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Graduate student combines art with activism

Photo by Tabitha Gray
Photo by Tabitha Gray

“When I applied to college to come to the United States, I made it a point that my educational career from that point onwards was going to be a combination of art and social activism, and it has been ever since.”

Said Graduate Teaching Assistant Pallavi Govindnathan. Pallavi Govindnathan is a PhD student in the Department of Multicultural Women’s and Gender Studies (MWGS) and an artist who has exhibited in Canada, Thailand, India, Pakistan and the U.S.

Govindnathan has orchestrated a unique marriage of fine art with MWGS and her experience as a South Asian woman of color in academia.

Born in India and raised in Thailand, Govindnathan moved to the states to pursue a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the Savannah College

of Art and Design, followed by a Masters in Painting and New Genres from the San Francisco Art Institute.

Women’s issues have always been a primary focus of Govindnathan’s artistic practice and research: “I remember writing in my application to TWU that I’m coming in as an artist, and I’m going to leave the program as an even stronger artist,” she says. In her experience, consolidating disciplines provides the opportunity to bring new ideas, perspectives and dialogues to academia. She recalls many cases in which fellow artists argued that feminism is over; women have equal rights and anyone who thinks otherwise is living in the past.

“As a woman of color from two developing nations, India and Thailand, I have seen women be burned by their husbands. I have seen women have acid thrown

on them by their partners and be put into prison for committing moral crimes. [I have seen] young girls forced into sex trafficking. Is it really over? Is there really equality?”

Govindnathan is currently teaching Gender and Social Change and working on her comprehensive exams. Her dissertation examines the overlap of female and heroic representation in western Italian art.

“Not too many…South Asian scholars have studied Baroque and Renaissance art history. I feel like this is an interesting opportunity… to bring into dialogue a perspective of a woman of color talking about western art,” says Govindnathan. “Usually, it’s the European scholars who come and study Asian history. In some ways it’s very exciting, because the roles are kind of reversed.”

After her time at TWU, Govindnathan hopes to bring more theoretical discussions of feminism and women’s studies into the art world while continuing to pursue her artistic career.

Govindnathan’s art can be viewed on her website and vimeo

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