“That has never been done before.”
Instead of inhibiting me, such words, repeated throughout my adulthood, have further motivated me to produce the work I do. I have been equally rewarded as censored for my professional commitment to move beyond precedents as I bridge private with public worlds. Every aspect of my career, as university professor, author, activist, and visual artist, has always intertwined the private with the public, the individual with the collective. Both rewards and censorship have equally influenced my career development.
Two celebrated art historians weigh in on my work:
That such disruption and interrogation can be accomplished within the regime of an almost formalist beauty (…) is just one of many moments in which Alhadeff shows that she thinks through the senses as well as the mind. Hers is a sensuous, as well as ruthless, intelligence (…) —Sarah K. Rich, Uncanny Congruencies alumni exhibition catalogue, Palmer Museum of Art, State College, Pennsylvania, 2013, pp. 16–19).
Alhadeff’s work is a fascinating fusion of art and scholarship. Intricate theoretical text is paralleled by unexpected photographic imagery – sensuous, enigmatic, and layered. The book extends into new and fluid realms the still valid idea that ‘the personal is political.’ Intellectually rigorous and esthetically daring, the book is hard work, and worth it —Lucy R. Lippard, endorsement for Viscous Expectations: Justice, Vulnerability, The Ob-scene (New York/Dresden: Atropos Press, 2013; State College: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2014).
My interdisciplinary awards include the 2016 residency to Somatic Experiments in Earth, Dance, and Science (SEEDS), Plainfield, Mass. I was granted fellowships for my master’s and doctoral degrees from European Graduate School (EGS), Saas-Fee, Switzerland in 2009 and 2012 respectively, receiving Highest Honors, Ph.D. I was awarded the BRIO Award, Bronx Council on the Arts, Bronx, N.Y. and Vermont Studio Center, Full Scholarship, Johnson, Vt. in 2009 a month-long residency at Fundación Valparaiso, Residency, Playa de Mojácar, Spain in 2008 Skowhegan Finalist, Skowhegan, Maine in 2007 Jon Sims Center for the Arts, four-month collaborative residency, San Francisco, Calif. in 2001 the Award of Excellence, Manhattan Arts International, New York, N.Y. in 1998 and in 1995, I was awarded the First Prize Photograph, International Exhibition of Erotic Art, Griffin Gallery, Miami, Fla., as well as the First Prize National Association for Ethnic Studies (NAES), Research Competition, Schreyer Honors College, Medal for Highest Distinction and Women’s Studies Undergraduate Research Achievement Award, both at Pennsylvania State University, Pa. I received Pennsylvania State University Travel Grants to present lectures on ethnicity at five international conferences in 1993. I was chosen to be the student ambassador, USIA, Humphrey Program, Food Aid, Bangladesh in 1992. I have not included the list of awards I have received that did not offer me financial remuneration.
As a junior at Penn State University (having transferred there because my mother was diagnosed with leukemia, an occurrence that became central to my work for the ensuing 20+ years), I began the conference circuit part of my career. That year, 1994, I was invited to lecture at five international conferences—forging relationships with other scholars that are still the basis of many of my collaborations. I was the only undergraduate student presenting at those conferences. Between 2006 and the present (except 2008), I have been invited to lecture at as many as eleven international conferences each year. Please see my Positions entry for details.
Publications and Presentations
Every year since 2010, I have published two to five articles in peer-reviewed academic journals and anthologies across multiple fields, including the intersection of ecoliteracy, philosophy, ethnicity, sexuality, post-colonial, media, and maternal studies. Personally and politically informed by transglobal perspectives through my Turkish, Moroccan, and Iberian roots, I have presented lectures and workshopsin cultural institutions, universities, and museums throughout the US, Asia, and Europe. Please see List of Works.
My first experiences with political activism began in high school when I served as co-president of our Amnesty International chapter, and canvassed for SANE FREEZE (now Peace Action). As president of AI, I took the initiative to invite the leader of El Salvador’s FMLN party (Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front; Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional) to speak to our student body about US involvement in El Salvador. I also joined with the local divestment campaign at the University of Colorado in Boulder, where the students built a “shanty town” in which they lived until divestment was accomplished. During my high school senior year, I was invited to Washington, D.C., to participate in the Jim Hightower congressional hearings.
