I met my project mentor, Professor Gretchen Bender, my junior year during my Undergraduate Research Assistantship position. Professor Bender was then developing a course called Museums: Society and Inclusion? for the new Museum Studies major in the History of Art and Architecture department. I was fortunate to work with several other undergrad students (and a graduate student!) throughout the semester, and the following fall I applied to serve as a teaching assistant for the course’s debut.
I’ve cherished the opportunity to work with Professor Bender over an extended period of time and in different capacities. I was drawn to her experience as well as the level of detail and attention she paid while identifying the structure and goals of the new Museum Studies course. Witnessing how deeply educators like Professor Bender care about their students and the teaching strategies they utilize encouraged me to reflect on why I love learning and how I can use my voice as an artist and student to engage with my peers.
My Creative Arts Fellowship project idea was actually sparked by an article Professor Bender shared with her Museums: Society and Inclusion? class, titled “The pandemic is a portal” by Arundhati Roy. Roy’s examination of the global COVID-19 pandemic as a moment for self-reflection and reevaluation of societal and individual priorities resonated with my own experiences in 2020. I am continuing to rediscover old parts of myself that bring me joy, particularly making art, and shedding habits that don’t serve me anymore. After Professor Bender showed me this article, I reframed my entire outlook on my growth and changes in the past year. By imagining our current moment as a portal, I was driven to envision myself stepping through this period of time, leaving things behind and carrying forward what strengthens my stride.
Beyond inspiring the nucleus of my creative project, Professor Bender also worked closely with me to flesh out what I wanted to achieve through my work and how to dig deeper through self-reflection prompts and critical readings. My CAF project allows me to explore the liminality of spaces and moments while still in the flux of this portal, navigating my identity before stepping to the other side. Professor Bender suggested multiple academic readings, such as David Summers’ work Real Spaces and D. Fairchild Ruggles’ Making Vision Manifest, examining Islamic ways of seeing and modes of presentation rather than representation. These readings in addition to several others helped me clarify my project’s vision by offering different perspectives and insight into concepts of space and liminality. Professor Bender encouraged me to think about how I could challenge these definitions as outlined in readings, grounding my visual studies in my own experiences and investigating ways the mundane can and has become liminal.
Right now I would love to pursue a career in education. To this day I still remember my elementary and middle school teachers and treasure their patience and passion, their warmth and guidance at pivotal moments in my life. I’d love the opportunity to participate in the lives of other students in a similar way, especially as an art teacher encouraging creative growth and exploration in visual and material mediums. I believe working as an educator would also reveal new perspectives on how to see the world and allow me to engage with the expansive imaginations and passions of young people, in turn inspiring my own mind and art.
I would like to continue to connect with educators at Pitt and surrounding museum institutions. Learning about the career paths that my professors, supervisors, and other department members have taken illuminates the individuality of paces and opportunities available to graduates. This academic year, I aim to explore post-grad options in the education field, looking especially at graduate programs, teaching certificates, and experiences offered in education positions in museums and gallery settings.
In the future would love to collaborate with organizations within the Pitt community, such as the Center for Creativity or the Pitt Pop Art Den to engage with creative students across campus. Pitt has a great art scene, especially due to its proximity to the larger Pittsburgh area, and college organizations possess the ability to cross paths with students, staff, and community members alike.
I’m also a huge fan of Pittsburgh artist and former NFL player Baron Batch and his free “art drops” around the city! The tactile textures and movement of his style transcend their two-dimensional contexts and the messages in his work inspire me daily. I also admire his engagement with the city as he leaves his pieces throughout different neighborhoods and locations, free to anyone who can find them. I believe art is for all to enjoy, and Baron Batch embodies that in his work and in action.