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Stanford art students strike back with exciting summer projects

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After a year of quarantine and independent work, Stanford art students and alumni are accelerating their creative drives this summer, with student artists traveling, photographing, filming and producing art. Three such Stanford art students, featured here, are taking advantage of the summer to jumpstart creative pursuits.

Kaylee Nok ’22, an art practice major, specializing in embroidery and sculpture, plans to complete a summer art project with the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education (VPUE) major grant, which provides a 10-week stipend supporting students working on honors theses and senior projects in the arts.

Kaylee Nok ’22

This summer, under the mentorship of art practice professor Gail Wright, Nok investigates how the human-animal relationship manifests in popular culture. Nok’s project is shaping up to be extensive; she has already dedicated three weeks of the 10-week program solely to the research phase. 

In this phase, she tasked herself with reading a selection of texts relating to her project, including one about Thomas Jefferson and his interaction with a moose to prove a point to the French and another about how polar bears have become symbols of climate change. 

Ultimately, Nok’s project will be based on Jon Mooallem’s novel “Wild Ones.” Nok plans to make a realistic, life-sized teddy bear representing the missing link between a real American black bear and a teddy bear.

This isn’t Nok’s first time engaging in a University-sponsored summer arts program. Last summer, she undertook a creative project with the support of the Cantor Arts Center as a Cantor Scholar. The stipended position included access to resources in the museum and mentorship from a member of Cantor’s staff. 

For her project, “Potluck,” Nok said, “I drew heavily on my Hmong and Cambodian backgrounds, their intersections and their complex relationship with Asian-America — and my favorite thing, food.”

Nok said that her current and previous projects taught her the concept of setting and following deadlines for long projects, experimenting with new materials and responding to art made by other individuals.

“I plan to have my senior thesis be an extension of the themes I explored [in my past projects]: physical manifestations of a non-physical Asia-America,” Nok added.

As Nok reflects on her art journey, she said that she is proud to have taken daring initiatives, including declaring her major as art practice and applying for the VPUE grant. 

“I think allowing yourself to make mistakes and allowing yourself to fail at something is a skill that is really important to have in life,” she said.

Moving forward, Nok would like to continue making art for herself without losing sight of her creative drive and purpose to learn about human-animal interactions. “The ultimate goal is one day to be able to use art and these skills to help other people, in some way,” Nok said.

Ashley Hannah ’20 finished undergraduate school as an art practice major and continued working on a project she began during her undergraduate years.

Ashley Hannah ’20

The independent project, “Backyard Battlefields,” stemmed from a 2018 project she engaged in with the University’s Beagle II award, which is awarded to up to four students who demonstrate intellectual vitality in a particular subject area that they are interested to further explore. The students are awarded a grant of up to $7,500. Hannah used her award to visit and photograph Civil War and Revolutionary battlefields. 

“It’s wonderful to have the time now to really dive into my own work and to experiment and have a dark room that I’m able to work out of,” Hannah said. 

Hannah hopes to use this project to help expand her portfolio as she ultimately plans to apply for a master of fine arts degree in photography.

“I did not at all expect to be an artist,” said Hannah, who entered Stanford planning to be pre-med and who studied computer science for several years. But she never forgot the photography course she took in her freshman year “for fun.”

“In my sophomore year, I met and photographed 30 people for our Stanford mental health outreach project,” she said. “That’s when I fell in love with photography and switched my major to art practice in the middle of my junior year.”

Looking back, Hannah said that taking the leap of faith to study art was frightening since it can be challenging to make a lucrative career out of it. She reported feeling obligated to pursue a stable career because she did not have financial stability growing up.

Hannah has spent the last year living in Austin working at a veterinary clinic and in a customer service role to financially support herself even as she continues to create art. 

“There’s not a handbook to be successful as an artist,” she said. “If it’s something that you want, know that it’s a possibility, and you can find success, fulfillment and happiness in it, [so do not] get discouraged.”

In addition to her independent project, Hannah is serving as a studio assistant for renowned photographer Sally Mann in Virginia this summer. 

Miguel Novelo M.A. ’22 recently completed his second year of graduate school in art practice. Although the graduate program is generally two years long, students were given an extra year to conduct research and thesis work due to the setbacks presented by the pandemic. 

Miguel Novelo M.A. ’22

As Novelo enters his third and final year of graduate school, he is working on a film about geodiversity with the working title “Cenotes and Meteorites.” He has traveled to different locations, mainly around Yucatan, Mexico and California, to learn about the changes of space and how the space is being utilized. 

“There’s a lot of change in construction for example, and you can notice that really quickly, versus biodiversity like animals dying around you. That’s very hard to notice,” Novelo said.

Inspired by TikTok, Novelo is particularly interested in utilizing short content to cater to newer audiences. He plans for his film to be shown in short segments with multimedia sculptures — animations embedded on objects with sound. Novelo is creating his own screens and speakers to accomplish this goal.

Novelo said that his most significant accomplishment was a community-driven project that portrayed the community’s stories for thousands of attendees in Campeche, Mexico. 

As a student who learned English as a second language, Novelo stressed the importance of learning to speak and read as many languages as possible. Looking to the future, Novelo hopes to possibly teach at Stanford or even create a culture-driven company using human-based technologies to create art.

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Nithika Valluri is a high school student in the Stanford Daily’s Summer Journalism Workshop. She loves playing boardgames, taking naps, and spending time with family & friends. Fun fact: she has learned more than 10 different dance styles.