Beginning as a freshman at Sarah Lawrence College (SLC) in 1990, I was awarded the honor of collaborating with Alice Stone Ilchman, SLC’s longest-serving president. During my first year at SLC, I initiated and developed New York State’s first university-wide recycling/reuse program, which Governor Mario Cuomo implemented in 1992 as a prototype statewide. As president of the Ecological Awareness Alliance, I led a campaign to delay Hydro-Quebec’s plans to further dam James Bay. During that time I developed Ecology and Community, an after-school program for inner-city children from Yonkers, which became fieldwork for my undergraduate thesis, Corporeal Politics. This work addressed multiple perspectives on embodied energy, specifically food production, distribution, consumption, and waste. (See the article written about my project in the New York Times: “P.S. 30’s Helping Hands: College Mentors,” Penny Singer, May 24, 1992: 31.) During summers, I was invited to study with Murray Bookchin at the Institute for Social Ecology, where I came to further understand the complexities and contradictions within the environmental movement in its historical and socio-political contexts—knowledge that continues to inform my activism and educational practice today. This includes my work with a Quijos Quichua group in Ecuador, learning their food systems and ethno-botany practices through the School for Field Studies.
I developed my body-based theory-into-practice curriculum in 1991, and in recent years I have served as a mentor for graduate students at the California College of the Arts (CCA) in San Francisco, TransArt in Berlin, and Penn State University. My seminars with university architecture students have focused on the nervous system as it relates to public health policies and insidious cultural assumptions. As a freelance writer and visiting professor, having developed courses that activate the vital liminal space between praxis and theory, I have successfully worked with students from BFA to PhD programs across disciplines on extensive research projects at the Global Center for Advanced Studies, UC Santa Cruz, and Penn State University. Please see my lecture at the Kristeva Circle 2014 for a visual example of how I pedagogically inhabit the intermedial and my Positions entry for further details.
My career has emerged from my daily practice of modeling theory as practice. At University Press Books in Berkeley, during my book launch for Viscous Expectations: Justice, Vulnerability, The Obscene (Penn State University Press, 2013), Jill Nagle, editor of Whores and Other Feminists, introduced me by stating, “the care and intention with which you make your life choices (. . .) these aren’t just ideals (. . .) you are a living example.” I include Nagle’s comments because they illustrate how we can live our ethics and inhabit our radical interdependency—undermining the individualist grip of alienation (the illusory belief that we are all separate).
Fusing theory and image, Viscous Expectations explores vulnerability of the body as a strategy for collaborative justice—scrutinizing how racial hygiene, ethnocentrism, and anti-intellectualism configure the troubled yet vital concept of equality. It covers a spectrum of political, philosophical, and personal subjects woven throughout ninety-two of my color photographs and video stills, 522 pages of theoretical text, and extensive footnotes that present polyvalent, overlapping narratives.
Dr. Avital Ronell reviewed my book as “ground-breaking (…) bold and remarkable boundary-crossing”; Dr. Alphonso Lingis said, “Alhadeff’s thought is unlimitedly ambitious and vulnerable (…) [she] opens a new perspective on justice and democracy”; and Dr. Sigrid Hackenberg wrote, “Viscous Expectations is a tour de force, whose intellectual (…) bravura will stun the reader.” By challenging how we metabolize binaries and taxonomies, Viscous Expectations investigates lived empathy as the fluid exchange of autonomy and interconnectedness.
I wrote my doctoral dissertation, which became the foundation for Viscous Expectations, during the first two years after my son Zazu was born. I wrote almost 600 pages in three- to fifteen- minute increments, memorizing lists of scattered ideas while breast feeding Zazu—simultaneously interconnecting and disentangling a barrage of philosophical connections saturated in hormones. Transcribing hundreds of these scraps of paper illuminates the how of my research methodology and career narrative. In contrast to the common distress of parents who feel intellectually deprived because their world demands a child-centered focus, my private world (as with my mother’s leukemia diagnosis) reinforced the passion and clarity of my professional urgencies.
