Presently in her final semester at The University of Tulsa, art history and anthropology student Piper Prolago is drawing her studies to a close on a high note: She has recently been named a Global Winner in the annual Global Undergraduate Awards.
This annual awards program is an essay competition that invites undergraduates from around the world to submit essays they had previously written for a course. There are 25 categories, and Prolago entered her paper in Art History & Theory.
Prolago’s essay, “A Mughal Miraj: Imagining the Prophet in the Newark Khamsa Manuscript,” was written for a course on Islamic art and architecture taught by Associate Professor of Art History Maria Maurer. In her essay, Prolago analyzed a manuscript that was part of the Philbrook Museum’s “Wondrous Worlds” exhibition of Islamic art. Lara Foley, the director of TU’s Office of Integrative and Experiential Learning, had alerted Prolago to the competition and encouraged her to apply.
“I was really excited to be honored with this distinction,” remarked Prolago, who is also a student in TU’s Honors program and a Global Scholar. “I was surprised when they notified me that I had been selected as a Global Winner out of students attending universities all over the world. This honor makes me really proud of the work I’ve done, and I think it also speaks to the excellence of TU’s art history faculty and their creation of opportunities for students to produce original scholarship.”
“I am so proud of Piper,” said Maurer. “Her essay, which explored an unusual image of the Prophet Muhammad’s Night Journey, was the best out of a class of really strong papers. Piper’s work was sensitive to the unusual visuals of the painting and its manuscript setting, and her research demonstrated that this image is part of a larger attempt to legitimize the Mughals within the context of the rivalry with the Safavids, as well as to demonstrate Mughal piety to their subjects. Piper made a genuine contribution to the field of art history by crafting such an elegant and persuasive argument about a previously unknown painting.”
A rich history of exploration and mentorship
Casting her gaze over her busy time at TU, Prolago underscores the role a number of faculty have played in her scholarly development. “Professor Maurer does such a great job of teaching from unique perspectives and diversifying the way we learn about art history,” said Prolago. “Her courses have enabled me to build foundational knowledge in the discipline of art history, but also to think more globally and widely.”
Another faculty member whom Prolago cites as having helped and inspired her is Associate Professor of Art History Kirsten Olds. “Whether offering support for my coursework or being a great mentor who’s helped guide me through the process of applying to graduate school, Professor Olds demonstrates the importance of having faculty who genuinely care about their students.”
For her part, Olds is equally impressed with Prolago: “Piper is the kind of student one remembers for their entire career. I would look forward to our weekly meetings to discuss her senior project. Her intellectual interests are so varied, from repatriation issues to graffiti and street art, public art policy, Filipino culture and contemporary photography by artists in the Middle East. But a throughline is her engagement with global issues in a sustained and meaningful way. I can’t wait to see what she’ll work on in her graduate studies.”
If the name Piper Prolago rings a bell, it might be because you recall reading a story about her summer 2020 research on public art and commemorations of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. Since then, Prolago has presented her work at the International Conference on the Arts in Society, organized by The University of Western Australia. It also led to an essay — “Socializing Sculpture: Commemorative Public Art as a Pedagogical Tool” – published in Art Style, Art & Culture International Magazine.
In addition to coursework and being mentored, a formative experience for Prolago was her participation during her sophomore year in the Oklahoma Center for the Humanities’ research fellowship program. Led by the center’s director Sean Latham, the program brought together an interdisciplinary cohort of students, faculty and community members to explore the theme of play. “This experience was really meaningful for me because it empowered me to think about complex issues from an interdisciplinary perspective,” said Prolago.
The finish line and beyond
During her final semester, Prolago is keeping extra busy as the editor in chief of the university’s newspaper, The Collegian. “This role is a lot of fun,” Prolago commented. “And having an organization like this is particularly important at a college that doesn’t have a journalism department. It’s gratifying to be able to carve out a space for students who want to explore journalism.”
Prolago’s advisor at The Collegian is Chapman Associate Professor of Media Studies Mark Brewin. “I am thankful to have had several opportunities to work with Professor Brewin,” said Prolago. Brewin previously served as Prolago’s advisor for her Tulsa Undergraduate Research Challenge project and when she worked as a research assistant for the Center for Health, Arts and Measurement Practices, which he co-directs.
As she looks to her future adventures, Prolago has her hopes set on studying art history at the graduate level. In particular, she wants to further her research in public art. “I believe public art is so important, particularly as we’re seeing a lot of momentum in rethinking the kinds of values we choose to uplift in public spaces,” commented Prolago. “As we tear down figures whose legacies represent a lot of pain and hate, we’re tasked with not only rethinking whose stories get to be represented, but also about why we’ve excluded so many people from those stories.”
For her part, Prolago is set on being part of what she calls “the conversation” about art’s role in creating a more inclusive future.
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