First-of-Its-Kind Group Show Brings Together Artists from MFA Programs around Boston
Intersections: Artistic Dialogues in Boston’s Graduate Fine Arts Community on view at Piano Craft Gallery through July 3
If there’s anyone uniquely suited to curate a show featuring art from numerous Master of Fine Arts programs around the city, it’s Kamal Ahmad, an interdisciplinary artist and curator-director of the Piano Craft Gallery in the South End.
“I went to two different MFA programs, and I always said I felt that there was no [formal] connection between those programs,” says Ahmad (CFA’16), who graduated from BU in 2016 and went on to graduate from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in 2019. “The faculty sometimes knew each other, but the students didn’t, and they didn’t know what exactly was going on in each other’s programs.”
Ahmad’s frustration with the lack of interconnectedness among the city’s art programs spoke directly to concerns held by Josephine Halvorson, a CFA professor of art and chair of the school’s MFA painting program, and colleagues at other local art programs when they convened in summer 2022. Halvorson, Laurel Nakadate, a professor and chair of graduate studies at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, and Ben Sloat, director of the Lesley University MFA program in visual arts, were looking to create new opportunities for MFA and postgraduate students across the city to exhibit their work jointly.
“The idea was, how can we get all of the studio MFA graduate students to get to know each other as colleagues across Boston?” Halvorson says. “We wanted to generate an opportunity for students to be in dialogue with each other, to have something in common. It also gives them a chance to think critically about what graduate education is.”
After looping MassArt in on the idea, Halvorson and her colleagues pitched the idea to Dana Clancy (CFA’99), director of CFA’s School of Visual Arts and an associate professor of art. The Piano Craft Gallery was a natural choice for this first-of-its-kind show (aptly titled Intersections, on view now through July 3), as it had hosted BU MFA exhibitions in previous years. Ahmad says he relished the challenge of curating works across 4 schools, 7 programs, and by 43 graduate students—24 from BU.
“I graduated from the MFA programs as an immigrant. I came to this country looking for opportunity—nobody knew me at the time, but someone did give me the opportunity to show my work,” says Ahmad, who was born and raised in Iraqi Kurdistan. “I learned from that experience that whenever I have the power, I should do something to make an opportunity for other students.”
The exhibition is the culmination of a yearlong project to help the students get to know one another. Previous events included a mixer in September at BU’s 808 Gallery and a PechaKucha—a storytelling event involving short, individual presentations—held at Lesley in March.
“It was really wonderful; students just mingled,” Halvorson recalls of the mixer.
Mae-Chu O’Connell (CFA’24), a student in the MFA sculpture program, says their work explores “social anxieties, particularly those that begin in childhood as ‘harmless’ peculiarities.” Their piece in the Intersections show is a video, shown on an iPad, where they apply makeup using tools like hammers and screwdrivers, which O’Connell says engages their own coming to terms with social anxiety and their mixed-race identity. Meeting other artists with shared backgrounds and concerns at the PechaKucha mixer and in the group show made a powerful impact on them.
“It was an introspective moment of community for me to see that we were all working through these complexities and hardships of being a non-white person in America,” O’Connell says. “It’s nice to see the larger Boston MFA community at work, and it’s comforting to know that there are other people in the same boat, in this intense process of refining and reinforcing one’s artistic voice.”
Emily Rice (CFA’24) says the goal of the show isn’t simply to bring artists together to highlight their similarities. The differences—in theme, practice, medium, and motivation—are equally, if not more, important.
“I think one very important aspect of participating in group shows is to emphasize our diversity,” says Rice, who is studying in the MFA Print Media & Photography program. “There are so many MFA students from various backgrounds and demographics; each brings their own unique topics, with expertise in varying mediums.”
Both Rice’s and O’Connell’s work address mental health, neurodivergence, and vulnerability—but in vastly different ways. Rice’s work combines printmaking techniques such as silk screening and monoprint (where, unlike most forms of printmaking, the process can only be completed once) with photographs of natural elements like rocks and vines; the result is an abstraction of nature, patterns repeating in deep greens and yellows.
Linda Obobaifo (CFA’24), a student in the MFA Painting program whose painting and sculpture is included in the exhibition, says there’s a junction between similarity and divergence that’s crucial for artists to explore with one another. It’s in this liminal area that artistic growth frequently occurs, a point underscored by the group show.
“As I am an abstract artist, I also have interests in portraiture,” says Obobaifo, who incorporates textural elements like lace into her works. “I learn so much from representational painters, and they learn a lot from abstract artists. We each learn from each other because there are so many similarities within our differences.”
Ahmad says he hopes visitors will discover “exactly what quality of MFA programs this city has, how the new generation thinks, and how they make art.” He was able to explore these ideas in detail during studio visits with the 43 artists, some of them with Erik Grau (CFA’10), Piano Craft Gallery president. At the end of each visit, the curatorial team would select one or two works from each student to go in the exhibition.
“We talked about my background, motivations, current art practice, and the challenges that I’m struggling with,” Painting program student Sidharth Shah (CFA’24) says about his studio visit.
Shah, whose work involves endangered animals, exhibited his Destiny of Pangolins, a large-format watercolor in earthy browns and greens featuring an animal skeleton, curled up as if sleeping, in the center.
“I have hardly shown any of my work, coming from a nonart background, so this was a great opportunity for me,” he says. “Art is so isolating in some ways, and an inter-school exhibition is a great way to examine, and situate oneself, in the local art scene.”
Intersections: Artistic Dialogues in Boston’s Graduate Fine Arts Community is on view through July 3 at the Piano Craft Gallery, 793 Tremont St., Boston. The gallery is open Fridays from 6 to 8 pm and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 5 pm; admission is free. Learn more about Intersections here.