Once I defended my doctoral dissertation, I graduated with summa cum laude. Not one known for compliments (the opposite, in fact), EGS Director Wolfgang Schirmacher claimed: “I have never seen in all these hundreds of dissertations I have now shared, something so daring (…). I have seen in your work the great philosopher of our time (…) . This mixture is an immense comprehensive theory, and your very personal perspective which is understandable to all of us, an activism—this mixture is one of the very best I have ever read.” My son was two years old at the time.
As a co-founder of “Occupy (Decolonize) Pregnancy, Birth, & Parenting” (Oakland, California, 2011–2014), I struggled to disentangle the roots of systemic corporeal and social violence—recognizing how pregnancy, birth, and mothering in the US function as officially sanctioned misogyny. In 2012, I co-organized the Bay Area’s First International Birth Justice Fair. My research now focuses on ways in which we can debilitate what I identify as petroleum-parenting—the commercialization of childhood through parents’ addiction to plastics and other toxic, taken-for-granted petroleum products.
Zazu Dreams and Eco-Justice
This year, I was asked to step up as executive director for Jews of the Earth (JOTE). I would like to emphasize the significance of this position in relation to my current research because of a crucial missing element in much eco-justice discussion and action—the practice of mindfulness and an intimate sense of the shared sacred, “integrated with the science of sustainability to achieve compelling solutions” (Paul Shrivastava, director of the Sustainability Institute, Penn State University). My new (2017) creative nonfiction book on climate justice, Zazu Dreams: Between the Scarab & the Dung Beetle, A Cautionary Fable for the Anthropocene Era, offers such a perspective.
Zazu Dreams endorsements include: “Amazing research!” —Arun Gandhi (Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson) “What an oeuvre (…) What a trajectory. Astonishing.” —Paul Hawken “(…) a fascinating book. (…) a real cosmic adventure—through space, time, and the human heart.” —Bill McKibben “Impressive.” —Dr. Noam Chomsky Compelling.” —Eve Ensler “Remarkably unafraid (…)” —Dr. Stephanie Seneff “[F]abulous! (…) A powerful and visionary story wonderfully told and beautifully illustrated.” —David W. Orr “(…) a beautiful example of keeping our work and our play focused on our most crucial mission, securing our survival and our freedom …” —SHKG/Humpty-Hump “(…) absolutely fascinating (…) extraordinary fusion of fanciful allegory, childhood perception, ecological prophecy and sociological parable (…) “ —James Wines “(…) thoughtfully and colorfully addresses the crucial need for young people to develop empathy for humanity and all life.” —Dr. James E. Hansen “A thoughtful, insightful, meaningful exploration of so many of the dimensions of what it is to be human in this world. Brilliant!” —Thom Hartmann “(…) a creative and marvelous new world.” —Dr. Claire Colebrook “(…) reclaims the power of language … radical imagination (…) brilliant…” —Dr. Henry Giroux “(…) the door to adult reflection is opened by a child guide. (…) Zazu faces the worst of humanity, while simultaneously basking in the beauty that constantly amazes and surrounds us” —Antonia Juhasz “(…) very originally crafted and beautifully illustrated (…)” —Dr. Karen Barad, and “(…) a truly magical tale (…) magnificent (…)” —Rabbi Michael Lerner.
Following its publication, I organized a series of panel discussions that address how to engage science through storytelling as a way to mobilize climate action and racial justice. Top international scientists were my invited guests, who spoke about Zazu Dreams in relation to their own research. Dr. Stephanie Seneff, anti-Monsanto scientist-researcher from MIT, has asked me to co-author with her a book to be published by Skyhorse Publishing in 2018. Our working title is Petroleum-Parenting, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Convenience-Culture: How Marketing Fear and “Fake-Science” Shape Our Cultural Norms.