Our New Research series provides an opportunity for the public to view recent archival research at RAC. It presents newly published reports submitted by RAC travel stipends recipients who have pursued their studies using our collections. In this edition, the researchers’ reports showcase a wide range of collections covering different time periods, geographic locations, and disciplines. They cite records from Nelson A. Rockefeller’s gubernatorial records, as well as from the archives of the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the JDR 3rd Fund, the Asian Cultural Council, and the Rockefeller Foundation. You are encouraged to explore these reports of our reading room visitors, read about their findings, and note their thoughts about how our collections impact their work.

“Prison Plastic Surgery: The Biopolitics of Appearance and Crime in New York’s Civil Rights Era” by Zara Stone

In “Prison Plastic Surgery: The Biopolitics of Appearance and Crime in New York’s Civil Rights Era,” Zara Stone looks at the changing history of plastic surgery as part of incarceree medical care. Incorporated into concepts of rehabilitative programs for prisoners, these activities have become a lightning rod for criticism and political considerations. Researching in the records of Nelson A. Rockefeller’s governorship, as well as materials in the Ford Foundation and Rockefeller Brothers Fund archives, Zara Stone highlights how “law and order” politics translated into new prison policies and, ultimately, new medical care policies. Responding to public pressures about crime, Governor Rockefeller pivoted from supportive positions regarding prisoner rehabilitation programs to pushing for harsher punishments and prison policies. Stone also reflects on the long-standing connections between appearance, social policy, and racism, and calls for continued dialogue to strengthen current rehabilitative programs for prison populations.

Zara Stone is a freelance journalist based in San Francisco. She has an M.S. in Broadcast Journalism from Columbia University School of Journalism. Her RAC research report is a continuation of research that led to her recent book, Killer Looks: The Forgotten History of Plastic Surgery in Prisons.

“The Gift of Fellowship: India, Modernism, Abstraction, and New York City” by Meghaa Ballakrishnen

Meghaa Ballakrishnen’s research report examines a series of fellowships given to Indian artists to support travel to the United States during the 1960s and 1970s. “The Gift of Fellowship: India, Modernism, Abstraction, and New York City” traces the work of this fellowship program established by the JDR 3rd Fund and continued by the Asian Cultural Council. Ballakrishnen notes that this program was initiated during a critical period for Indian art, as the newly independent nation wished to define anew its artistic path. In this context, her research views these fellowships through the lens of artists’ experience. Meghaa Ballakrishnen provides important insight on how visits to cultural institutions, interactions with the art community, and explorations of US landscapes impacted artists’ practice.

Meghaa Ballakrishnen is a doctoral student in the Department of Art History at Johns Hopkins University. She is also currently an Andrew W. Carnegie fellow at the National Gallery of Art. Her research interests include art and criticism in 20th century India and the history and historiography of modernism and the avant-garde in comparative (North-South) contexts.

“’Among a people such like their own’: Thai Nursing Students in the Philippines, 1920-1931” by Christine Peralta

One of the Rockefeller Foundation’s early healthcare initiatives centered on support for nursing education. In “‘Among a people such like their own’: Thai Nursing Students in the Philippines, 1920-1931,” Christine Peralta focuses on one program that had some unique characteristics. This plan brought Thai nursing students to train in the Philippines, which was then a US colony. Unlike other RF programs that provided nursing fellowships for students to come to the United States (or grants to establish or build-out nursing education programs in overseas locales), this one supported training of Asian-based nursing students in another part of Asia. Dr. Peralta sees this unusual story as an opportunity to study the shifting relationships among Thai and Filipino healthcare professionals within a US colonial setting. She points out that the changing power dynamics among these groups reflected a number of interacting elements: the needs of US colonial rule, Thai and Filipino national ambitions, along with pervasive gender inequalities.

Christine Peralta is an assistant professor of history and sexuality in the Women and Gender Studies Program at Amherst College. She has deep research interest in Filipina women and their medical knowledge, migration, and labor within the US colonial empire.

“Patronage of Video Art: The Relationship of the Rockefeller Foundation and Nam June Paik” by Vuk Vuković

Nam June Paik is considered by many as one of the founders of video art, combining performance art with technology-based creations. At RAC, records about the life and work of this Korean-born artist appear in the archives of the Rockefeller Foundation and the Asian Cultural Council. Vuk Vuković’s study, “Patronage of Video Art: The Relationship of the Rockefeller Foundation and Nam June Paik,” looks at the impact that the Rockefeller Foundation had on his career trajectory. This relationship continued for over three decades. Paik highly valued his RF connection and was adept at leveraging it to help him implement his vision for new art media. As the researcher points out, the RF provided critical funding and global networking support that fostered a series of transnational satellite, video, and television projects involving South Korea, Japan, the United States, and other countries. These works were a vital component in establishing Nam June Paik’s reputation as a pioneer in the video media art form.

Vuk Vuković is a doctoral candidate in the Department of History of Art and Architecture and Film and Media Studies Program at the University of Pittsburgh. His dissertation research examines the exhibition of time-based media, video art history, and the work of Nam June Paik.

About the RAC Research Stipend Program

The Rockefeller Archive Center offers a competitive research stipend program that provides individuals up to $5,000 for reimbursement of travel and accommodation expenses. Learn more on our Research Stipend page.