The Carnivalesque and Belgian Modernism

Hannah Rose Blakeley was a 2022-2023 Fulbright Student Researcher in Belgium, where she conducted art historical research at Ghent University for her doctoral dissertation, “The Carnivalesque in Belgian Modernism.” Hannah Rose’s project investigates the ways in which two Belgian artists, James Ensor and Léon Spilliaert, employ local Carnival traditions and motifs in their work to grapple with themes of political upheaval, social transgression, and modern identity. We sat down with Hannah Rose to ask her about her time in Belgium and the advice she would give to a prospective applicant.

Q: “What inspired you to come to Belgium for your research, and to apply to the Fulbright Program?”

“The Fulbright Program enabled me to conduct on-site research essential for my dissertation, given that much of Ensor’s and Spilliaert’s work is largely inaccessible outside of Belgium. Fulbright provided me the opportunity to repeatedly see these artists’ works in person and to establish an international community of specialists in my field. The structure of the Fulbright grant also facilitated my affiliation with Ghent University, which proved invaluable in both making professional connections and developing new avenues of research, thanks in large part to the mentorship of Prof. Dr. Marjan Sterckx.”


Q: “Can you tell us about any particularly memorable moments from your time in Belgium?”

“Partly for research and partly for fun I attended Carnival celebrations in Aalst and Binche, both of which were fascinating. The time and artistic skill that local Carnival societies put into making the floats and costumes are astonishing! It was impressive to see both cities overrun by Carnival crowds, disguises, and foods.”

Q: “Has Belgium been what you expected? In what ways has life in Belgium surprised you, either for its similarities to or differences from your own culture?”

“I think what surprised—and warmed—me most about my time in Belgium was how kind and welcoming all of my colleagues and new professional contacts were, right from the start. Prof. Dr. Sterckx along with other faculty and graduate students at UGent included me in departmental events and offered helpful suggestions and feedback on my research throughout the year. Curators, librarians, and collectors similarly greeted me with interest and openness and proved invaluable in the development of my project. I am very grateful to everyone with whom I met and worked.”


Q: “What advice would you give to someone who is considering applying to the Fulbright Program?”

“While the Fulbright Program provides an incredible opportunity to live, work, and study abroad, the quality of your experience will depend in part on the mentor(s) you have in your host country, so spend time seeking introductions and making connections ahead of time. Build in time to let your application essays sit between revisions. If you are not already moderately fluent in your host country’s language, the sooner you dive into improving your language skills the more you will get out of your Fulbright year, even in countries like Belgium, where nearly everyone speaks English. Lastly, I received helpful advice and tips ahead of time from a former Fulbrighter to Belgium, so I would encourage applicants to reach out to alumni to get a better sense of their possible placement and of opportunities they might want to pursue once abroad.”