Raha AtashPa

Narratives of Change: Cocooning and anti/metamorphosis through Interdisciplinary Exploration, living inquiry, and art practice
William Pinar
Public Humanities Hub Research Seed Grant
Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

I was always driven by a passion to bridge the gap between theory and practice within my artistic scholarship endeavours. My journey has been characterized by a relentless quest to deeply understand the intricate connections between conceptual frameworks and tangible artistic expression. This curiosity led me to envision a path where interdisciplinary inquiry could flourish, unbounded by the conventional divides that often limit the scope of academic and creative exploration. Consequently, I decided to design an interdisciplinary, art-based PhD program tailored to pursue this goal. This program represents a deliberate step towards synthesizing a rich tapestry of knowledge that spans various disciplines, all the while anchoring this exploration in the realm of art. By integrating the rigour of academic research with the fluidity and expressiveness of art-making, I aim to cultivate a scholarly practice that is as intellectually robust as it is creatively vibrant. This approach not only allows for a deeper engagement with the materials, techniques, and concepts at the heart of my artistic practice—such as the use of silk and my own body in art-making—but also fosters a critical examination of the broader cultural, social, and educational implications of my work. The decision to pursue a graduate degree, therefore, was a natural extension of my commitment to advancing a holistic understanding of art as a dynamic mode of inquiry, communication, and transformation. It embodies my belief in the power of interdisciplinary approaches to challenge existing paradigms and to inspire new perspectives on the role of art in society. Through this PhD program, I aspire to not only contribute to the field of art and education but also, to model a form of scholarship that harmonizes theory and practice, thereby enriching both my personal growth and the broader discourse on art-led research.

Why did you decide to study at UBC?

I chose to study at the University of British Columbia (UBC) for its exceptional commitment to fostering interdisciplinary research and its globally recognized support for innovative art-based scholarship. UBC stands out as a leading institution that not only values but actively promotes the integration of diverse academic disciplines, providing a fertile ground for the kind of exploratory and boundary-pushing work that aligns with my academic and creative aspirations. The university's robust resources, including cutting-edge facilities and access to a wide range of scholarly materials, offer an unparalleled environment for artistic and academic growth. Furthermore, UBC's vibrant community of scholars, artists, and educators represents a dynamic ecosystem where collaborative and cross-disciplinary projects are encouraged. This ethos of collaboration and openness to innovative research methodologies resonated deeply with my desire to merge theory and practice in my work. The faculty's expertise in art-led research, coupled with their commitment to mentorship and support for graduate students, presented a unique opportunity for me to pursue my interdisciplinary art-based PhD program within a supportive and intellectually stimulating environment. UBC's reputation for excellence in both the arts and sciences, along with its beautiful campus that serves as an inspiration for artistic endeavours, solidified my decision. The university's location in a culturally rich and diverse city further enhances the academic experience, offering numerous opportunities for engagement with the art community and cultural institutions. By choosing UBC, I am confident in the potential to not only expand my academic and artistic horizons but also to contribute meaningfully to the field of art and education through a rigorous and innovative research project.

What is it specifically, that your program offers, that attracted you?

The Interdisciplinary Studies Graduate Program (ISGP) at UBC uniquely offers the flexibility and autonomy to design a personalized, interdisciplinary PhD program that perfectly aligns with my research ambitions. This bespoke approach to graduate study, which is not readily available in more traditional academic settings, was a key factor in my decision. It allows me to meticulously tailor my academic journey, combining elements from Contemporary Art, Aesthetic Experience, Art-Making, Aesthetic Education, Creative Writing, and Cultural/Social Studies into a cohesive program that fully supports my exploration of art-led research. What particularly attracted me to the ISGP at UBC was its emphasis on student-directed research, encouraging a deep dive into complex, interdisciplinary questions without the constraints of departmental boundaries.

This freedom is vital for my work, which seeks to bridge theoretical inquiry with practical art-making, utilizing silk and my body as materials to challenge and expand upon existing knowledge in the arts and humanities. The program's supportive framework allows for a rich dialogue between diverse academic disciplines, fostering a creative and intellectual cross-pollination that is essential for the kind of transformative educational paradigm I aim to explore and develop. Moreover, the ISGP's reputation for fostering a collaborative and supportive research environment, underpinned by access to an array of resources and mentorship from faculty members who are leaders in their fields, ensures a conducive atmosphere for groundbreaking research. The possibility to work alongside and learn from pioneering scholars and practitioners across various disciplines at UBC further solidified my choice, promising a dynamic and enriching educational experience that supports my vision of creating an innovative, interdisciplinary art-based PhD program.

What was the best surprise about UBC or life in Vancouver?

