Shanti Shea An hadn't planned to study art at ANU. But on her visit to the campus when she was in Year 12, that all changed. As Open Day was drawing to a close, she decided to head up to the heritage-listed art deco style building.
“When I entered the building, I felt like this was a place I could imagine myself being in for the next 3-4 years,” Shanti remembers. “It was a gut feeling.”
In following her gut, Shanti signed up for a double degree in Art and Visual Art. She soon devoted herself entirely to Visual Art, because she found there was just so much in it.
“I really liked how at first we were immersed in studio practice and there was this tradition of materials I found really interesting as well,” she says. “Then when I did art theory courses we were introduced to other disciplines, but it was always through the language of art.”
Shanti's first love was painting, and she enjoyed how her other courses fit in with that.
“Doing theory and history alongside practice enriched my love of the medium and allowed me to see it within the context of a broader framework and within society and history as a whole.”
By 2017, Shanti had finished her Bachelor of Visual Arts with first class Honours, for which she earned the University Medal, and was working full time in an office. She found she missed studying, and in particular, wanted the chance to do more reading and research into the art history courses she'd only gotten a taste of. That's how she landed back at the School of Art and Design, doing a Master of Art History and Curatorial Studies.
“I love talking to people about art,” Shanti enthuses. “Even if people don't come from an artistic background, their responses always allowed me to think about new questions and challenges that I like to consider in my own work and research.”
Shanti's Masters thesis focused on the experience of interiors, exteriors and the threshold space in between in 17th century Dutch paintings. As for what was special about 17th century Netherlands, Shanti says that there was a strong interest in spectatorship during that period, with many artists and makers drawn to ideas relating to being seen or seeing people within society.
“Particularly with the way cities were organised then and how interior spaces interacted with public spaces. For example, there was this sense that people had to keep their houses clean because neighbours walking by could see into their homes. There was a heightened awareness of public and private space.”
Although Shanti came to this topic through her Honours work, she grew up interested in threshold spaces and being in-between things. She talks about being an introvert in her younger years and being drawn to quiet, meditative spaces like museums and galleries where she “could spend time looking and thinking without necessarily speaking”.
“I was always fascinated by spaces and the way they shape how humans behave and think,” she says.
“I was also very interested in liminal, 'in-between' spaces – places that we move through. I think some of this comes from existing within two cultures at once; my mother is Vietnamese but up until my third year of university, I had never visited Vietnam. I often felt as though I was on the outside looking in.”
At the School of Art and Design, Shanti managed to find belonging within a close community of like-minded people. It's why she'd love to do further research there.
“There's something about ANU – particularly the art school,” she says. “It's quite a tight-knit community and I feel like that's such a great way of sharing research and collaborative practice.”