Three Twin Cities artists have won prestigious Guggenheim fellowships, the New York-based foundation announced Thursday.
Ranee Ramaswamy and Aparna Ramaswamy, the celebrated mother-daughter team that leads Ragamala Dance Company, won as a duo, a rarity.
Multimedia artist Chris Larson, who also teaches at the University of Minnesota, won a solo award.
"We're absolutely thrilled," said Aparna Ramaswamy from Los Angeles, where she was on spring break with her family. "We were very surprised to get it because we applied in the past and didn't get any feedback with our rejection."
Exponents of the 2,500-year-old temple dance style known as bharatanatyam, the Ramaswamys have done trilogies around the themes of water and the earth. With their Guggenheim, which comes with a $30,000 purse for each of them, they intend to create a show called "Sacred Fire: Bone Within Ash" that springs from Hindu cosmology. It's about the cycles of life, death and rebirth, said Ranee Ramaswamy — "the transfer of the spirit from one body to another."
"Sacred Fire" is expected to be completed in two years after research, including in the Indian city of Varanasi, on the Ganges river, where devout Hindus hope their ashes will be spread. In the meantime, Ragamala will celebrate its 25th anniversary April 26-27 with the premiere of "Body, the Shrine" at Cowles Center in Minneapolis.
Larson plans to use his $55,000 award for his next project. Starting in July he will go on sabbatical for a year, living and working in the basement of an old sewing factory in Smithville, Tenn., where women produced clothing for such brands as Polo until the 1980s, when the work was outsourced to China.
The space has been left nearly untouched — including 100 sewing machines, zippers and bolts of thread. "They left everything there," he said. "I am going to go down there and examine this space, which has a history with labor. I don't know what's going to happen."
It's a natural project for Larson, whose last four pieces have dealt with specific historical sites. One is a replica of the sign from the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed. Larson installed the piece in Franconia Sculpture Park in 2016. He leaves Monday for Cincinnati to install "Function Is Redundant," a 10-year retrospective of his work at the Contemporary Art Center there.
In all, 173 people won Guggenheim Fellowships on Thursday, including Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Tyehimba Jess, writer/photographer Teju Cole and writer Min Jin Lee.