The Artistic Process—Paused

Two SMFA at Tufts students recall when they heard about COVID-related campus closures—and how they came to create once again after they relocated

When the COVID-19 pandemic shifted instruction from in-person to virtual, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University (SMFA at Tufts) had about 475 students, many of whom needed to move quickly and store art supplies and gear at the school at the same time that they made their plans to leave campus. 

For our retrospective on the Tufts community's early response to the pandemic, Tufts Now spoke with two SMFA at Tufts students about the moment they heard the news of the COVID-related closure—and how they continued to create in their new environments. 

Martina Tan, A21 (BFA and BS), started paying attention to COVID-19 because of the news that it originated in China, which triggered a wave of animosity toward people of Chinese or Asian descent.

“Being Chinese myself, I was really attentive to incidents of racism against Chinese people in the U.S. as people were becoming more suspicious about who was responsible for bringing in the virus to the country,” said Tan. “There was a lot of xenophobia cropping up at that time.” 

When she received the email informing students that they’d be switching to remote instruction after spring break, Tan was with three other students in a metal studio at the school.

“It was very weird. There was a lot of shock. After 10 or 15 minutes of us talking about it, trying to react to it, one person was just, like, ‘This sucks.’ That kind of sums it up,” Tan recalled. 

After she moved home to Mount Laurel, N.J., she had to use her childhood bedroom as a studio space, and she started an art project related to sending mail and keeping in touch during the pandemic. 

Just before spring break last year, Freya Gupta, A24 (BFA and BA), was about to pack a suitcase for a trip with friends. But instead, she found herself packing all her things. As an international student from India, she wasn’t sure where to go when the announcement came last March that campus would be closing due to the pandemic.

“I was in communication with my parents a lot. We were very worried that staying in the U.S. would be a bad idea, but also not staying here would be a bad idea,” she said.

They decided the safest move was to not travel internationally, and she moved in with some relatives. 

“Transitioning from the SMFA... was a crazy process. I was in a basement with none of my art supplies,” said Gupta. “It was two months before I finally was able to create again, and when I did, I let go of that feeling of isolation and pent-up creative energy.” 

Back to Top