Daphnide Nicole ’20 Curates Her Own Experience at Pomona

Student stands in front of art museum building.

“This is perfect.” Those are the three words that Daphnide Nicole ’20 said to herself while working at the Pomona College Museum of Art during her first year at Pomona.

As an education outreach intern in the Museum’s Native American Study Collection, she introduced elements of historical Native art as a supplementary experience for Common Core's history segment for third grade students from local public elementary schools.

She came to Pomona because she wanted to study both international relations and art—but decided early on that she wanted more flexibility in her course schedule. Both majors are time-consuming, from the number of classes required to the number of hours of study needed per week.

“I’ve been doing art my whole life, so it’s not like I’m going to suddenly stop being an artist. I could still take art classes in college. So that’s why I decided to stick with international relations.”

Connecting to Art Through Meaningful Work

The summer after her first year, she was a Getty Multicultural Intern working under the supervision of Steve Comba, the associate director and registrar of the Pomona College Museum of Art. “I got to go into L.A. and visit different museums and meet museum people who’ve made this their career.”

After her summer of visits to Los Angeles museums, she worked with Pomona Senior Curator Rebecca McGrew ’85 as a sophomore. “Much of what I did assisting the curator was tons of research and analyzing what information is useful and then compiling it.”

The project she worked on combines art and the activism of nuclear nonproliferation in Japan, specifically looking at the environment and how Japanese artists are responding through art. “The research I did is for the spring 2021 show, ‘Each Day Begins with the Sun Rising: Four Artists from Hiroshima.’”

This was another “perfect” project for her, because she is particularly interested in exploring how art can be used for change.

McGrew says Daphnide Nicole also helps mentor other interns and can always be counted on to help clean up after an event. “One of her best qualities as an intern is the cheerful willingness to pitch in wherever needed and an ongoing and continual curiosity about art and its place in the world—hence the willingness to tackle complex research and mundane cleaning-up-after-a-performance type tasks,” says McGrew. “I’m so impressed with her interest in the world and her bravery and initiative in traveling to often challenging places. As a person, she has a lovely and gracious personality and is always friendly and open.”

Art as Activism

During a gap year before coming to Pomona, Daphnide Nicole lived in Thailand, where she worked at an organization that helped girls who worked in bars and the nightlife industry. Art was one of the resources available to the young women: as therapy as well as a means of economic mobility. The women made jewelry, cards and fabric items sold in coffee shops. “I’d always loved art, but I never saw it as an actual way to make cultural change—but this was really eye-opening,” she says.

Last year, she worked with McGrew to co-curate the exhibition “Stories: Selections from the Permanent Collection,” which ran from January 22 to May 19, 2019.

“We wanted to showcase what was already in the permanent collection so that helped narrow down the work, but not by a lot,” says Daphnide Nicole, adding that there are thousands of pieces in the museum’s permanent collection.

The “Stories” exhibition sought to explore landscapes as more conceptual instead of the usual idyllic scenery and sublime vistas—for example, political landscapes.

“I think it really helped me for looking at art as a means for activism; the place it has in politics,” says Daphnide Nicole, who read many books about curatorial practices to learn about her new job.

In addition to working on research for this project, she also helped with preparations leading up to the current yearlong exhibition, “Todd Gray: Euclidean Gris Gris.”  

Folding Art into International Relations

In between her museum work and her international relations classes, she also made it to Morocco to study abroad during the fall of her junior year.

“I really love languages and Morocco is a really interesting country. It’s kind of like a meeting point for Africa and the Middle East but also for Europe.” She spent most of her time in Rabat, where she took classes, including Arabic language classes. “I learned a lot about Moroccan politics and also a lot about Moroccan art—that was amazing and really cool.”

Morocco had a big influence on her, and in her IR senior thesis she is using what she learned during her study abroad experience. The thesis explores how the Moroccan state measures inclusivity and how groups of people, like the Amazigh, fit into the idea of the nation.

“I'm able to combine both my experiences and knowledge gained from my work at the museum with my international and political experiences in the classroom and abroad.”