By Kremena Dimitrova BA MA PGCHE FHEA
Illustrator and Art and Design Lecturer
In order to progress my career as an Illustrator and Art & Design Lecturer, deciding to study MA: Art & Design in Education at UCL Institute of Education was the obvious and favoured choice. My professional life since studying the course has a lot to do with the choices I made during my MA studies. My current career in the museum and heritage sectors, for example, working as an Illustrator in Residence at Benjamin Franklin House and embarking on my practice-based PhD in Visualising History also relating to Benjamin Franklin House, have all transpired because of the MA.
Prior to joining the course, I had engaged in visualising historical archives and collections working on projects and commissions for the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture and Bishop’s Stortford Museum. However, my real interest in the museum and heritage sectors started during one of the MA modules I shared with the MA: Museums & Galleries in Education. I particularly enjoyed these sessions because they gave me the opportunity to engage with MA students from a different course and discuss creative and academic theory and practice concerning current developments in the field of museums and galleries. The module in question was called ‘Material and Virtual Cultures: Transforming the Museum and Gallery Experience’. I was made aware of the many possibilities for innovation in the field especially with regards to digital technologies. Moreover, the passion and knowledge of the lecturers was inspirational and encouraging and I have continued to collaborate on educational and creative projects with some of them even post course.
As part of the ‘Material and Virtual Cultures: Transforming the Museum and Gallery Experience’ module, I chose to develop illuminations aimed at younger audiences for Benjamin Franklin House, after I had noticed that its main educational offer ‘museum as theatre approach’ was aimed at adults only. My illuminations were accepted, and after receiving funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, they have been used as educational projections at the museum to enhance historical re-enactments as part of its popular school visits. As part of my work for the museum, I also received funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund to design and illustrate a children’s sticker book about Benjamin Franklin’s life and work in London.
In addition to the above, I also used Benjamin Franklin House as the case study for my MA dissertation, which delved into the dilemmas of history telling at the museum. This dissertation engaged with questions like what lies ahead for museums and museum studies in our globalised and interconnected world? Can museums voice better stories, which do fuller justice to the complicated histories of people? Can art be helpful in achieving this? More recently, my interest in Benjamin Franklin House also informed my decision to embark on my practice-based PhD in Visualising History at the University of Portsmouth. My research continues to focus on the histories of Benjamin Franklin House’ and more specifically it looks into the graphic novel as an innovative form of historiography.
Since graduating from the MA: Art & Design in Education, I have tried to focus my professional illustration and teaching roles on the museum and heritage sectors by carefully choosing the projects, commissions I work on and talks I give. Examples include my recent exhibition installation ‘Beyond War – Visualising Peace: Responding to the Armistice of 1918’ commissioned by the Beaney House of Art and Knowledge in Canterbury. I researched and visualised the museum’s World War One Canterbury archives and collections. I focussed on ordinary women and their ‘often unsung’ contributions during the war and the peace beyond. In doing so, my installation brought to the fore the development of democracy and political ideas throughout the World War One period in order to better understand the roots of our own society today.
In addition to the above, I have given talks at the University of East London and Benjamin Franklin House and I will be presenting at a conference at the University of Portsmouth all relating to my illustration work with regards to the museum and heritage sectors. I also have a few exciting projects in the pipeline collaborating on book projects with American Historians.