I attended the National Conference on Undergraduate Research at Kennesaw State University in order to give an oral presentation about my research about the Ethiopian Diaspora in the US and Australia as well as to display three of my works as part of my research in the Visual Arts Gallery Exhibition.
My talk began about 10 minutes earlier than scheduled, so halfway through the presentation, a number of people walked into the room at the scheduled time. Although not ideal, it provided validation that this was a talk and topic that people were interested in attending.
After the talk, people stayed to speak with me afterwards, either to tell me about their own experiences struggling with identity, trying to find a way to be comfortable in the in-between, or to bond over experiences in the cities to which I traveled that they also had some connection to. Whatever the conversation, I was content with the fact that the narratives I shared through the photographs and presentation resonated with the people who observed them, as that was the intention of the work - to create conversation and help people find community.
While in the Visual Arts Gallery, I noticed people taking photos of the work I had displayed and speaking to those around them about it. One of my worries was that people would not have the patience to read the quotes despite their brevity, but people were taking the time to read them. This was important to me because although the photos tell part of the story, the quotes add a bit more depth.
Most of the talks I attended outside of my presentation time were also based in visual art projects, which helped my growth both as an artist and a researcher. I went to a talk called, “The Yoruba Creation Myth: A Series of Paintings,” where the researcher painted a representation of the Yoruba Creation Myth in order to add depth to people’s knowledge of Africa with the limited narratives that are spread about the continent and its people. As the purpose behind the work was very similar to my motivations for my project, it was interesting to see the way the motivations were channeled between the two of us, as well as how the decisions we made about how to conduct our projects were similar or different. I also went to a talk called, “A Journey Through a Black Woman’s Praxis,” where the artist was focused on using her own experiences to represent what Blackness means to her and how she navigates being a Black woman in this world. As a photographer and journalist, my work is always focused on a person outside of myself, although that story could represent me in some ways. Therefore, it was helpful for me to learn about her artistic process in channeling her own experiences and emotions in her art as opposed to those that are external.
This was my first time traveling for a national conference, and there was an app that had a list of all of the research that was being presented at the conference. I was in awe at the amount of people as well as the wide variety of topics that were present, broadening my own view of what research can be.
What interested me just as much as the research people were speaking about was how they thought of the topic, and what drew them to do their project. Asking this question not only gives me more insight into the project and why it might have been done the way it was done, but it could also help me find sources of inspiration in my own life.
As I mentioned in the previous question, the talks I attended during the conference helped me grow as an artist and a researcher while finding the intersections of both fields. I was able to understand other people’s artistic processes and how they used art to answer research questions about their or others’ lived experiences.
By participating in the conference, I was able to continue strengthening my presentation skills, especially presenting information to an interdisciplinary audience. In addition, I learned to curate a display, keeping in mind what I wanted to convey with the work and what works would tell a cohesive story, growing as an artist in that respect.
The next steps in my career as a researcher are to continue pushing my understanding of what research is, understanding that research encompasses many things, and almost any thought of interest can be turned into a research question. Therefore, I hope to continue pursuing research and visual art opportunities to which I feel a genuine connection and interest. In addition, I would like to explore other methods. As I worked in journalism in the past, the research I presented on was not completely out of my comfort zone as I had interviewed and photographed many people in the past. However, it was different for me to use that methodology for the purpose of research. This summer, I will be exploring ethnography, participant observation, and informal interviewing as a research method that is new to me for my next project.