One of the most delightful surprises about studying at UBC and living in Vancouver has been the unparalleled integration of natural beauty within campus life and the city itself. The seamless blend of vibrant academic pursuit with the serene backdrop of mountains and the Pacific Ocean has offered an inspiring and rejuvenating environment that I had not fully anticipated. This unique setting fosters a profound connection to the environment, enhancing the creative process and providing a constant source of inspiration for my art-led research. Vancouver's rich cultural diversity and its thriving arts scene were also unexpected treasures that have enriched my experience beyond academics. The city's inclusive atmosphere and the multitude of opportunities to engage with various art communities, cultural events, and interdisciplinary collaborations have broadened my perspectives and deepened my research. Moreover, the welcoming and supportive community at UBC, encompassing both the academic and student populations, has been a wonderful surprise. The openness to innovative ideas and the encouragement for interdisciplinary exploration have not only facilitated my academic endeavors but also fostered meaningful connections and collaborations that I value immensely. These aspects of life at UBC and in Vancouver have profoundly impacted my journey, providing a balanced and stimulating environment where academic ambition is complemented by personal growth and well-being.

Through this PhD program, I aspire to not only contribute to the field of art and education but also to model a form of scholarship that harmonizes theory and practice, thereby enriching both my personal growth and the broader discourse on art-led research.
What aspect of your graduate program do you enjoy the most or are looking forward to with the greatest curiosity?

In the evolving landscape of interdisciplinary, art-based, and art-led research, the fusion of diverse academic and creative methodologies enhances the depth and breadth of inquiry. This integration is crucial for pioneering new knowledge and approaches within these fields. Interdisciplinary research, by its nature, thrives on the dynamic interplay between different ways of knowing, seeing, and experiencing the world, thus enabling a richer, more nuanced exploration of complex subjects. Art-led research, in particular, embodies the principle of living inquiry, where the process of creating art becomes a mode of investigation and reflection. This approach acknowledges the researcher's and the artist's experiences as vital components of the research process, offering unique insights and understanding. Living inquiry empowers researchers to engage deeply with their subjects, transforming personal and observed experiences into meaningful scholarly and artistic outputs. It emphasizes the importance of the subjective, the experiential, and the processual aspects of knowledge creation, challenging traditional research paradigms and inviting a more immersive and reflective practice. The emphasis on living inquiry within interdisciplinary and art-based research highlights the significance of personal engagement and reflexivity in both academic and artistic endeavours. By incorporating art-making processes—such as painting, drawing, and journaling—as integral methods of investigation, researchers can uncover and articulate complex ideas and emotions, facilitating a profound connection with their work that transcends conventional research methods. In essence, the incorporation of interdisciplinary approaches and living inquiry in art-led research signifies a transformative shift towards embracing a more holistic, integrated form of scholarship. It champions the power of personal experience and creative expression in generating new knowledge, advocating for a research practice that is not only intellectually rigorous but also deeply personal and creatively fulfilling. This approach fosters a more intimate and impactful understanding of the subjects at hand, contributing significantly to the fields of art and academia.

What do you see as your biggest challenge(s) in your future career?

As I look toward the future of my career in interdisciplinary, art-based, and art-led research, I anticipate facing several significant challenges that stem from the innovative nature of my work. One of the foremost challenges is navigating the traditional boundaries within academia and the art world. The integration of diverse disciplines and the emphasis on art as a method of inquiry push against conventional norms and expectations. This pioneering approach, while rich with potential for new knowledge and understanding, often requires extra effort to gain recognition and acceptance within established frameworks and institutions. Advocating for the validity and value of interdisciplinary and art-led research as rigorous academic work necessitates continuous dialogue and engagement with skeptics and traditionalists. Another challenge lies in securing funding and resources for research that defies easy categorization. Funding bodies and institutions typically operate within disciplinary siloes, and projects that span multiple fields or employ unconventional methodologies may struggle to fit within the parameters set by traditional grant and support structures. Developing compelling narratives and justifications for the importance and impact of such work is crucial to overcoming these hurdles. Furthermore, maintaining a balance between creative freedom and academic rigor presents an ongoing challenge. Art-led research demands a delicate equilibrium between artistic expression and scholarly inquiry, where neither aspect overshadows the other. Nurturing this balance while meeting the expectations of academic rigor and contributing meaningful insights to both the art world and academia requires careful navigation and constant reflexivity. Lastly, as my career progresses, staying adaptable and open to the evolving landscapes of both art and academia will be essential. The fields of interdisciplinary, art-based, and art-led research are inherently dynamic, reflecting shifts in societal, cultural, and technological contexts. Keeping pace with these changes, while remaining true to my core principles and goals, will demand continuous learning, flexibility, and innovation. Embracing these challenges as opportunities for growth and learning, I am committed to advancing my field and contributing to a broader understanding of the vital role of art in academic inquiry and societal development.

How do you feel your program is preparing you for those challenges?

