Art, Identity and Study Abroad

Outtakes and thoughts from The AWAY Show, at Massachusetts College of Art and Design: showcasing the work and reflections of study abroad returnees

By Shanti Zschocke and Veronica Pedrosa, current students at Massachusetts College of Art and Design

The experience of travelling is unique to every individual. Regardless of what corners of a city you visit, which local foods you taste, or the time of year you schedule your trip, the emotions and thoughts you draw from your travels will never be exactly the same as someone else’s. The journey that brings you from one location to another goes back the origins of your culture and the history of your family. As personal taste, encounters, and ambitions develop, this journey affects how you interpret and respond to the world around you. Art is a broad form of expression that is optimal to represent this experience: from the medium you choose to the patterns in a piece, anything drawn from landscapes or cultures can be a beautiful way to share how it feels to live in a foreign place. Artists have the capability of transforming personal experiences into something universal through their work, and this becomes especially appropriate when sharing experiences abroad.

As an American citizen of Indonesian-German descent, who let the U.S. at a young age to live in Peru, Germany and Kenya before returning to the U.S. for college (Shanti) and an international student from Colombia currently transplanted in Boston (Veronica) — our travels have dramatically influenced our art making process, and our art is ultimately tied to our identities. By getting international exposure, we have come to understand and appreciate a variety of stories about cultures, building an open mind to the differences that make our world so beautiful and inspiring. To produce meaningful art, one needs to coexist with people from different backgrounds. Having diverse knowledge is key when producing meaningful art.

Even though seeing art is one way to discover the world, nothing can compare to a journey in person. That’s why we curated The AWAY Show, an annual exhibition at MassArt which aims to portray exactly this, with a mix of pieces from different cultures, including paintings, photographs, sculptures, and performance pieces. The show is an exhibition that includes work from MassArt students who have studied abroad, international and exchange students, and students from different cultural backgrounds. All work displayed in The AWAY Show relates to the theme of travel and celebrates the diversity of and the global community at MassArt.

We’ve curated a few pieces below that highlight these experiences. Enjoy!

“Edinburgh” Embroidery, Edinburgh, Scotland. Photo credit: Rachel Nafis
I love making stitches; they’re simple, forthright, and I find the repetitive motion peaceful. Historically, stitches have been both necessary and decorative. They can help tell a story, record significant events, and pass information. The vocabulary of my work is drawn from textile traditions such as Japanese Boro Sashiko and Indian Sujuni where the running stitch is used to bind layers of fabric together. Much of my work centers on maps of land and memory. I am fascinated by the complex impulse to locate and coordinate ourselves and how individuals interpret the world around them. The maps I stitch embody my personal experiences; I tell stories about the world and myself. They are a record of places I’ve lived and reflections of travels. As representations of both physical and mental terrain, they depict the landmarks that give a sense of place in how I visualize the land: places I often visit, routes I take, moments where I was happy, etc. I am attempting to create a tangible record of memory and make something permanent from the fleeting. For this reason, I am continually captivated by the kind of information maps include. It can reveal a great deal about what is and is not significant to the maker.
Rachel Nafis is a senior Fibers major. She participated in MassArt’s first faculty-led travel course to India in fall 2014, and spent a semester exchange in Edinburgh, Scotland in Spring 2016.
“Royal Transcendence” Figure 1 Evening gown. Ethiopia. Photo credit: Kalkidan Adgeh
My identity as an artist and designer, stems from a deep love and appreciation for the culture and tradition I grew up with. Drawing from the essence of what it means to be an Ethiopian, and an African, I aim to show the beauty of the world I come from, but also address the real world issues that I have observed and been through. Socio-political issues have become a driving force behind my aesthetic and my art and design has become my weapon. The past Rulers and Emperors of Ancient Abyssinia inspired this particular eveningwear design and attempts to show the power and elegance of the wives of these Emperors, whose impact and legacy on our people and country is often times, undervalued and overlooked.
Kalkidan Adgeh is a senior Fashion Design major studying in the U.S. from Ethiopia.
“House” Photography. Barra, Scotland. Photo credit: Jennifer Smith.
I had never lived outside of the United States prior to my exchange at The University of Edinburgh, and learning how to acclimate to a new cultural and geographical environment for the five months of my visit was an invaluable experience. In addition to studying at university and exploring the beautiful city of Edinburgh, I traveled to Prague, Budapest, Vienna, Paris, London, Barra, Oban, Skye, and the Scottish Highlands. The accessibility of train and plane travel while in Europe was a great opportunity to see as many places as possible. The freedom one has to roam and investigate the world as a student is an opportunity that should be utilized and exploited. After my experience abroad, I have created connections in multiple countries and have collected some of my favorite memories to date. As an artist, I use photography to interpret the world around me; the ability of the camera to capture the likeness of the physical environment serves as a method to process and reinterpret what is seen. Photographs not only function as a source of recollection but also capture a fragment of the world that can be shared and spread to a vast audience.
Jennifer Smith is a photography ’17 major at Massachusetts College of Art and Design who spent her second semester of junior year studying abroad in Edinburgh, Scotland.
“Untitled” Charcoal and acrylic on wood. Photo credit: Anagha Prasan
I spend days staring at a blank wall in my studio. Then, something rustles and I start creating — lines, colors, textures, shapes. At this point, my subconscious decisions are driving my process, and all I do is listen. My studio becomes a space for me to isolate my subconscious from the chaos of my environment, in an attempt to investigate the underlying flow of thoughts that inspire my mark making — a unique language. So far, I have come to discover that this work of art represents a subconscious catalog of linear elements, inspired through incessant traveling. Driven primarily by intuition, my work borrows from memories and recollection of patterns that I have come across while in transit. Additionally, the subconscious decisions I take are heavily influenced by my understanding of home and that what is foreign.
Anagha Prasan, 2017, is an Art Education and Painting double major from India, who participated in a MassArt travel course to her home country in January 2015.
“Double-bind (Self-Portrait)” Figure 2 Acrylic on canvas. U.S. and China. Photo credit: Moxin (Sunny) Chen
The writing on the left side of the background is the lyrics of my favorite Christian songs (Oceans [where feet may fail] and One Thing Remain) that come into contact with me at the very beginning of the time when I just came to U.S and started to know about Christianity and totally different culture. Christianity changed my way to think about the world, life, family, relationship, and myself. The calligraphy on the right side is Heart Sutra (心經Xin Jing — A Buddhist scripture means Heart of the Perfection of Wisdom) that has been accompanying with me many years since I was around age 9 (My mother taught me Heart Sutra). The Heart Sutra is mainly talking about ‘Emptiness’ which, from my understanding, has the meaning of selflessness. I look at myself, not others, to see the flaws I have from self-questions and self-reflections and then try to wash them away. Those two different religions are like self-psychotherapies that both bring me significant spiritual influences and positive energies. They are the lights that lead me walk from the darkness whenever I feel depressed, lost and dejected. However, sometimes I feel myself not belong to any of them.
Moxin (Sunny) Chen is a sophomore double major in Painting & SIM (Studio for Interrelated Media). She is a Chinese citizen, and will be traveling to Cuba as part of a MassArt, faculty-led travel course in January 2017.