Gallery Walks: Graduate student exhibits artwork at BVAC

by Courtney McKee | 10/4/18 2:00am

Nan Darham is a graduate student in Dartmouth’s Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (MALS) program whose artwork was most recently exhibited in the Nearburg Gallery of the Black Family Visual Arts Center. Darham’s paintings are a colorful celebration of her life in Bozeman, Montana. Using oil pastel on paper and acrylic on canvas, Darham skillfully illustrated the peculiarities of the places we call home, and how those places are made so much more significant through those who inhabit them with us. In her work, Darham emphasizes the innate connection between human beings and natural rhythms, a connection that is easily remembered in the untouched majesty of Montana, with its backdrop of snowy peaks, glacial valleys and alpine forests. Her subjects range from a buffalo silhouetted by the Montana highlands to a portrait of her daughter baking in the kitchen, as the family dog stands guard behind her. The informal warmth and vibrancy of her paintings temper the clean lines of the voluminous entryway to the gallery.

“I would like people to feel welcomed into the space,” Darham said.

Interspersed throughout her artworks are excerpts from the creative writing pieces she has completed while in the MALS program. Beneath a painting of a white wolf confronting the viewer with yellow eyes, her caption reads, “Overriding everything else, denying all and forgetting home, nothing can be held back in pursuit of the scent.”

Each painting, or set of paintings, is complemented by a short accompanying paragraph, rich in the small details that enliven such vignettes.

“I am integrating my visual arts into creative writing, and developing my thesis on creativity and innovation,” Darham said. “This exhibition spans many years of my development as an artist and is also a new integration into the MALS program.”

MALS, a graduate program offered at Dartmouth, encourages such interdisciplinary exploration, while adhering to the framework provided by the choice of one of four concentrations: Creative Writing, Cultural Studies, Globalization Studies, and General Liberal Studies. Students are allowed to pursue their particular interests as they design their own degree, one that involves both taking classes and furthering their learning through independent research.

MALS creative writing professor Barbara Kreiger said,“MALS is by definition interdisciplinary, going back to its origins in the 1960s. Students are required to engage in cross-disciplinary work, and in fact have chosen MALS over discipline-specific MA programs because of their commitment to the ‘cross-fertilization’ process.”

In this way, the MALS program is a continuation of a liberal arts education, extended into the professional realm. Darham’s work, with her blend of prose and visual art, exemplifies the ethos of the program. Along with creative writing, Darham plans to incorporate her other MALS pursuits, such as cultural and gender studies, into her artwork.

“In her prose evocation of the Montana landscape, she’s interested in conveying motion and tactility,” Krieger said. “But she’s also attentive to stillness, when sensory expectations are suspended. I see this process in a lot of her art, and when she writes, she’s not trying to translate the visual to prose but is discovering another way to speak.”