MFA Thesis Exhibits Invite a Closer Look

The show features the art of 23 graduating students of SMFA at Tufts

To get to the 2023 Master of Fine Arts Thesis Exhibition Been Here Before, on view at the Tufts University Art Galleries in Medford, you have to pass through a golden beaded curtain. You are welcomed to the space by Mrudhubhashini Vijayakumar’s sculpture titled “Please take something.” Its wooden bowls are filled with small scrolls of paper, each sealed by two brown hands.

So you take one. It reads: “Did you notice the women you brushed aside as you entered?” There, in the beaded curtain: small, female bodies strung among the pearls and other shapes.

There are more women nearby: Three vessels in feminine form, covered in dazzling, colored rhinestones. But you soon see that the women in the piece, titled “Does it matter what I say?”, are headless.

“The work I create uses beauty as a trap,” drawing viewers in close to find a deeper meaning, Vijayakumar writes in her artist statement.

There is much to be drawn into in Been Here Before, which features the thesis work of 23 graduating MFA students from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts. The collection of painting, sculpture, installation, photography, and performance is on view through May 21.

The show is described as exploring “thoughts of returning or revisiting—whether that is a return home, a return to previous ideas, revisiting constructions before our time, or even revisiting memories.”

a sweat lodge made of corn husks

Nallieli Santamaria, AG23 (MFA), Maize Womb, 2023, four channel video with sound, rhododendron branches, corn husks, pine needles, mirrors, silk, stones, jute rug, 9 x 9 feet

For Nallieli Santamaria, a Mexican American installation artist, that means creating spaces to heal personal and emotional trauma. Her “Maize Womb” video installation is a 9-foot sweat lodge made of corn husk and rhododendron. Projected images of a snake writhes on the textured walls as the sounds of whale songs and hummingbird wings surround the structure.

“I believe deep healing happens in the body, not the mind, and I prioritize the senses in all my work, using elements of movement, touch, smell, sight, and sound,” Santamaria writes in her artist statement.

Amanda Pickler is also interested in spaces, as she investigates queer intimacy within public and private places. She received a Dean’s Research Award to visit and document the Henrietta Hudson, a storied lesbian bar in New York City. Her oil painting of the bar’s patrons is part of the exhibit. “I am investigating the dichotomy between the pleasure we get in looking and the discomfort some might feel when consuming queer intimacy,” she writes. 

a painting of the interior of a lesbian bar

Amanda Pickler, AG23 (MFA), Henrietta’s – Pre Club Q Shooting, 2023, oil on canvas, 72 x 64 inches

Pardis Alipour’s artwork “Dinner Table” fits terror into a familiar domestic setting. A block table resembles a slab of raw flesh. Smaller cubes made to look like red meat surround it, like chairs pulled haphazardly away from a meal. Alipour, an Iranian artist, was thinking of the anti-government protests that began last year in her home country and the regime’s violent crackdowns.

“All the imagery that I was seeing of people dying felt like it was a very exposed violence that for so long was private,” she said on a recent visit to the gallery. “I kept thinking about how politics and violence enter the domestic space. The idea of the flesh table kind of started from there.”

A drape of dark hair hangs above the flayed table like a chandelier, recalling the Iranian women who cut their hair to protest the reported killing of a young Kurdish woman by the country’s morality police last year. Portraits of the supreme leader of Iran and the leader of the revolution look down from the walls, as they do from most public places in Iran, like restaurants and cinemas.

“It felt like Im finally getting them to watch something from their own actions rather than watching everyone else,” Alipour said.

A public reception with the graduate artists will be held at the Tufts University Art Galleries in Medford on Friday, May 19, from 6 to 8 p.m.

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