Using Art to Look Through Limitations
Use the hate to fuel the work.
This is the mantra of artist Camila Alexandra Sánchez-Longo, MFA '21.
“Every time I felt defeated by someone’s attitude, by hate speech, by the overwhelming amount of work it takes to earn a Master’s in Fine Arts degree, and the weight of a pandemic, I keep thinking that I deserve to take up the space that has been systematically denied to me,” Sánchez-Longo explained. “I want to be a bridge for other people to be able to enjoy the research and opportunity the School of the Museum of Fine Arts (SMFA) at Tufts can give. I keep that as my north star.”
Sánchez-Longo is a mixed media artist who uses printing, ready-made objects, illustration, performance, and sound to create audio and video installations and public art interventions. Her focus is on the themes of colonization relating to the United States occupation—and the violence it produces—in her native Puerto Rico. She hopes her work helps viewers understand the socio-political aspects of such violence.
Tufts, said Sánchez-Longo, is where she learned to believe in herself in order to push through the boundaries of what she thought she could do as an artist and open herself up to the world. “It gave me the opportunities to apply to so many different awards and research competitions, challenge myself and challenge what I thought I deserved, or what I thought were my capabilities,” she said.
One such opportunity came when Sanchez-Longo earned a spot in the SMFA’s Hamburg Exchange Program, a trip for which she had planned to leave as the COVID-19 pandemic began. Just as she was packing for Germany, the world began to shut down. Instead, she went home to Puerto Rico.
However, had she not moved back to Puerto Rico, she said her master's thesis project would not exist in its current form. The project, based in San Juan, centers on “the underbelly of colonialism and the constant injustice of imperialism,” something the pandemic has made worse in Puerto Rico, she said.
Sánchez-Longo described her project as a “multi-geographical satellite exposition” that will dialogue with the SMFA graduate art gallery in Boston exhibiting the thesis show. In Puerto Rico, it will be a solo exhibition at an historic site linked to colonization called El Bastion. It opens May 21.
“I’m expanding the conversation geographically about what that political tension of colonialism really is and what it means through my creative visual representations,” she said. This will include performances, virtual screenings, and a webinar. The University of Puerto Rico, Humacao Campus will help the two communities have the conversation “across the sea.”
Back at Tufts, Sánchez-Longo cited Megan McMillan, professor of the practice in sculpture, and Karmimadeebora McMillan, a lecturer in painting and drawing, as SMFA mentors who were instrumental in her success. She added that the collective wisdom of all the professors in SMFA is a big benefit to the program because she felt the openness from them for support and collaboration.
Sánchez-Longo said Karmimadeebora McMillan stands out because she convinced her to remain at Tufts after a discriminatory incident during her first semester. “She encouraged me to use my voice as a tool against that sort of horrible systemic issue. And, really, she was a rock for me,” said Sánchez-Longo. “She went the extra mile to connect me to other professors that could be supportive due to the culture shock I was experiencing.”
For the future, Sánchez-Longo would like to further develop her artistic practice through the different opportunities she has learned about via SMFA. She would like to remain in Puerto Rico because of how connected she feels with the people, her family, and the land.
Above image: Camila Alexandra Sánchez Longo. MFA21, poses for a portrait via FaceTime from her apartment in San Juan, Puerto Rico on April 18, 2021. (Alonso Nichols/Tufts University)