Fulbright Winner To Explore Culture in India

Nicole Faut, a Fulbright winner, poses with her honors project. The project illustrates the angst in a local community over a court case involving the public display of the Ten Commandments.

by Jean Elliott

Nicole Faut admits to being raised in a dark, colorless world. She watched her mother nurse her baby sister while high on crack. Her father struggled with his own addictions. Faut says her life was chaotic but she found a way to make peace with it – by excelling in school and allowing her emotions to spill over on canvas.

Faut, of McGaheysville, Va., will graduated with honors from Virginia Tech this month. An interdisciplinary studies major in the Department of Religion and Culture, with minors in history and medieval and early modern studies, she is also the recipient of a 2012-13 Fulbright award.

A determined youth, Faut says she “did not want to use my family life as justification for giving up on myself.” Instead she bought canvases, oil colors, and brushes.

“Colors called to me, shouting their names from every object and scene I looked at,” Faut wrote in her personal statement in the Fulbright application. “They whispered the secrets of beauty in everything, when otherwise darkness … true, impenetrable darkness would have snuffed everything out.”

Faut’s own experience with creative expression has paved the way to India, where she will conduct her Fulbright research. Faut’s project, titled “Bhiti Chitra: The History and Applications of Murals in South India,” seeks to explore the connections between the pressures of society, spirituality, and expression. Faut will study murals and arts administration using the Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath College of Fine Arts in Bangalore as her home base, traveling to the caves in Ellora, Ajanta, and temples in the region as well.

“I will be looking at the history of mural painting in South India, and comparing my findings to contemporary mural projects in Bangalore,” said Faut. The city of Bangalore has launched an arts program that aims to cover nearly every building face in the city with murals. During her year in Bangalore, Faut says she plans to examine how the city is accomplishing the project from an arts administration perspective and analyze how South Indian identity is articulating itself through contemporary public art as compared to the ancient art in nearby areas.

Faut also received a Critical Language Enhancement Award and will spend three months taking advanced classes in Hindi in an immersion experience. “I will also be learning the regional dialect, Kannada, because my project depends on getting a sense of modern Indian identity and culture where I will be studying.” She anticipates a September departure.

Peter Schmitthenner, chair of the Department of Religion and Culture, taught a course on the life and legacy of Mahatma Gandhi and noted that Nicole’s “artistic project and presentation for that course was among the most inspiring student work I have overseen in all my years of teaching. In addition, Nicole has taken full advantage of the many things Virginia Tech has to offer, both in terms of academics and student organizations.”

Faut has completed and will be involved in internships at various art programs and camps, including the Djerassi Artists Residence Program in California and United Arts of Central Florida. She has presided over the Virginia Tech chapter of STAND, a student anti-genocide coalition; led the Young Democrats; and served the feminist group, Womanspace, where she helped coordinate Take Back the Night for three years. She has also been a volunteer for several political campaigns. Proficient in both Hindi and German, Faut is a teaching assistant for “Traditional Asian Cultures.” She has contributed to the undergraduate research journal Philologia, and frequently wrote editorials for the Collegiate Times opinions page.

A Gates Millennium Scholar of 2008, Faut also earned a Presidential Campus Enrichment Grant and was a research assistant in the Department of Religion and Culture her senior year.

A creator at heart, Faut has exhibited several of her own murals and art projects over the last four years, even dedicating her honors work to the local “culture war” in Giles County over the hanging of the Ten Commandments in area schools.

In Bangalore, Indian artists are part of a massive administrative endeavor for creative revitalization. As Faut explores the correlations between creative expression and society, she says she hopes to return to the United States and add her experience to the efforts of modern American artists and art administrators.

Faut affirms, “I know firsthand that we need more colors in this country.”

The Fulbright program, established in 1946 by legislation sponsored by Sen. J. William Fulbright, is America’s flagship international education exchange activity. It is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs. The program is designed “to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.” Since the program was established, thousands of United States faculty and professionals have studied, taught, or conducted research abroad, and thousands of their counterparts from other countries have engaged in similar activities in the United States.

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