Deborah Sofia Moreno Ornelas

Laidlaw Scholar, Columbia University
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About Deborah Sofia Moreno Ornelas

Rising junior at Columbia University pursuing a double major in Economics and Art History. Proud Latin American with a passion for celebrating Latinx culture and exploring the social, political, and economic issues that surround the region. I'm deeply interested in the arts and culture, but also in business and economics. This summer I'll be doing research on the decolonization of art historical narratives from the late 19th/early 20th century.

I am a/an:

Undergraduate Scholar

Area of Expertise

Arts Economics Humanities

Research Topic

History of Art Politics


Columbia University

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Columbia University re_action for education

Recent Comments

Week 3

At this point in my research project, I’m still spending most of my time reading and reading and reading. The first couple weeks I was mostly reading on decolonial theory and art historians whose work problematizes Eurocentric art historical narratives. I was also looking into the Annenberg collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, an art collection made up of late nineteenth and early twentieth century Impressionist and post-Impressionist works valued at roughly $1 billion and considered one of the largest and most important gifts to the Met. I’m now shifting to digging deeper into the Annenberg collection and the history of the reception of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism - I’m looking into when and how these movements became a favorite of critics and the general public and why it is valued as it is today. I’m trying to bring attention to what in art history is being pushed aside or ignored in glorifying “masterpieces” like those in the Annenberg collection.

Throughout the day I read, add to my annotated bibliography, scribble notes and ideas in my notebook and a few different Google Docs. If it’s Wednesday, I meet with Professor Gamer, my project supervisor, in the mid-afternoon and spend the rest of the day making sense of my meeting notes. She usually refers me to some useful sources or gives me some feedback, so I use that to redirect where my project is going.

Pictured here: the pile of books that sits next to my desk (and which I’m in the process of reading!) + my long collection of sources in Zotero.

Week 2

At this early stage of my project, my research hasn’t yet incorporated any interviews nor ethnographic research. However, I do think that community engagement is at the forefront of my mind when planning and working on my project (even if I’m not directly interacting with them, at least not yet). One of the main objectives of my project is to turn my academic research into a public-facing project that makes the conversation around “decolonizing” art history and the art world more accessible to people outside academia or elitist art spaces. If these dialogues stay exclusively within communities of people that have specialized art knowledge or who are part of high-class and predominantly-white circles in the arts, what’s the point of talking about decolonization? It defies the whole point.

I’d say the community I’m trying to engage with outside of academia and people in the arts, is the general public, whether that is museum-goers, art aficionados, or just regular folks who every so often run into art in their lives. I aim to start dialogue, make clear connections that are often ignored, and make the discourse of decolonization accessible to art-loving people who are excluded from the same elitist art world that perpetuates Eurocentric and othering art historical narratives.

Week 1

For my second Laidlaw summer, I’m doing a research project with a public-facing component focused on the “decolonization” of art history. Over the next month and a half I’ll be looking into Western-centered art historical narratives from the late 19th and early 20th centuries from a decolonial perspective and how ideas of modernity in art are inherently tied to colonialism. Conversations around the decolonization of art history are relatively recent and it’s an ongoing dialogue that is just starting to take flight, so there are a lot of knowledge gaps to fill and space for new ideas on what a decolonized art history would look like. Because of this, I would say that more than worried about saying something that has already been said, I’m worried about saying something that’s superficial and not convincing enough for a discipline that has relied on the same methods and narratives for a long time.

My project is completely different from the research work that I was doing last summer. I don’t really think my research project from last summer really influenced my project this year. I think over the past year I’ve become much more aware of the problem areas of art history as an Eurocentric knowledge-producing discipline and I’ve developed a sort of critical lense through which I think about art historical narratives now.

Replying to Sina Fayaz Monfared
  1. How has your understanding of leadership changed from our workshops on this topic (or has it)?

These workshops were tremendously helpful as they helped me refine my perception of leadership and what makes a good leader. Prior to attending these workshops, most of my understanding of leadership and leadership qualities was focused on outcome-side of things. I did not have any knowledge of the phycological processes that help a successful leader make calculated decisions. I am confident that the leadership skills that I acquired through these workshops will help me succeed in the future. 

  1. As you consider your research project, what questions or challenges are forefront in your mind? What first steps do you intend to take to start your project?

After the workshop on mind traps, I have an emerging concern about my research. The topic of my research is a hotly-debated controversy among my friends and family. Therefore, I have already been exposed to a myriad of opinions about my topic. My concern is that these opinions might adulterate the integrity of my research. I am wondering how I can prevent this from happening.

Hey Sina! I relate to your concern of the integrity of research being adulterated by opinions. In my case, I feel very strongly about the central issue I'll be researching, and, because I'll be analyzing artworks that engage with and depict that issue, I'm afraid of how much my work will be influenced by that. Although I infer our disciplines and projects are very different, I'm sure our faculty mentors might be of help in identifying strategies to prevent this.

  1. How has your understanding of leadership changed from our workshops on this topic (or has it)?

I really enjoyed Pamela’s workshops and think that what stuck with me the most was the co-active multidimensional model of leadership. That is not to say that prior to this week I had a “only-one-way-of-leading” understanding of leadership, but the way she laid out the model helped me a lot in identifying what my strengths in a leadership position are and what I could work on a bit more.

  1. As you consider your research project, what questions or challenges are forefront in your mind? What first steps do you intend to take to start your project?

Because I have no access to Avery Library and physical books/catalogues, I was having a hard time finding resources and artwork images that suited my original research plans. I had to shift my project’s focus from early modern art to contemporary art, and although I’m super excited about where my research is going, I’m afraid of the challenges this change may bring. Modern art just makes sense to me, I’m very familiar with it, and the way primary sources come into play seems natural to me. Contemporary art is… sometimes weird, and it is definitely out of my academic comfort zone. For instance, for a part of my project I’ll be dealing with performance art, a practice I find deeply interesting but to which I’ve only been formally exposed to through a couple museum visits and a 60-minute lecture. That will undoubtedly be challenging, but I’m optimistic that the learning and growth will be greater than the difficulty. By working on contemporary rather than modern art, I’ll also have the opportunity of engaging with the representation of issues that affect my home country in a more direct and relevant way in the present and perhaps even of talking to the artists whose works I’ll be researching (turns out my faculty mentor is Facebook friends with one of them!).

I’ve also been reflecting a lot on how we think, write and conduct research about the history of art when it’s still being written. How does this research practice differ from investigating art produced hundreds or even thousands of years ago? Next week I’ll be assembling the corpus of images of the specific artworks I’ll be working with, gathering information about the social and political background of gender violence and feminicide in Latin America, and figuring out what a research model on contemporary art may look like.