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Simpson Center for the Humanities

Sharon Daniel on Public Records / Secret Publics

Sharon Daniel (right) with Kathleen Woodward and Miriam Bartha.

Artist, activist, and scholar Sharon Daniel recently visited the University of Washington to present from her current series of new media documentaries.

Her visit helped coalesce campus discussions and program building around media arts and activism, digital humanities, and public scholarship.

A professor of film and digital media at University of California Santa Cruz, Daniel understands her role as an artist as that of “context provider.” Her online archives and digital interfaces provide platforms by which marginalized individuals and disenfranchised communities—secret publics—can document and represent their experiences as public records. They also create sites that draw viewers to confront difficult social and moral issues—public secrets—that have been disavowed.

In this manner, her documentaries surface hidden causal chains that foster and perpetuate injustice across public sectors, from inequality in health care and education to racial and class discrimination in the criminal justice system. Examples of this work include the online audio archive Public Secrets, which contains testimonies of incarcerated women about the injustices of the criminal justice system and the prison industrial complex, and Blood Sugar, which examines the social and political construction of poverty, alienation, and addiction through recorded conversations with injection drug users.  

Daniel works closely with advocacy organizations to develop the relationships and gather the data that animate her documentaries. She also collaborates with designers to create the interfaces that structure her sites. For these reasons, her visit to the University of Washington fueled conversations across multiple domains.

At UW Bothell, where she gave her lecture on “Public Records / Secret Publics,” she also met with Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences faculty and graduate students developing curricula and projects in Media Arts and Activism. At UW Seattle, her visit served to convene faculty and staff interested in digital collaboration across the arts, humanities, and social sciences. She also participated in a roundtable discussion on “Scholarship as Public Practice: Publics and Audiences,” speaking with faculty and graduate fellows associated with the Simpson Center’s Certificate in Public Scholarship.