O'Dell, Cynthia, MFA
Art and Art History
Professor of Art and Art History
I have had a camera in my hand since I was 13. For more than twenty years, I have worked diligently in my documentary photographic/video practice to counter traditional modes of representation and create transformative experiences for the viewer. I routinely push the boundaries of the genre, employing mixed media, text and image, digital photography, non-narrative video and multi-channel installation. Thematically, I explore notions of gender identity; biography and self; and land, memory and place. I work within a cultural and/or historical framework that ties together both personal and global concerns. I often employ the autobiographical format to explore larger issues, such as gender and class. I am interested in dispelling stereotypes and my practice embodies activism -- seeking to enlighten the viewer and incite change or, at the very least, create awareness. Ultimately, through my experimental documentary work I attempt to find beauty in the midst of the human struggle.
I have taught at DePauw since 1998. I have a B.F.A. with honors in Photography and a B.A. in English Literature from the University of Iowa. I received my M.F.A in Photography and Media Studies from the University of Colorado at Boulder. I teach courses in lens-based media in a variety of techniques and conceptual strategies. We utilize both the darkroom and digital studio. Students are challenged to develop a personal vision within a critical framework. Upcoming courses include Documentary Photography and the Ethics of Representation and Landscape Photography- A Legacy of Environmental Activism. I also take students on photography trips for Winter and May term. This last May, Professor Joe Heithaus and I took students to a Vinalhaven (island) in Maine to photograph and write. http://www.depauw.edu/news-media/latest-news/details/28739/
Work from a the project, An Impossible Homeland: Longing for Sea, Land and Sky was recently exhibited in London at the Renaissance Photography Prize exhibition (http://renaissancephotography.org/launch/awards.php) and the photograph Tullig Village was a 2012 award winner in the category of memory. The portfolio was also chosen for inclusion in the International Photo Ireland Festival 2012. http://2012.photoireland.org/about/curatorial-intro/. Work from this same project was also exhibited in the Contemporary Photography Programme at the Archisle Institute in Jersey (UK)- with an award of second prize http://www.archisle.org.je/ and the Arizona State University center for Humanities-Migrations exhibition. This project explores disrupted familial memory and Irish heritage. The initial photographs were taken during a 2005 residency at the Burren College of Art in Ballyvaughn, Ireland. An early phase of the work was published in the exhibition catalogue for the 2009 Indiana State Museum show, “Making it In the Midwest: Artist’s Who Choose To Stay”
The 2010 multi-channel video/photography installation titled, First Breath, Last Breath, which explores the death of my father and birth of my daughter, was awarded a New Directions Initiatives Grant from the GLCA/Melon Foundation and an Indiana Arts Commission Grant in 2010. Large scale photographs from the project [Un]Natural,which explore the defining/mythical line between what is natural/unnatural in the midst of biotechnology, were awarded second prize in the 2007 exhibition “One Planet, One Experiment” at Woman Made Gallery in Chicago. http://womanmade.org/show.html?type=group&gallery=planetexperiment2008&pic=1/ This work was also published in the 2005 Exhibition catalogue, “Whispers to Shouts: Indiana Women Who Create Art”. The 2003 autobiographical film Residue of Memory, which traces five generations of women through five states literally and figuratively as they deal with lost husbands and fathers, debuted at the Mine-Cine Independent Film Center in Louisiana and in 2003 received Best Experimental Documentary at the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival, 2003. Overall my work has been shown in over sixty exhibitions and screenings throughout the United States and Europe.
My thesis exhibition, common threads, which consisted of larger-than-life, photographic quilts depicting women living with breast cancer, garnered national attention. The Denver Channel 4 News, and the NPR affiliates in Iowa City, IA and Shreveport, LA sought interviews for the exhibition. Mary Chandler with the Rocky Mountain News wrote "...O'Dell hits the target: Often Art that tries to make a statement on illness becomes more self-indulgence than self-expression, but O'Dell's Common Threads carries a real impact on the topic of breast cancer: Her huge embroidered velvet "frames" have a strong emotional center. No bathos, just connection." The exhibition traveled to over fifteen sites, including the Pfizer headquarters in Manhattan and the Viewing Room, previously in Chelsea. Several of the quilts received best of show in 2001 by the late Hollis Sigler, in a juried exhibition titled, “A Shared Journey: Confronting Cancer Through Art”, and were included in the 2009 monograph, “A Tinta, a Mariposa e a Metástase: a arte como experiência, conhecimento e acçãosobre o cancro de mama” [The Paint, the Mariposa and the Metastasis: art as experience, knowledge and intervention on breast cancer], by Portugese scholar Susana Noronha.
Significant, internal DePauw research awards include: a Donald E. Town Faculty Fellowship 2011-2013 (for a project titled Charlie’s Barn, which will explore climate change and a barn destroyed by a tornado); a University Professorship Award 2007-2011 (one of the highest awards given to a faculty member); a DePauw Elftmann Faculty Fellowship from 2002-2005 (which supported [Un]Natural); a DePauw Fisher Fellowship in 1999 (given to one faculty member per year; it supported Residue of Memory); and over twenty internal research support awards. Additional grants include: Indiana Arts Commission grants in 2008, 05’, 02’; an Amgen Inc. Research Grant in 1998; a University of Colorado Small Dean’s Grant in 1997; and a University of Iowa Arts Foundation grant 1994.