Beth Uzwiak, PhD
I am an anthropologist, artist and cultural activist. A few years ago, I co-founded a social research organization in Philadelphia called Ethnologica. We specialize in ethnographic, arts-based and feminist methods. You can access our business website here: Ethnologica.
My work is grounded in a deep commitment to community well-being and the realization of human rights. I am a trained trauma counselor and have previously worked as a human rights researcher at MADRE and as an advocate with women and families surviving violence, incarceration and addiction. I spent several years as a crisis counselor at a domestic violence shelter and as an outpatient therapist at a residential treatment facility, often using art-making and storytelling in therapeutic ways. These experiences continue to inform what I do.
I am currently an Adjunct Fellow at the Center for Public Health Initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania and, with Ethnologica, am collaborating with the Philadelphia Department of Public Health on a qualitative study with families who have lost loved ones to opioid overdose in the city.
I maintain an art practice in Philadelphia and a blog about visual anthropology with my long-term collaborator Laurian Bowles. Recently, we were awarded a Leeway Art and Change grant in support of our ongoing public archive work about cross-racial, feminist social movements. I am a painter, printer, paper-maker and book-maker and have exhibited art in numerous places including Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pyramid Atlantic Art Center, Delaware Center for Contemporary Arts, Abecedarian Gallery, Fox Gallery, the Athenaeum of Philadelphia and Woman Made Gallery.
I am a former resident of the 40th St AIR studio program in West Philadelphia and continue to teach art workshops in various community settings. Most recently, Ethnologica created an art and storytelling workshop through an Ecotopian Toolkit award from UPenn to explore participants’ fears and future imaginings about local rivers. I also teach papermaking at Historic Rittenhouse Town in Philadelphia, site of the first paper mill in the United States. I am currently at work on a new (watercolor) project about heat, fever, miasma and rising waters. As part of this project, I am researching the history of urban riverfront industrial development with the support of a fellowship at the Library Company of Philadelphia and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
In recent years, my art has also taken the form of collaboration with large scale social practice projects such Playgrounds for Useful Knowledge—a multi-year initiative of Cohabitation Strategies and the Mural Arts Project that used theater and play to create cross-cultural connections to address housing insecurity and other community concerns. I am now partnering with Amber Art and Design and the Fairmount Park Conservancy as part of an artist residency at Philadelphia’s Hatfield House.
Through ethnography and asset mapping, I collect oral histories and community perspectives to inform policy and program development and to ensure that urban reinvestment initiatives consider local perspectives. I collaborate with other artists and cultural workers to curate exhibits, festivals, sound and video installations, workshops and other public events. I am currently working with Blast Theory from the UK and the Mutter Museum to coordinate community engagement efforts for their upcoming exhibit and parade commemorating the 1918 flu pandemic.
A former Woodrow Wilson fellow, I earned a PhD in cultural anthropology from Temple University with a dissertation that examined the relationship between Indigenous human rights movements and gender violence within the context of neoliberal development. Other past projects include researching ways that women survivors of violence negotiate social welfare systems, and the gendered and racialized impacts of health reform in Belize, Central America.
Recent publications include an analysis of health disparities in western Belize in Medical Anthropology Quarterly, a reflection of how ethnography can best contribute to large-scaled socially engaged art projects in Anthropology Now and an exploration of Zoe Strauss’s photography and the relationships between violence, affect and exhibition practices in Photography and Culture. I have held full-time faculty appointments at American University and Bryn Mawr College and have also taught courses at Temple University, Tyler School of Art and Moore College of Art and Design.