Faculty/Instructor Session
2:40: Fereshteh Toosi, "Learning in public: socially-engaged art and experimental education"


In 2016, Fereshteh Toosi served as the inaugural Dammeyer Fellow in Photographic Arts and Social Issues, a collaboration between Columbia College Chicago and the Heartland Alliance, a global social justice organization. This presentation gives insight into her process-oriented, socially-engaged art initiative called Significant Surfaces.

The artist was embedded in a supportive housing environment where social services are provided to residents who have a history of homelessness, serious mental illness, and/or substance use disorders. As a result, Significant Surfaces was a participatory art project that took a self-reflexive approach. Rather than creating a public art project with participants as the subjects of the work, Fereshteh engaged participants in dialogue about the history of documentary and its intersection with human rights issues. Fereshteh created an alternative community of learning in order explore how people who are experiencing structural inequality see themselves, in comparison to how others see them. In this presentation, Fereshteh will recount her fellowship year and the tensions that arise when working in the continuum between the short-term, outcomes-oriented expectations of public art agencies and the long-term, process-based methods of socially-engaged art.


Fereshteh Toosi designs interactions for audiences by using hybrid approaches combining images, sounds, movement, and sculpture. As a social practice artist, her projects are created through participatory, collaborative experiences and processes. Fereshteh’s art work takes many forms ranging from walking performances, immersive 360 video, cameraless photography, and 16mm hand processed film. Recent projects include oyster mushroom sculptures, films processed in mint tea and yeasts, and guided walks about lithium.

Fereshteh is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Art and Art History at Florida International University. She studied at Oberlin College and Carnegie Mellon University, where she received an MFA in Interdisciplinary Art. She also holds a certificate in Environmental Urban Design from Archeworks in Chicago and is an active member of the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides.

Fereshteh is the recipient of grants and residencies from the the Experimental Sound Studio, the Experimental Television Center, the Flaherty Film Seminar and the Society for Contemporary Craft. She has participated in Toronto’s Subtle Technologies Festival, the Performance Studies International Conference, and the Urban Emptiness Festival in Nicosia, Cyprus. Her work has been shown at the Freies Museum in Berlin, Morono Kiang Gallery in Los Angeles, Borscht Festival in Miami, Art in General in New York, Urban Institute for Contemporary Art in Grand Rapids, La Centrale Galerie in Montréal, Hallwalls in Buffalo, the Boston Center for the Arts, and many other galleries, festivals, and conferences. You may find samples of her work at http://fereshteh.net