Seven SMFA graduate students present their best pieces at the Tufts University Art Gallery’s Exhibit throughout April

The Tufts University Art Gallery continues its series of MFA thesis exhibitions from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts (SMFA) this month. The show is a strong representation of the work of emerging artists and allows viewers a rare glance into the SMFA’s studios.

The show, including seven different artists’ work, leans more heavily toward installation pieces than more traditional wall-hangings. Upon entering the gallery, viewers are confronted by a disjointed video projection of ocean and sky onto fragmented walls placed throughout the room. This piece, “Seas and Skies” by Georgie Friedman, is the most visually striking and cohesive work in the show.

Though it is only one work, the ever-shifting ocean waves crisply juxtaposed against clouds coasting across blue skies are immediately engaging. Viewers are free to wander in and out of the pillars the video is projected onto, like crabs among so many piles of rock on the beach.

Kathleen Rugh also works with video. In the lower area of the Tufts Gallery, her work at first appears to consist of a sculptural installation of film moving through an old-school video projector in endless loops, strung in back-and-forth lines in a DIY plywood shell. Crossing to the other side of the projector’s box, a single video appears on the far wall. Combining shifting images of the northeastern and the southwestern United States, Rugh’s work is aesthetically beautiful and contemplative.

The only artist explicitly working with the traditional medium of painting is Nelson Da Costa. A refugee of the Angolan civil war, Da Costa attended art school in Cuba before moving to the United States. Da Costa’s paintings engage the language of abstraction, dissolving figures and backgrounds into biomorphic shapes that bring to mind Keith Haring as much as they do contemporary graffiti.

The paintings’ acid colors are punchy and bright, but they also lend an air of superficiality that is only enhanced by the cartoon-like, rhythmic shapes throughout the pieces. Da Costa recognizes in his artist statement that he is trying to “rebuild himself” through his work, and perhaps that personal intimacy is needed to truly develop the paintings beyond their energetic surfaces.

Many of the artists here are tied together by their contemplation of themselves, a kind of interior digging brought outward. Rugh’s works, as well as Friedman’s and Da Costa’s, excavate memories and past experiences and incorporate them into a new vision. Nahna Kim employs her photography in the same way, exploring what it means to be Asian-American in today’s world. She explores her feelings of isolation in a series of photographs featuring herself as a solitary figure in a natural landscape, next to the kitschy souvenirs of a superficial Americanism.

Kim also displays a grid of photos in which she disguises herself as beauty pageant contestants from different states. Referencing the clichés of each area, the photos are visually dramatic. However, in the end they seem to access the same aesthetic frames of reference as fashion photography without moving too far beyond the genre’s unabashed visual sensuality. It looks like a kind of super American Apparel ad founded on more diverse stereotypes than hipsters alone.

Christine Roger’s photography is quiet. At first glance, her grid of family photos seems to be just that: families posing for obligatory portraits. Looking closer and longer, it becomes apparent that the artist herself is featured in each of the photos. She places herself in and among these people, creating false families that examine what is to be part of such a close group.