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Alumni Stories

Grads 2024: Angela Deka

With a bachelor's degree in psychology, and a passion for the arts, Angela Deka found herself pursuing art therapy, a beautiful marriage of her two interests. But as someone with a propensity to seek new and exciting opportunities, after a few years she began asking herself, “What should I do next?”

“I’m passionate about photography and illustration,” Angela says. “I’ve always wanted to be an artist and work in the creative industries, which is why I gravitated towards conservation – I love getting to work with my hands and achieve tangible results.”

There were two options for her to study cultural heritage in Australia, one in Melbourne, the other, in Canberra.

“After living in Delhi for the last few years, I did not want to be in that hubbub of activity anymore, I decided I wanted to be somewhere quieter, so I chose Canberra,” she says.

Angela enrolled in a Master of Arts in Creative and Cultural Futures and began her studies in 2021. She was initially studying online after moving to Calcutta to live with her mother, due to COVID-19 border closures, and logging on at 4 o’clock in the morning for lectures and online tutorials.

It was January 2022 when she was finally able to make her way to Australia. After spending a couple of days exploring sunny Sydney, she jumped on a bus that brought her straight to the University’s on-campus accommodation.

Her first impression, landing on campus in the middle of summer holidays, “where are the people?”

Man and woman look at one another and smile.

Luckily, by the time O-Week rolled around, the hustle and bustle of campus life was back in full swing, and Angela was assured that she hadn’t accidentally landed herself in the middle of nowhere.

“It was very vibrant,” Angela laughs. “People talk about Canberra being a boring place, but I disagree. Canberra has many beautiful places.”

“I like to spend a day exploring the National Portrait Gallery, then the National Museum, it’s all very close by. I’ve also found a lot of peace in nature, since I’ve lived in Australia.”

Since graduating, she secured a dream role as an Assistant Conservator with International Conservation Services, and is currently working on conversation projects at the Museum of Australian Democracy.

“They are moving a lot of their heritage furniture and objects to their facility in Fyshwick. So essentially, we're preparing the collection, making sure that everything is pest free, dust free and using conservation treatments to ensure the stability of the items,” Angela says.

This was all covered thoroughly through her degree, where much of her time was spent in the lab, working practically with items and treatments.

As someone who values working with her hands, this was a time that Angela found both enjoyable and intellectually stimulating. She looks back fondly, and with an appreciation for the quality of the learning she received.

“The first semester was very heritage materials-focused, introducing us to different materiality, agents of deterioration and cleaning processes. Second semester was about treatments of different objects, restoring the structural integrity and stability of the items,” Angela says.

“We were taken to the galleries and the storage facilities to see how the conservators work there and people from the industry would come to run sessions in class.”

In one conservation project, Angela was working on a 1940s-era powder puff box. As she searched for the right material to stabilise the fabric covering the item, she received valuable feedback from the textile conservator at the Australian War Memorial.

“It was great to have that level of access and engagement with people who are at the top of their field.”

Drawing on her own background in psychology and experience with art therapy, she formed an idea for her final semester Master’s Project.

“In the past I have often coped with depressive and anxious episodes through creating art, and what I discovered recently was how working in the lab, using my helps me to get into a flow state,” Angela says.

“So, I wanted to explore the possibility of working through difficult life experiences, by using tangible materials. This was based on existing research in neuroscience and art therapy about how embodied processing can help rewire your brain; I researched the topic extensively.

“Survivors of trauma often believe that their experiences have caused irreversible damage to their brain, which means they’re stuck in these patterns of thinking, and that there’s no way forward, but that’s not the case.”

Inspired by the concept of mapping, she combined her interests in psychology and art to create her final project.

“I used found objects, because they symbolise something that has been discarded, something that has been taken out of context, that has lost its meaning. Being able to reconfigure and recontextualise them through mapping allowed me to infuse meaning into them.”

Angela credits her supervisor for steering her course and helping shape the idea for her final project.

“My supervisor, Dr. Denise Thwaites, was so supportive, so amazing, so great. I didn’t think anyone could make sense of the ideas I had, but Denise helped me streamline it, I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere without her,” Angela says.

After her studies, Angela took a holiday to Byron Bay, spending some time hiking in the rainforest, and sitting on the beach with her partner to unwind from a busy few years. She’s also been off social media for over a year now, preferring to live in the present.

Looking back, she realises that perhaps, she could have placed less pressure on herself during her studies – in addition to her masters coursework, she worked two retail jobs, handled admin for the Culture and Heritage short courses and contributed to a research project on fossil fuels – but with so many interests, she always finds more things she’s enthusiastic about doing – it’s how she found herself at the University of Canberra, after all.

Story by Kelly White, portraits by Liam Budge.

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