My interdisciplinary, art-based PhD program at UBC is uniquely designed to equip me with the necessary skills, knowledge, and mindset to navigate the challenges I anticipate in my future career. These challenges include bridging the gap between theoretical research and practical application, innovatively contributing to my field, and fostering meaningful engagement with both academic and broader communities. Firstly, the program's emphasis on interdisciplinary research prepares me to operate at the intersection of various fields, allowing me to draw upon a diverse range of methodologies and perspectives. This approach is invaluable for tackling complex problems that do not fit neatly within the boundaries of a single discipline, thereby enhancing my ability to develop innovative solutions and contribute original knowledge to my field. Additionally, the supportive environment and mentorship provided by the faculty at UBC encourage me to develop a resilient and adaptive mindset. This is crucial for navigating the uncertainties and challenges inherent in a career in academia and the arts. The program's commitment to fostering a community of scholars and practitioners also enhances my ability to collaborate and communicate effectively, skills that are essential for engaging with diverse audiences and stakeholders.

What aspects of your life or career before now have best prepared you for your UBC graduate program?

My eclectic background, encompassing visual arts, academic research, and art education, has uniquely prepared me for the interdisciplinary rigour of my UBC graduate program. My journey from a B.S. in Mathematics and Education to an M.F.A. in Painting, culminating in a PhD candidacy, reflects a steadfast commitment to integrating analytical reasoning with creative exploration. This blend of logical structuring from mathematics and the boundless creativity found in visual arts has empowered me with a unique perspective on art-making and pedagogy, crucial for navigating the complexities of interdisciplinary studies. My professional experiences as an art & creativity instructor, editor, graphic designer, and in managerial and educational roles within art institutions, have imbued me with a multifaceted skill set. These roles demanded adaptability, innovative thinking, and the ability to communicate complex ideas effectively, all of which are essential competencies within the dynamic environment of a UBC graduate program. Furthermore, my involvement in various exhibitions and contributions to art installations have not only honed my practical skills but also fostered a deep understanding of the cultural and social impact of art. The awards and fellowships I've received, including the Public Humanities Hub Research Seed Grant and the President's Academic Excellence Initiative PhD award at UBC, recognize my potential to contribute meaningfully to the field. They underscore my capability to undertake ambitious research projects that bridge academic inquiry with artistic practice.

What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?

For fun and relaxation, I deeply enjoy immersing myself in both the natural and cultural vibrancy of my surroundings. Going to the beach offers a serene escape where the rhythmic sound of the waves and the expansive horizon provide a profound sense of peace and inspiration. Biking and walking in nature are equally rejuvenating activities; they not only allow me to stay physically active but also to connect with the environment, observing the subtle changes in scenery and wildlife that often fuel my creative process. Exploring city cafes and art shows represents another facet of my leisure activities, where the urban landscape becomes a canvas of endless possibilities. Each cafe has its own unique atmosphere and character, serving as a small sanctuary for reflection or journaling, accompanied by the comforting aroma of coffee. Art shows, on the other hand, are a source of inspiration and a window into the creative minds of others, offering new perspectives and ideas that challenge and enrich my own artistic endeavours. More importantly, painting, drawing, and journaling are not just hobbies but integral parts of my life that intertwine with my academic and artistic pursuits. These practices are essential for my relaxation and well-being, providing a creative outlet that allows me to express thoughts and emotions, explore new concepts, and document experiences in a tangible form. Through these activities, I find a harmonious balance between my personal and professional life, ensuring I remain inspired, motivated, and mentally refreshed.

What advice do you have for new graduate students?

For new graduate students embarking on this transformative journey, my advice is threefold:

1. Embrace Interdisciplinarity: Open yourself to the wealth of knowledge that exists beyond the boundaries of your chosen discipline. UBC offers a unique landscape where interdisciplinary inquiry is not just encouraged but celebrated. Seek opportunities to collaborate and engage with scholars from diverse fields. This cross-pollination of ideas will enrich your research, challenge your perspectives, and potentially open up new avenues for exploration that you hadn't considered.

2. Cultivate Relationships: Building a strong network of mentors, peers, and collaborators is crucial. The relationships you forge during your time at UBC can provide not only academic and professional support but also personal growth and well-being. Don't hesitate to reach out to faculty members whose work inspires you, and take the initiative to join or create study groups, attend workshops, and participate in conferences. These connections can last a lifetime and are invaluable to your journey.

3. Balance Rigour with Wellness: Graduate studies, especially within a highly self-directed program, demand high levels of dedication and intellectual rigour. However, it's equally important to maintain your physical and mental health. Vancouver and UBC offer numerous activities and resources to support your well-being, from stunning natural landscapes for outdoor activities to campus wellness programs. Find a balance that allows you to thrive both academically and personally. Remember, taking time for self-care is not a diversion from your academic goals but a crucial component of your success. By embracing these principles, you'll be well-positioned to navigate the challenges and opportunities of graduate study, making the most of what UBC and the broader academic community have to offer. Welcome to a journey of discovery, growth, and contribution.


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