Last Friday was the final day to view part one of the Pratt Institute’s annual MFA thesis show at the Pfizer building on Flushing Avenue in Brooklyn. From March 27 through April 7, Making Place: Histories and Heritage, curated by Pratt alumna Sofía Shaula Reeser-del Rio, formally presented the practices of 21 Pratt MFA candidates. Spanning both traditional and new media, the works on view explored and restructured collective and personal narratives within the scope of race and culture, sex and gender, language and geography, and beyond.
Upon entering the 7th-floor gallery space, I came across a curious but inviting threshold flanked by two large-scale painted portraits overlaid with intricate patterning. Examining the notions of belonging and being an outsider between two cultures, painter Monica Srivastava fastidiously painted her self-portraits entwined with the jali motif, or the carved lattice wood or stone screens that inform and beautify Indian architecture. Srivastava rendered her self-portrait 10 times with varying levels of figurative ambiguity through the colorful reinterpretation of the jali and its fragmentation of light, placing herself in the scape of ancient Indian temples and tombs to solidify her identity as an Indian woman in light of the diaspora.
Beyond the doorway, Srivastava curated a selection of sari textiles suspended and draped from the ceiling in a warm, dimly lit mini-room with a painted tile flooring, further exploring how fabric connotes connectivity and both family and cultural lineage. Srivastava quite literally conveys the comforts and discomforts of existing at the threshold between two cultures — neither of which would willingly claim you as one of their own.
Just beyond Srivastava’s section was a large, mixed-media installation by Sarah Wang Pitts, a half-Chinese artist from London, unpacking the concept of language loss as a mixed-race experience. Crafted from drawings, prints, sculptures, and “broken” calligraphy, Wang Pitts’s 2022 installation “Family of Memory” touches upon orally-told histories and the holes that follow when mother tongues aren’t passed down to the next generation following the diaspora.
Ethan Tasa used his technical skills across drawing, painting, and printmaking to reconcile with his internalized conflicts surrounding the culture and expectations of being raised in South Dakota. In quiet, faded acrylic paintings that hint at interspecies relationships and pastoral landscapes and over-the-top replica postcards of tourist attractions such as Mt. Rushmore and the Badlands national park, Tasa examines the disconnect with the broader preconceptions of South Dakota in relation to lived experiences. Tasa also represents himself in opposites — both figuratively and symbolically, colorfully and in black and white, realistically and arbitrarily — to own his narrative and personal history, contradictions and all. I was particularly fond of Tasa’s lovingly rendered parakeets that made frequent appearances throughout his section.
Both Miranda Ratner’s and Olivia Terian’s textile-based practices were immediately eye-catching with explosive colors and inviting, tactile whimsy. Through their own devices, Ratner and Terian independently highlight the world’s irresponsible creation, consumption, and disposal of textile and plastic waste through the reuse of said materials. Ensnaring viewers with the sensory excitement of a ceiling installation that emulates a baby maze roller coaster toy coupled with both utilitarian and abstract woven bags and blankets, Terian uses materiality to reflect on the quintessential NYC experience of “convenience is king.” And Ratner marries opposites through her trash-based fractal wall hangings and sculptures that reference ceremonial elements of Jewish marriages.
Pakistani artist Noormah Jamal built upon layers of nuanced representation and generational baggage through her paintings, pastel works, and ceramic sculptures rooted in the culture and aesthetics of her Pakhtoon (Pashtun) upbringing. On the floor, Jamal planted her Bloom (2023) series, a variety of glazed ceramic, solemn-looking human faces bursting from leaves like cabbage heads, on a mound of dark mulch interspersed with the smaller ceramic Weeds (2023). These sculptures address the complexities of ancestral lands and boundaries, neglect and trauma, and rising from the ruins of global suppression. Through her 2D works, Jamal colorfully renders day-to-day life folded into imagined stories and exaggerated landscapes that resist the stereotypical representations of Muslim people in contemporary art.
Each of the artists showcased in Making Place: Histories and Heritage has developed a unique, individual language to represent their stories and personal autonomy amidst an environment that relies on division and prioritization of those with privileges. If you weren’t able to view part one, make sure to put Making Place: Politics and the Body on the calendar for part two, opening on April 24 from 6pm to 8pm. Showcasing the thesis work of the remaining 20 artists of the 2023 cohort, part two will be available to view through May 5.