell stories about us, and our relationship with others and the larger world, that are more profound, more coded, than those found in books or magazines. We can also tell different stories about an artwork or object, depending on what questions we ask of it - that is what I love about art.
2. What specifically about African art interested you?
On the one hand, the typical story of "Art" has often pushed African art aside. On the other, people usually have a narrow view of what African art is. I was drawn to art from the African continent precisely because it defies the stereotype of "primitive" masks and wooden sculptures, and because it is way more diverse and important in the course of world history than many realize. More than art from any other region, African art breaks down our expectations of what art can and should be.
3. Tell us a bit about getting your Ph.D. and your time living in Cairo.
Getting my Ph.D was a long, difficult process. I spent seven years learning how to tell stories about art through sustained examination, rigorous research, and unflagging commitment to a project. Because it sometimes felt like a drawn out rite of passage, it both enriched me and made me more resilient. Living in Cairo for nearly a year was quite similar. I landed in Egypt thinking I had a main objective. Yet, all of the circumstances and factors I could not control, the relationships I formed with colleagues, artists, and friends there, really shaped the story I would tell the world about modern Egyptian art.
4. What brought you to the area?
I moved to the Saratoga County area less than two years ago to start my new job as a professor of Art History at Skidmore College.
5. Thoughts on becoming the new host of AHA! A House for Arts?
As the new host of AHA! I get to flaunt my more social and spontaneous side. I'm naturally curious about others and the projects they are working on, so every upcoming shoot at the WMHT studio feels new and exciting. Helping take the program in untrodden directions is also something I really look forward to.