How can scholar-artists best balance their scholarly and creative endeavors? Can sound media and podcasting make exclusive spaces more accessible? How do the words we use to describe ourselves affect how we and others perceive our work?

In Episode 43 of the Imagine Otherwise podcast, host Cathy Hannabach and guest Marcella Ernest talk about Marcella’s insistence that complex subjects require complex film techniques, how scholar-artists can use their academic pursuits as inspiration for their creative endeavors and vice versa, imagining and building a different world requires a new relationship between humans, land, and resources.

We invite you to check out the episode, as well as our highlights and show notes below.

Guest: Marcella Ernest

Marcella is an Ojibwe interdisciplinary artist and scholar. She creates soundscapes with poetic imagery and abstract narratives. The collision of electronic media, ethnographic archival materials, found footage, unique sound design and film and photography is what Marcella uses as a foundation to create. She uses these renderings to translate critical issues of gender, family, memory, and sexuality that deliberately challenge racist representations of Native American women and engage the public with complex identity and social issues. She attained her BA in Ethnic Studies with a minor in film studies from Mills College and holds a Master’s degree in Indigenous Documentary Research Methodologies and Film Production from the Native Voices Program at the University of Washington. Presently, Marcella is a Doctoral Candidate in American Studies at the University of New Mexico. Her dissertation research is focused on processes of racialization through visual histories of Native American representation, and the understanding of how members of colonized groups use experimental video and digital music as an artistic and intellectual medium of re-mix for cultural and political expressions of resistance to such processes.

We chatted about

  • How Marcella conceptualizes her interdisciplinary work (03:00)
  • The intersection between art and academia in Marcella’s professional journey (05:00)
  • Advice for others who straddle the line between art and academia (08:30)
  • Marcella’s experience in the world of podcasting, and the role of podcasting in her work more broadly (13:00)
  • Marcella’s upcoming exhibition at the National Museum of the American Indian (15:00)
  • Imagining Otherwise (17:00)


Marcella’s process

“When I first arrived [in grad school], I was very much in art student mentality. Learning the process of documentary film-making requires years of research, and felt like a bit of a challenge. Now I feel like it’s absolutely necessary for anything that I create.”

The challenges of applying academic principles to artistic endeavors

“Finding that intersection of my own practice and people that practice a similar style of artwork is really challenging. As a scholar I want to come at it from an unbiased approach, but a lot of the artists that I read about in books or who are involved in these conversations, I often know personally or make similar projects as I do.”

Letting scholarship inspire artistic work

“I had a moment in a course where I felt very creatively inspired by this book [Photography on the Color Line] instead of academically inspired. That’s a very overwhelming feeling because then I feel like, which direction do I want to go in?”

Advice for others who straddle the line between art and academia

“There are dissertations that I call ‘dream dissertations’ where you do a written component to a creative piece. I feel like I could really excel in something like that. So that’s part of my advice: to find the right fit for you in terms of programs and institutional positions.”

The unique platform Marcella has found in the Sounding Out! podcast

“A lot of Native American things get boxed into this exclusive Indigenous space. Something I like about Sounding Out! is that it’s not an exclusively Indigenous space. Sound studies is this contemporary and edgy scholarship site, and through my podcast I focus on Native American issues.”

Imagining Otherwise

“I really want to know that our trees and our animals and our water will be safe and take care of, and will be able to take care of us in the future. That’s been inspiring a lot of my work—written, visual, and audio.”

More from Marcella

Projects and people discussed

About Imagine Otherwise

Imagine Otherwise is a podcast about the people and projects bridging art, activism, and academia to build better worlds. Episodes offer in-depth interviews with creators who use culture for social justice, and explore the nitty-gritty work of imagining and creating more just worlds. Check out full podcast episodes and show notes at Imagine Otherwise is produced by Ideas on Fire, an academic editing and consulting agency helping progressive, interdisciplinary scholars write and publish awesome texts, enliven public conversations, and create more just worlds.

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