Kylie Ching is a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in UCI's Visual Studies Program. She also participates in the Asian American Studies Graduate Emphasis and the Graduate Feminist Emphasis in the Department of Gender and Sexuality Studies. She is interested in bridging her academic research with museum spaces to reach diverse audiences and collections. She has begun exploring work in various local institutions through internships in curation, registrar management, and public engagement.
Can you describe your Ph.D. research?
My current research looks at Asian diasporic women artists who respond to American wars and military intervention in Asia and the Pacific -- particularly the Japanese American incarceration during World War II, the Korean War/Cold War, and also the Vietnam War. So these artists create different perspectives by incorporating their own family photographs alongside public archival and war journalism photography through either collage or juxtaposition. All of the artists I’m looking at are still living, so there’s a really exciting potential for collaborations where relationships could be built upon.
What kinds of experiences have you had outside of academia?
Most of my experiences have been in different museums. In the summer between my masters and my first year in the PhD program, I received my first curatorial internship at the San Diego Museum of Art through UCI’s Art History Department. I worked with the Asian Art Curator and I saw the process of how exhibitions are built and what objects are selected for different exhibitions. They have an Asian Art Council, and I helped them develop reading lists for people who are not in academia but are interested in art to get them started in researching these objects.
I also did a public engagement internship alongside a curatorial internship at the Orange County Museum of Art the next summer. Doing research on a solo artist exhibition was really rewarding. My research was incorporated into the museum programming.
The latest internship I did was a GSR position at the UCI Institute and Museum of California Art. I worked with the registrar department one summer and then the curatorial department in spring 2021. I had the opportunity to do original and extensive research on our collection for upcoming exhibitions. I’m happy that I had a chance to give back to UCI in some way. I really want to continue to be a part of the growth of IMCA, so hopefully I can go back and work with the institution in the coming year.
How do your PhD and non-academic skills and work experiences intersect?
In a lot of these research projects, specifically for the curatorial internships, the skills I’ve gained as a graduate student came in handy such as knowing what databases to use, how to organize and synthesize information. Work ethics also carry over in knowing how to prioritize your tasks.. Being able to ask lots of questions carries over from being a graduate student -- just being very thorough in your details.
What advice would you offer readers?
If you are interested in work outside academia, specifically museum work, try to see what’s available locally to you. You may want to ask yourself: What are your limitations in terms of resources? Are there local opportunities available to you if you are unable to commute for long distances? Do your values line up with the institutions that you are interested in? One summer, they weren’t offering internships for OCMA directly through the art history department, so I actually reached out to OCMA itself and applied after talking to some curators there. So don’t be afraid to actually reach out to these institutions yourself and put yourself out there. It could be very helpful as well if you show how you can help the institution with your skill set and how they can help you in your specific trajectory of where you want to go.
I think your peers are also aware of more resources than you think. Also, developing a good support system with your colleagues in your and other departments who value what you want to do will help sustain you.
Why is working outside of academia important to you?
One of the commitments that has become important to me is being able to connect with and reach a broad audience. You get to do that in museum work. For instance, IMCA has been trying to engage both UCI students and staff and also the larger community with relevant exhibitions and topics that highlight our own collections.
I also hope to bridge my own research and my museum work together in terms of my commitment to women of color and marginalized artists.