OUR Featured Researcher: Leina Mizuno Fieleke '21

Portrait of Leina Fieleke
Photo credit: Tanya Rosen-Jones

Leina Mizuno Fieleke (she/her) is a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Research Fellow (MMUF) majoring in Art History and Psychology. Under the mentorship of Professors Christina Neilson and Bonnie Cheng, she has been working on a research project titled "Disability as Curatorial Methodology: A Reconsideration of Sight and Art Museum Practices" since June 2019.

Please describe your research project:

Art museums have become increasingly interested in becoming more accessible, but their response tends to be relegated to education and public programming departments. Not considering curators as agents of accessibility in art museums is a missed opportunity to create exhibitions that centralize disability in their conceptualization. In my research, I focus on the curatorial practice of Dr. Ellen Y. Tani for the exhibition “Second Sight: The Paradox of Vision in Contemporary Art” at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art as an exemplar of how curatorial practice can be used to think productively about disability. Through analysis of the arrangement of the art, wall text, labels, exhibition catalogs and public programming, I argue that “Second Sight” is only one example of how a curator can use their intellectual goals and the generative potential of intersectional disability theory to create dynamic and more accessible exhibition spaces.

What does a day in the life of your project look like?

A day in the life of my project usually includes reading various exhibition reviews, articles on disability theory and contemporary art that relates to themes of disability, and exhibition catalogues. It usually takes place in the comfort of my room or the various libraries on campus, especially the art library. I also spend a good chunk of my day writing and reaching out to curators and museums to ask them about their past exhibitions.

In what ways have you showcased your research?

I have presented at the Summer Research Symposium at Oberlin College and the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Research Conference at Carleton College. I will also be presenting my research at the CAA Undergraduate Research Conference in Art and Art History in February of 2020 in Chicago.

How did you get involved in research? What drove you to want to seek out research experiences in college?

I had questions that needed structured time and resources to answer. After my experience working in the Allen and taking the practicum in museum education class over winter term, I realized the larger implications of museum inaccessibility and wanted to confront these issues analytically and investigate them further.

What is your favorite aspect of the research process?

My favorite part of the research process is that I have the luxury of getting paid to read really interesting articles and books. Learning about other scholar’s work and different innovative art and museum exhibitions is my favorite part about my research process.

How has working with your mentor impacted the development of your research project?

My mentor’s questions and recommendations always push to think more complexly about my interests and how to approach them. My mentors have also been fundamentally important in organizing and structuring my arguments, as well as encouraging me to trust in my own voice and opinions. Most of my schooling has taught me to reiterate other scholar’s work in my writing, so doing independent research is a new way of writing that centers my own ideas, which has required a lot more confidence in my ideas and writing.

What advice would you give to a younger student wanting to get involved in research in your field?

Not to wait to get started. Research is something anyone can do with time and dedication, and even if you don’t get fellowships or institutional support (which you should be able to at Oberlin-professors are eager to help students who are passionate about their subject), not to let that stop you from answering the questions that motivate you to learn. Also, to ask questions about the status quo and the fundamentals of your field, which are typically based in patriarchal, white, colonial texts.

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Liena Fieleke gives a presentation