School of Art

Savanah Pennell is a PhD student studying art history and education at the School of Art, focusing on Spanish Colonial art of the Southwest and contemporary Latinx art. An important aspect of her work is tying her research with social justice work. 

“For me, I think those things always go hand in hand. I can’t really see myself doing like just artwork that isn’t doing also that social justice work,” Pennell said. 

She started getting more involved with social justice clubs and organizations during her undergraduate years. 

“I think that was really what influenced me to want to bridge this gap between these two spaces that have historically always gone hand in hand together, but hasn’t always been taught,” she said. 

Raised in Mesa, she is not only an art historian, but also a curator and an artist. Pennell is a current University Fellow.

The University Fellows program is offered to the highest-ranking incoming graduate students. Fellows work on professional development, team building projects, mentoring, practice public speaking and presenting at conferences, and apply for funding.

“It’s a really incredible opportunity to be a part of the University Fellows,” she said. “It’s really great getting to work with people, getting to know people, from across all different disciplines across the university, I’m not sure otherwise I’d be able to get to know.”. 

Pennell got her BA in art history at Arizona State University and her BA in art politics from the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. She chose the University of Arizona School of Art because of the opportunities to immerse herself in research of the Borderlands. 

“Just generally working on researching the histories of Chicanx art in this region as it relates to histories of colonialism in this region and intersections between Indigenous culture and Spanish colonial cultures during the 17th and 18th centuries and how those histories are still very relevant to artists today.”

Pennell also does work related to repatriation. She is also researching a community in New Mexico whose artwork is housed in Colorado, to understand the best way to move forward and how to take care of those art objects that are respectful to its intended purposes. 

Additionally, she recently curated an exhibition at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College that investigates the role of community within Chicanx spaces in the Southwest and how it manifested. 

“A lot of this work culminated in events where we invited the community to the museum to talk about these things and to be welcomed within this space. I think for a lot of folks who came out those events, it was the first time that they really felt welcomed in a museum space. That was a really exciting thing that felt like it was actually beneficial to these communities.”

What keeps her motivated is knowing that her work is benefiting communities in the Southwest. 

“I’ve had some really great opportunities to work with different descendent communities within the Southwest and Indigenous communities in the Southwest…also knowing that my work will be able to give greater platforms to artists that have been historically underrepresented, like Latinx artists,” Pennell said. 

She says the best advice for incoming students is to try things outside of their comfort zones. 

“Try to be as open minded as you possibly can be,” she said. “That way they can broaden the type of theory and information that you’re getting.”