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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 media art 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 realizing 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, the Rotary Ambassadorial Scholars Foundation generously awarded her $25,000 to spend one year in Australia training with anthropologist-filmmakers. For her fieldwork, with a team of archaeologists, she went on two expeditions to remote Arnhem Land — an Aboriginal 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 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.


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 terms of 'analog' art, her digital and 35mm photography has been included in some group gallery shows and, in 2018, she was an invited author at East Hampton Author's Night for a photographic poetry book she wrote for children. Over the years, she has filmed several documentary shorts, including one about the overlap of Appalachian and Punk music and Sneakerhead (2016), an ethnographic portrait of an overzealous Air Jordan collector, which was featured in a 6-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. In her freelance work over the past five years, she has assisted artists (painters, digital artists, photographers, sculptors, writers, filmmakers) in NYC and the Hamptons to document/digitize/archive and write about their beautiful artwork. Full CV is below. 

Rachel M. Ward
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