Hsu Chih-Yang, AG22 (MFA)

School: School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts 

Degree: Master of Fine Arts

What do you focus on in your art?

I’m passionate about the failures that occur in the flow of communication between a creator and someone participating in sensing, thinking about, or talking about a work of art—particularly when what’s being communicated is visual in nature. The failures provide an opportunity to obtain new meanings.

My passion was inspired by my own visual challenges: I am color-blind, and I had a lazy eye as a child. So, in my art, I try to represent my experience of seeing things. For example, in a solo show I recently put up at our Mission Hill studio, I hung up several punching bags close to the entrance and wrapped canvas printed with my childhood drawings around them. The bags were 75 to 200 pounds each. I wanted people to experience a bodily struggle coming into the show, to have to push forward to get to where they want to go, because that’s how I felt as a child whenever I had to pick a color. It was a struggle, and I wanted to embody the experience of struggling. But then it turned out that there was a fire code, and I couldn’t block the entrance! So, even that was interesting—the failure that occurred because of the difference between my artistic imagination and the realistic policy.  

Are there any particularly valuable lessons you’ve learned outside the classroom?

I’ve been working with the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired, the oldest organization in the country that serves adults and seniors who are blind or visually impaired. I visit the same client regularly and assist him in navigating touch-screen devices. He has some vision, but just on the periphery, so some tasks are difficult for him. I help him read letters, type, do things online, and just take care of some basic cleaning and maintenance.

But a lot of what I do is just listen. He likes to talk, so we have interesting exchanges. He’s much older than I am, and he grew up in an Irish immigrant family—whereas I am an international student from Taiwan. Our age differences and different cultures bring a lot of energy to our conversations. We share and compare our experiences of American society. And he inspires me. He often attends rallies, not for blindness welfare but for racial justice. That’s a kind of altruism that I want to bring into my art.  

What most surprised you about yourself during your time here?

I recently discovered a diary from 10 years ago, where I wrote something I had completely forgotten: that I wanted to someday live in a city without any acquaintances. Moving to Boston allowed me to check off that item on my bucket list. It’s surprising to me because I unconsciously achieved a goal I set for myself a long time ago. But also, just being here surprises me. It wasn’t in my plan at all, and it feels like serendipity, because I like Boston so much. People who leave Taiwan to study art in other places usually think of big cities: New York, London, LA. That’s what I thought of too, but then I came to Boston and it’s super chill, and the community feels very supportive—it’s so different from New York, say, and I like that difference. It makes me think: How can I take this feeling with me to wherever I go next? How can I maintain in my art the sense of community and the altruism I’ve found here?

This profile originally appeared as part of the series “Profiles in Inspiration: Commencement 2022 Spotlights."

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