Yeinier Gonzalez | MCA Photography Scholarship Recipient

Yeinier GonzalezWhen it comes to celebrating new beginnings, recent Memphic College of Art grad Yeinier Gonzalez has much to be thankful for. Upon graduating in May, Gonzalez received a very prestigious graduate scholarship award, and he will proudly represent MCA at Columbia College of Chicago this fall.

Gonzalez is one of the recipients of the 2012 Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Graduate Arts Award. The Foundation selected 15 individuals from across the United States to receive graduate arts awards of up to $50,000 per year for up to three years of study, and Gonzalez received the maximum award.

Gonzalez, who graduated with a BFA in photography and a minor in art history, will use this award to supplement another prestigious scholarship when he attends graduate school in the fall. In addition to being accepted into Columbia’s Photo Program, which ranks 10th in the nation, Gonzalez also was awarded the Follet Merit Award based on the quality of his portfolio. This renewable award provides a 70 percent discount on tuition, the remainder of which will be covered by the Jack Kent Cooke award.

“I think what’s so interesting is that he doesn’t know how special he is – he’s a very earnest and humble person,” says Haley Morris-Cafiero, assistant professor and Photography Department head at Memphis College of Art. “Not a lot of people have heard of the Jack Kent Cooke award, but it’s bigger than a Fulbright scholarship – and more money. With only 15 being awarded throughout all of the humanities, it’s really competitive, and it’s great that this award has put Yeinier and Memphis College of Art on a list with students from other standout schools across the nation, like Stanford, Howard, New York University and Rhode Island School of Design. We are very proud of him.”

This is the first time Memphis College of Art has applied for the Jack Kent Cooke Graduate Arts Award, and this is the first-ever winner from any school in Memphis.

“Mr. Cooke was always a big supporter of the arts,” says Dr. Lawrence Kutner, executive director of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. “This program allows us to support the next generation of talented young artists, like Yeinier Gonzalez, who might not otherwise be able to afford this level of training.”

Gonzalez came to Memphis College of Art in Fall 2008 after graduating with honors from Bolton High School in Memphis. His promising talent caused Memphis College of Art to offer him multiple scholarships, without which he never would have been able to attend.

Gonzalez moved to America from Cuba in 1995 with his brother, parents and paternal grandparents. His father, being an extremely active member of the human rights movement against Castro, risked his life to bring his family to the United States in search of a brighter future. They came here as political refugees through Associated Catholic Charities based here in Memphis, which procured housing for the family and schooling for the boys. Gonzalez says his parents struggled to find jobs, with the language barrier holding them back. Later, his parents divorced, and his father continued to grapple with acclimating to society.

Much of Gonzalez’s work focuses on documenting his parents’ struggle, the house he grew up in, and how it changed after his mother left.

“It’s not always the idealized ‘American Dream’ that everyone envisions – the cultural shock hits you very hard,” says Gonzalez. “My work documents the unresolved struggles that many immigrants face. Going through this has made me want to continue my studies and my work and make something better for myself.

“Going to grad school at Columbia offers so many opportunities for extending my portfolio. The faculty there is exceptional, and the program is very influential in the field of social documentary photography. I want to expand my work beyond my own family, and I hope to contribute to a better awareness of certain cultural issues and ethnicities,” continues Gonzalez. “I would like to concentrate my work on the Hispanic community because it’s part of my story and my family’s history of immigration here. The ins and outs and personal struggles that these people go through are not documented the way that they should be. There is so much rich history there that is left unsaid. And an image is worth a thousand words – I can say a lot with my work.”

To see more of Yeinier Gonzalez’s work, please visit