A Path to Dartmouth: MALS Student Exhibition in Hanover

Montana artist and MALS graduate student, Nan Darham, is more accustomed to using visual art as a tool for her creative expression. Her work in the MALS program is challenging her to find her voice in the written word. At a recent Breakfast with the Arts event, she explained her artistic process and how she is exploring her family ties to Dartmouth through the MALS program.

“I tolerate failure on this journey,” mused artist Nan Darham at a reception for her exhibition in the Nearburg Gallery in the Black Family Visual Arts Center as part of the Breakfast with the Arts series. From Bozeman Montana, Nan is also a graduate student in the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (MALS) program at Dartmouth, where she is exploring her creativity through words.

Nan has been working as a visual artist since the birth of her first child, she says, and her artwork serves as an iterative exploration of her life and inspirations along the way. Using the bright, bold oil pastels she layers and scrapes, and layers and scrapes, colors and lines on the paper, repurposing old works in what she describes as a primitive style. “An interpretational style, not a representation,” she explains.

Reusing discarded drawings, some of them decades in the making, Nan traces a visual narrative of her journey. She explained her process during the breakfast event: “I lay all the pieces I’m currently working on flat on tables and move from one to another, maybe adding something to this one, maybe leaving one alone entirely, until I feel I’m done with them. I like a degree of ‘unformed’ in my work. I relate to the natural, the wilderness, the undeveloped.”

The works grow and develop as the mood takes her resulting in layers of stories, which the viewer can peel back, speculate on, and construct a new narrative for themselves. She has, she notes, no obligation to the viewer when she works with visual media. “I’m inventing my own language with my art, selecting the tools that feel comfortable to create my language of expression,” she states, referring to her choice of materials: watercolor paper and oil pastels.

Fragments of a different narrative are pasted on the walls in the spaces between her art: excerpts taken from assignments she’s completed in the MALS program. These excerpts trace the discovery and uncovering of her family ties to Dartmouth, which currently go back as far as the mid 1800's.

Her writing also serves as an extension of the artistic process, and one, Nan admits, that has not been without challenges. “Words are not my first language,” she says, smiling wryly as she gestures to the work on the walls and this emerging fluency fuels her to face these challenges head on. “Failure, conflict, dilemma make me want to do something,” she states. “Cultural Studies, Global Studies, Creative Writing, Gender Studies, Oral History, Diasporas, and Migration are exactly what I want to explore,” she says, referring to the concentrations and classes in the MALS program.

Nan’s thesis work involves an investigation into the creative process, genius studies, and innovation. Her exhibition will be on show through October 2, 2018, and will travel to the Williamson Gallery at Dartmouth Hitchcock for October through New Year.

Breakfast with the Arts is a sponsored program of the Leslie Center for the Humanities.