Q&A with Dr. Maria Alejandra Zanetta, Distinguished Professor of Spanish


Zanetta has several art works on display around Ohio.

Dr. Maria Alejandra Zanetta

Dr. Maria Alejandra Zanetta

Name: Dr. Maria Alejandra Zanetta

Title: Distinguished Professor of Spanish

Department: Department of Modern Languages

Zanetta is as much at home in her art studio as she is in the classroom. Tell us about some of your latest works.

My latest work was selected to be featured as a mural in the One World mural project in the Short North district in Columbus, Ohio. Some of My prints on collage are part of the Akron-Summit County Art Library collection and the Odom Boulevard Branch Library, and can be checked out for four weeks. I have also been featured in the Relief Podcast series of the Akron Art museum and the museum has recently commissioned her to design a postcard as part of the Akron Art Mail initiative.

What brought you to The University of Akron?

Both my husband and I pursued our doctoral studies at The Ohio State University and, after we both graduated, he was offered a position at Bridgestone Americas here in Akron. That year, a position in my field, Spanish literature and art, opened up at The University of Akron. What was most exciting about the position was the possibility to restructure the entire curriculum, changing its existing emphasis on literary studies to a more interdisciplinary approach that included art, music, film and popular culture. I applied, was hired and started my career here in fall 1995.

How did you come to choose your career?

In my case I would have to talk about two careers instead of one.

Since I was a child I knew I wanted to study art and become an artist. There were several women artists in my family. My maternal grandmother was a very good painter and she was also an art collector. So I was surrounded by art from an early age and I was deeply influenced by it. After high school, I studied painting at the National Academy for the Arts in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and graduated with a B.A. in Art with an emphasis in painting. I taught art in Argentina for a year. In the meantime, my sister came to The Ohio State University as a Fulbright Scholar. When I visited her in Columbus, I learned that one of the professors in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese was starting a new program that was cross-cultural and interdisciplinary in nature with an emphasis on the interrelations between literature and the visual arts. This was very exciting to me given my background in the arts. I applied and started my doctoral studies in this interdisciplinary field.

Areas of research — what problem do you most hope to solve?

The combination of a background in visual arts with the academic training in literature has enabled me to deal with equal ease in the fields of visual and literary production. My current research focuses on the artistic and literary production of Spanish avant-garde women painters and writers. In my research, I comparatively analyze the visual and literary production of these painters and writers that result from the competing theories of gender and sexuality central to the various ideological struggles of their period.

During my professional career I have successfully incorporated these combined skills not only in my research but in my teaching as well. One of the most frequent comments on both my teaching and research is precisely the ability to generate more interest in the subject by exploring the interrelations between literature and the visual arts. Because of my background in the arts and my own personal way of learning, I actively rely on the principle of creative thinking to employ various ways of teaching to adapt to the different styles of learning of my student population. With this approach my students use other forms of knowledge acquisition besides formal logic and words. These imaginative thinking tools, such as visual thinking, imaging and dramatization, enable my students to combine their personal knowledge of images, patterns, emotions, intuitions, etc., with logical thinking, broadening the spectrum of the subject they are learning. 

Tell us about your art and how you strike a balance between it and your teaching?

The process of teaching and creating are complementary. As a professor at the University I focus on teaching while connecting it to my creative and artistic side. The creative, interdisciplinary and explorative process that I use to create my own art is the same that shapes my research and my teaching, so, in that way everything is interconnected and builds on each other.

As with my research, I have always been very interested in experimenting with different media. This is reflected in my fascination and love of color, and the interplay of texture and color as the fundamental building blocks of my art. In recent years, alongside with my mixed media pieces, I have been exploring the creative options related to printmaking and collage.

Examples of my work are online.

The process of art making for me is very meditative. My studio at home allows me to find balance and respite.

What does the next 10 years hold for your field? 

I believe the need for building bridges between disciplines, and cultures will grow to be even more important. More and more, curriculums will be more interdisciplinary in nature and will have a global focus. Students will be able to study across the University's subject areas, including politics, sociology, history, philosophy, literature, art history and languages, according to their individual interests. This emphasis on an interdisciplinary approach will enable students to develop a unique and wide ranging perspective on their studies. Open, flexible boundaries are likely to become increasingly important for academics and students.

What books are on your nightstand?

Right now I am having a lot of fun reading the humorous satirical detective novels of Spanish writer Eduardo Mendoza.

Is there one book you recommend to everyone?

This is such a difficult question! I love Alice Munro’s short stories and novels, Isabel Allende’s novel “The House of the Spirits,” Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels and Julio Cortázar’s  short stories. 

Outside the classroom, what do you enjoy doing for fun?

Clearly painting but also getting inspired by visiting museums and traveling; and most of all spending time with family and friends.

Looking back on your own time in college, what advice do you have for UA students?

I always advise my students to explore different things and to travel and study abroad. Studying abroad is a transformative and an enlightening experience that should be at the core of any academic experience. All the students who have participated in the programs we have in Spain, France and Japan have come back with a completely new perspective of the world and themselves, and they cannot wait to start planning their next trip.