5/22/2020 Kim O'Brien

Research Fair: Senior Examines Intersection of Artwork and Political Activism

Senior Melanie Arnold’s curiosity led her nearly 3,000 miles from campus. 

A recipient of the College’s Nissley Grant for student-initiated research, Arnold spent a week at the University of California-Santa Barbara Library, immersed in the archive of artist Nancy Hom.

“My goal for this project was to understand the intersectionality between Asian American and feminist identities,” Arnold said. “I chose to focus on Nancy Hom because I admired her artwork and political activism. Her ability to marry those two roles allowed me to study political activism through a new lens.” 

Hom has been an influential participant in Asian American and feminist movements since the 1970s and still produces art today.

Arnold’s cumulative research paper focuses on Hom’s early collection of prints and political posters. She concluded her study with a look at the 3D mediums Hom creates today, including concentric mandalas that highlight themes of community.

  • "Contemplating Women," silkscreen by Nancy Hom. "Contemplating Women," silkscreen by Nancy Hom.
  • "No More Hiroshima/ Nagasakis: Medical Aid for the Hibakushas," print by Nancy Hom. "No More Hiroshima/ Nagasakis: Medical Aid for the Hibakushas," print by Nancy Hom.
  • "The Soul of San Francisco," mandala by Nancy Hom. "The Soul of San Francisco," mandala by Nancy Hom.
  • The University of California-Santa Barbara Library. The University of California-Santa Barbara Library.

Arnold was first introduced to Hom’s work through reading “Asian Americans: The Movement and the Moment,” by Steve Louie and Glenn Omatsu. She completed a project on Asian American feminists in "Rights for All," a spring 2019 course taught by Van Gosse, professor and associate chair of history.

The following October, Arnold headed to California for the rare opportunity to access Hom’s collection.

“This was a great example of sustained investigation over several courses leading up to a really fine piece of independent scholarship with direct support from the College,” Gosse said.

Arnold’s research was guided by material from art critics and historians as well as her own analytical eye, taking care to “write about what stood out to me and the common themes that I found in Hom’s work.” 

“Her portrayals of womanhood, motherhood and political outrage were particularly striking. I also wanted to note that she was including women of color who may not be represented within the white feminist art movement,” Arnold said.

Arnold’s immersive research should serve her well as she pursues a career in museum work with a focus on collections or archives. 

“As an Asian American woman myself, I found Nancy Hom and her colleagues inspiring. I admire how they create a voice through visual culture and negotiate between these two identities in an evolving and complex, yet cohesive, way,” she said.

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