Meet Nallieli Santamaria, AG23 (MFA)

School: School of the Museum of Fine Arts

Degree: Master of Fine Arts

Home: No matter where I am or who I’m with, I’m at home—because home is within me.

What do you focus on in your art?

I make video installations. My thesis project is called “Maize Womb”—it consists of a dome made of rhododendron branches and corn husks, with four videos projected onto the outside of it and a soundscape played inside. The space is inspired by the Mesoamerican temazcal, or sweat lodge. The intention behind it is to create a space of healing and transformation that touches upon ancestral knowledge.

Much of my work has to do with healing and acknowledging ancestors, both human and nonhuman. Another piece I made was for the library, to celebrate the Day of the Dead. In Mexican culture, that’s a holiday for human ancestors, but for the library, I made a piece to honor trees whose lives were taken in order for us to have the paper to make books.

Why was the SMFA at Tufts the right place for you?

I started my MFA at the International Center for Photography, in New York. But when COVID hit, my program fell apart. I transferred to Tufts—and that ended up being the best thing that ever happened to me.

Previously, I was being rigorously trained as a photographer. At Tufts, the interdisciplinary program opened up a world of possibilities. I found so many opportunities to explore different art forms, and I gained a kind of confidence I couldn’t have imagined before—the confidence, for example, to put together a sculptural installation or create music.

Also, I’ve gotten so much from the classes I've taken at Tufts’ main campus, which I would not have had access to in my original program. I loved Japanese Visual Culture and Creative Writing in Spanish. There was an improvisational music-making class in the Experimental College; I could not have made my thesis piece without that class.

What’s your superpower?

Curiosity—and the willingness to follow my curiosity and see where it leads.

What’s next?

I’ll be a postgraduate teaching fellow here at Tufts and an instructor at Merrimack College. Ultimately, I want to combine my three areas of focus—community, healing, and beauty—to create artistic spaces that bring together social and visual elements. And I hope to create public art too, so anyone can walk down the street and see something magical.

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