The Artist Otherwise Known As … Deena Bak ’13

The first thing I noticed about Deena Bak ’13 as I walked into Lee Snack Bar in Paresky for the interview was her wicked awesome undercut – and instantly I thought, “How cool – she looks like the lead singer from Of Monsters and Men!” (But I decided to not mention that right away.)

I knew little about Bak before meeting her except that she’s a senior, loves art and participates in equestrian, so when I sat down to meet her, I wasn’t too sure where to start. Luckily, as I was soon to find out, she’s extremely easy to talk to, and we just started from the beginning of her career at the College. Bak is an art studio major, though that wasn’t always her plan. “I came in being really interested in English, psychology and theatre … but then I started taking art classes, and I knew it was something I was really good at, something that I liked, but I never thought it was going to be something that I would major in,” she said. “Once I started taking classes, I realized that this was homework that I love … I go to the art studio and I might be spending some really long hours there … but it’s time that I really enjoy.”

Within the studio art department, Bak, like her fellow majors, has taken classes in and experimented with various media ranging from sketching to film to sculpture, though she primarily considers herself a painter and particularly enjoys working with oil paints. I asked her if there were any specific subjects she focused on or enjoyed painting in particular. Describing her work as figural with a focus on the human body, she explained: “When people ask me to describe my work I often don’t really know what to say because in college you’re so busy you don’t really have time to do your own work – all of your assignments are prompt-based. But if I were to describe my style I’d say it’s very much macabre. It’s very dark. I like to make work that’s creepy, that causes the viewer to have some visceral reaction. That’s my goal as an artist.” A self-professed “horror film junkie,” Bak finds much inspiration in such classics as Nosferatu, Hitchcock’s Psycho and the metal artist/director Rob Zombie.

Yet Bak is far from restricted to the department itself. Outside of Spencer Art Studio, Bak works as a museum associate at the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA), where she has been working on several events for this month – ranging from a Sol LeWitt-themed night of festivities with live performances, to being a part of the Screaming Series where she will be talking about horror films. Museums hold a special place in Deena’s heart: It’s her dream to pursue a career in museum education, and she seems to be on the right track, having interned at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts where she worked educating students of various age groups. Bak also happens to be the co-president of the student advisory council at WCMA, is part of the Art Majors Committee, is a teaching assistant for “Sculpture” and of course, rides for the equestrian team – all this in addition to the 20-plus hours a week she spends on her artwork outside the classroom.

I also had the chance to ask her about her semester abroad last year. She participated in an art program with the School for International Training in New Delhi, where she lived for three and a half months, traveling across the northern part of India. In addition, she spent a month working on an independent research project – during which she lived alone working in a style she describes as “art history in practice.” She specifically worked in demonology, researching monsters in Hinduism and Christianity, where she looked for cultural overlaps and explored the universality of fear.

Surprisingly, before her trip, Bak had never felt an express interest in Indian mythology. “Before I went to India I knew nothing about it – I had no idea what I was getting myself into,” she said. “There’s nothing I could have done to prepare myself for India – it’s insane. I felt like I was living in another planet for four months. Just the cultural differences were intense, you couldn’t even believe. Just a constant onslaught of sights, smells, sounds, people – just crowded. It was the most intense, life-changing experience I ever had.”

One of Bak’s major goals now that she’s back at Williams is to bring the campus at large closer to the art community: “My career path in museum education is about sharing art with other people,” she said. “I think the museum is something that’s underutilized, and the Spencer Art Building – rarely any non-art majors come in there. I think working at WCMA, looking at art, it can relate to any major. I’d just like to see the art culture on campus becoming more fully integrated.”  Hearing Bak describe her passions firsthand was an inspiring experience, and getting to meet her was a great pleasure. I’m sure her efforts to more fully integrate the art community into the campus will pay off greatly.