Fine arts graduate wins Fulbright-mtvU Award to study in South Africa

Lena Weissbrot ('15)

A recent Florida State University graduate is one of five people in the nation to receive a Fulbright-mtvU Award, a special Fulbright that focuses on contemporary or popular music as a cultural force for expression or change.

Lena Weissbrot will spend nine months at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa, beginning in January 2016 with the funding from the Fulbright-mtvU Award. Weissbrot, a native of St. Petersburg, Fla., graduated in May with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in digital media art.

The Fulbright-mtvU Award is a joint effort by the U.S. Department of State andmtvU, MTV’s 24-hour college network. The award provides a special opportunity for fellows to pursue an academic project on an aspect of international contemporary or popular music, including music and social activism, music in learning, music and the community, and musical performance.

“It is exciting to celebrate Lena’s recognition as a Fulbright-mtvU recipient,” said Craig Filar, director of FSU’s Office of National Fellowships. “This program recognizes artistic ingenuity and insight applied cross-culturally. Her proposed project in South Africa is thoughtful and well researched. I hope Lena’s success will encourage more Florida State students in the arts to consider applying for this or any of the phenomenal opportunities that provide for artistic engagement through the Fulbright student programs.”

In South Africa, Weissbrot will study hip-hop music as a political force, along with the genre’s intersection with feminism. She plans to curate the creations of local South African artists and activists who identify as feminists.

“I have always been interested in art as a platform for progress and activism and am attracted to the hip-hop genre for being inextricably linked to politics and creativity,” Weissbrot said.

In 2014, Weissbrot received funding through a Florida State University Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity Award (URCAA) to create a 50-page digital creation called “Maybe She Likes It: A Web Comic Exploring Internet Technology and Gender Equality.” The comic, which incorporated themes of technology, evolution and sexuality, was displayed at FSU’s showcase of Undergraduate Research Excellence.

“Lena is a rare example of someone who works hard, is very talented and, at the same time, is always thinking critically about her subject and how her work might be interpreted by various audiences,” said Owen Mundy, assistant professor of digital media art, in his recommendation of Weissbrot for the award.

For her honors thesis, Weissbrot created an interactive video game to parody an existing erotic dating game. The project explored gender role reversal and critiqued the misogynistic undertones of the gaming subculture.

“The ongoing research she is developing with a feminist perspective on Internet culture, mass media and gaming is conscious of social and political issues surrounding gender and sexuality in the information age,” Mundy said.

At Florida State, Weissbrot frequently appeared on the dean’s and president’s lists and was a member of the Art Students League. Her art and gaming projects have been displayed at local Tallahassee art venues.

Weissbrot’s Fulbright-mtvU Award follows FSU’s announcement in June of 10 recent graduates who received English teaching and research grants from the U.S. Fulbright Student Program.