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Essays

Building Empathy: Hunter MFA Graduates Face an Altered Landscape

By Carrie Moyer
HUNTER-MFA-portraits 2020

19 students graduating from the Hunter College MFA Program in Studio Art

Starting 10 November, Hauser & Wirth is hosting an online presentation of thesis work by 19 MFA candidates from New York City’s Hunter College. Originally planned as physical exhibitions at their Tribeca campus this spring and postponed due to COVID-19, this digital spotlight provides a new platform for these emerging artists from one of America’s leading MFA programs.

When the world as we know it screeches to an abrupt halt, the impact suffered by each of us is very specific. For the students in the Hunter College MFA Program in Studio Art, the closures brought on by COVID-19 pandemic meant no full-scale artmaking or access to their studios for over five months. Students set to graduate this past spring experienced this loss most keenly. After three years of working towards a thesis exhibition—the culminating event of our program—graduating candidates were stuck in limbo, not knowing whether or not anyone would lay eyes on their debut into the art world.

A public MFA program located in the heart of New York City, we were one of the first departments in all of CUNY to reopen its facilities over the summer under strict safety protocols. We did this with the unwavering support of Jennifer J. Raab, the President J. Raab, who has always understood, and bravely embraced, the importance of the arts at Hunter as well as New York City.

Our students returned to their studios in late July, but the world as we know it had radically changed. While it is too soon to see how our society will address the structural inequities laid bare by the pandemic and the abhorrent police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others, enforced isolation has given all of us time to reflect on the necessity of this cultural reckoning. Often, artists lead the charge, as is evidenced by the nineteen students in Hunter’s MFA class of Spring 2020. One of our students, Amra Causevic, said it perhaps most clearly: ‘Now I’m trying to merge the old self with my new self … I think it’s about community and building empathy.’

Amara_causevic-color
Hunter MFA graduate Amra Causevic in her studio, 2020
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Kristina Schmidt, Diorama, 2020

A vigorous awakening is taking place within the Hunter MFA Program on many fronts—administratively and pedagogically, as well as collectively and individually. How have our values been changed by living through this moment? Another student, Kristina Schmidt, puts it: ‘A painting such as Delacroix’s ‘Liberty Leading the People’ means something for the museum that owns or displays it. But how do we interact with this heritage, how do we transform our reality, our times, into something else?’

Perhaps against all odds, our graduating students now have the opportunity to exhibit their work at 205 Hudson Street this fall, albeit with a limited physical audience because of the pandemic. For this reason, we are extremely grateful to Hauser & Wirth for hosting this online spotlight, which will introduce our thesis candidates to a global audience as our program emerges from its old self to its new self.

Explore the Hunter College 2020 MFA Thesis Exhibition online featuring 19 candidates from the MFA Program in Studio Art. In addition to the digital presentation launching 10 November, Hunter College is hosting physical presentations of each of the thematic groupings, which are open by appointment only and at a limited capacity.

Carrie Moyer is Director of the MFA Program in Studio Art at Hunter College.