Nikki Silva, AG22 (MFA)

School: SMFA at Tufts

Degree: Master of Fine Arts

Undergraduate majors: Political science and sociology

Why was SMFA at Tufts the right place for you?

My original plan was to go to law school, become a human rights lawyer, and launch a career in that field. Luckily, though, I landed an internship at a nonprofit law firm. It was great, and the lawyers who worked there were super nice—but they seemed just beaten every day, and very tired.

One day, one of the lawyers said, “You know, I wish I hadn’t gone to law school right away. If you're not 100 percent certain that this is what you want to do, don't apply.” I took that into consideration, and I realized that to address systemic problems or to help people in the way that I wanted to, maybe law school wasn’t the only option. I thought about how art is accessible—or how it can be: you can make it as accessible as you want it to be, and there are ways to use it to help change things. I stopped studying for the LSATs and I focused my energy on the arts. But I still wanted an interdisciplinary approach, and Tufts was one of the few schools that offered that.

What’s the focus of your studies?

The original focus of my art was on issues related to law, human rights, and political science. I thought that maybe down the line I’d get a Ph.D. in one of those fields and then find a way to teach both art and whatever subject I landed on in an interdisciplinary way. But, as with a lot of people, the pandemic has turned me more inward. Recently, I've been doing work about family. My own family is Italian American, and I’ve been looking at Italian American immigration history, particularly in Rhode Island, where I’m from.

I’ve also been interested in getting involved with the community around me, finding ways to use printmaking for the good of the community. For example, I was working with a nonprofit in Connecticut to help them stage a nurse’s strike. The pandemic slowed that down, but I enjoyed that process. I like that artists can go to protests with screens and make multiple prints to hand out to protestors. That aspect of using art to help a community is very interesting to me.

What surprised you the most about your time here?

My undergraduate school was a very conservative place. It was surprising to come here and see how passionate people are about creating change. It was refreshing to see how bold and brave the students are; it’s been inspiring to work with them. There's just no fear—and there’s a sense of no limitation. I’ve felt the effects of that; it’s made it easier for me to try things that I've never thought about trying before. For example, I'm doing installation pieces for my thesis now, which I never thought would be the case. I came in with a focus on photography, and I thought I was going to stay with photography. But I haven't picked up my camera in three years.

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

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