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Rachel Ward is a Ph.D. Candidate considering how anthropology, archives, speculative design and 'drawing as research' could intersect to produce new forms of knowledge. She is currently conducting ethnographic 'fieldwork' in the New York City studios of the three acclaimed women artists: (the late) Carolee Schneemann, Dianne Blell and Laurie Spiegel. She seeks to understand how their artwork is (or isn't) being preserved and safeguarded. She presented some of her preliminary research about obsolescing artists' archives at the American Institute of Conservation, which was also published in their  journal. Due to media art's inherent invisibility (e.g., data on floppy disks), she is attempting to draw it. In other words, unconventionally, considerable portions of her dissertation will be hand-drawn illustrations. She is also very happy that 'drawing as research' has given her an opportunity to share her work with non-academic audiences (of all ages).

Prior to her doctoral work, Rachel completed her M.Sc. in Social Anthropology in London. For her master's dissertation, she spent three months in Patagonia (Chile Region IX Chile), living in a rural cabin on Mapuche families' land. There, she worked with the machi (female shamans) to learn about dynamic cultural constructions of gender in Mapuche society, while also volunteering as an English teacher at a local Mapuche school. After recognizing her text-based dissertation, published in English, was of little value to the Mapadungun-speaking community, she applied for a fellowship to train in visual and non-verbal approaches to anthropological research. 

The following year, she received a generous $25,000 award from the Rotary Ambassadorial Scholars Foundation to spend a year in Australia, training with anthropologist-filmmakers. For her fieldwork, she joined a team of archaeologists on two expeditions to remote Arnhem Land — Indigenous territory that is closed to outsiders without expressed permission. With the archaeologists, she located, photographed and sketched ancient at-risk rock art sites (some thought to be 40,000 years old), now vanishing due to climate change. While not in the escarpments, the women in the community taught her to weave Aboriginal baskets from pandanus leaves and about traditional bush medicines. For her work in Australia, she was awarded a postgraduate G.Dip. in Visual Anthropology with a focus on ethnographic filmmaking.


Rachel’s public-facing work includes two anthropological art installations that she built in Vancouver, allowing for embodied access to the 'Archive' via haptic/auditory input from the audience. Rachel published these projects in her book chapter in Digital Echoes (2018). They were also written about in the article "Living Archives" in Curator: The Museum Journal 2020. In the realm of 'analog' art, her paintings and photography have been exhibited in museum and gallery shows, and in 2018 she was an invited author at East Hampton Author's Night, where she presented a photographic poetry book for children that she authored. Over the years, she has filmed several documentary shorts. These include a film about the overlap of Appalachian and Punk music, as well as Sneakerhead (2016), an ethnographic portrait of an overzealous Air Jordan collector featured in a six-month exhibition in the Museum of Vancouver (MoV).


Professionally, she's had the pleasure to serve as the Chair of Documentation & Archival at the International Symposium on Electronic Art (ISEA) and as the Lead Event Curator for Vice News in a virtual reality (VR) exhibition about the AIDS crisis in Chile. Since returning to New York in 2016, Rachel has been actively assisting artists—including painters, digital artists, photographers, sculptors, writers, and filmmakers—and galleries in NYC and the Hamptons. Her work involves documenting, digitizing, archiving, and writing about their diverse and beautiful artwork. Full CV is below. 

Rachel M. Ward
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