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AICAD Fellow Sera Boeno Overcomes Visa Problem, Pandemic

By Mellany Armstrong

After having the start of her work delayed by a visa problem, AICAD (Association of Independent College of Art & Design) Post-Graduate Teaching Fellow Sera Boeno also faced the challenge of having the coronavirus pandemic interrupt her in-class teaching when she joined Moore College of Art & Design this spring.

Boeno is one of 17 fellows from the U.S. and Canada selected for the 2019-2020 academic year. The AICAD Fellowship offers eligible candidates a one-year teaching fellowship at a participating AICAD institution. She will be continuing her fellowship this fall.

How do you describe yourself?
I am a sculptor/installation artist from Istanbul, Turkey. Only child, cat-person, coffee-drinker, jewelry-lover, bedtime reader. I am a Taurus. 

Where did you go to school?
I have a BA from Dartmouth College in neuroscience and studio art, and an MFA in sculpture from Maryland Institute College of Art with focuses in art education, curatorial practice and critical studies.

Why did you get a degree in neuroscience? 

In retrospect, my interest in Neuroscience was more philosophical than career oriented. I was just interested in how the human brain and psyche worked.

What classes are you teaching at Moore?
This past term I taught all Fine Art classes,  Junior Studio II, Drawing as Contemporary Practice and Jewelry Concepts/Advanced Jewelry Concepts.

What do you like about teaching at Moore?
I love how close-knit it is. The small size and the fact that most students live on campus create a really sincere and community-focused environment. It has been wonderful to get to really know the students. 

What type of art do you practice?

I sculpt and make installations, mostly using concrete, bronze, found objects and digital fabrication methods. My work is research-based. Narratives of and around women from home, in topics such as intimacy, trauma, resistanc and ritual, are central to my practice, which I explore through a language of the archive, archaeology and monuments.

What projects have you done that you are most proud of?
Currently, I have an active, interactive art project as part of curator Nathalie Von Veh’s online exhibition not (yet) futura free hosted by STABLE in Washington DC. The project is in the form of an open call for units of a Dispersed Monument in the Future, where I provide a recipe and video follow-along instructions for turning papers of “heavy” emotional value into bricks at home. So far I have seen immigration papers, job applications, lay-off letters and non-remote syllabi. The participants then are asked to submit images of their bricks in isolation to the online exhibition at notyetfuturafree@gmail.com, and the monument exists as a photo archive of its units, until one day the bricks can come together to form a physical monument at a designated space. The project was initially conceived as a way to translate the bureaucratic excess of immigration processes in the U.S. into bricks using handmade, cleansing, healing, nurturing processes, but with the pandemic, it transformed into this collaborative open call as a way to document the time in material form. 

What are your plans for the future?
I still have a term at Moore, so in the fall I will be teaching two classes in undergraduate Fine Arts and a graduate studio course. I have a solo show coming up in August, and a group show some time in the fall. Of course, everything is in flux right now; I am unsure in what way, shape or form these will happen and whether some will happen at all. There is so much uncertainty both globally, due to the pandemic, and also specifically in the U.S., due to the recent protests. The protests have been rightfully shifting paradigms and priorities for individuals as well as institutions. In general terms, I just plan to keep making art and, hopefully, teaching.

What are you doing when you aren’t teaching?
When I am not teaching, I am in the studio working on my own practice, visiting museums and galleries, or maybe taking a class. 

What do you like to do when you aren’t working?
I have a daily routine of exercising, meditating, journaling and reading before bed that I try to honor every day. It keeps me grounded. I also like cooking and  watching movies. Sometimes, I’ll binge shows, although I try to reserve this for repetitive work in the studio. I like spending time with friends, although most of them are dispersed around the globe now, so If I have a longer period of time to not work, I travel to a new city and/or meet up with old pals. 

This has been a crazy semester with the coronavirus changing everything. How has it been to be an AICAD fellow during this time? You basically just arrived at Moore after your visa issues in the fall, and then you had to go back to Turkey! What happened and how did you feel about that?

It has been a crazy term, indeed. First I received a request for more evidence on my work visa petition, which was quite unexpected; multiple advisors and my lawyers as well associated this with the current political climate in the U.S. Simply put, immigration policies have gotten much stricter and visa processing is a business itself with higher fees for “premium” processing; statistics show there  has been quite an increase in requests for more evidence lately.

It was hard on many levels to have the approval of my visa status delayed. I was in this strange space of feeling rejected, not being able to start teaching at Moore or work as an artist (including showing or selling work) and also not being allowed leave the U.S. until the petition process had been finalized. I was fortunate enough to have the support of family and friends, and Moore was also very supportive in the process, deferring my fellowship to next term, so I am very thankful. The silver lining was that, once my visa was approved after the start of the Fall 2019 term, I had the rest of the term off, so I was able to spend some time back home with my family, something I have not been able to do for some time.

The pandemic hit quickly after I arrived at Moore, changing how people interact with each other on a global scale. There were so many moving parts to this, details from figuring out how to engineer a meaningful art learning experience for students on a platform that I have never thought on before, to the mental health aspect of isolation. For me specifically, there was also an extra layer of having to navigate this pandemic in a completely new city, on my own and with no support system. I don’t have an individual studio. I was part of communal studios that closed down, so my making had been greatly limited as well.

I did not necessarily have to go back to Turkey, but deciding where to be in the current state of things is a very individual decision. It also seemed like the U.S. health care system did not need another person on their hands at the time. Turkey was quickly closing borders, so as soon as Moore went remote I decided to book one of the last three seats on a flight and wait the pandemic out in Istanbul.

Luckily, the eight-hour difference was not a huge issue. Remotely teaching art courses was challenging, both for myself and the students for a lot of reasons—from limited facilities and space to low morale, boundary issues at home environments, screen fatigue, etc. My priorities as an educator quickly shuffled; the mediation of some sense of normalcy in students’ education and creating ways to help to continue to honor their art practice moved to the top. In my classes, I tried to turn the situation into an opportunity for grounding the students’ practices in current/global issues by asking them to critically/formally engage with the pandemic in their work, while also making space for grounding/wellness practices such as assignments that required the students to journal or (safely) go on nature walks alone. It was a huge challenge and a big learning experience, but I think all of my students did wonderful work. 

Published on June 4th, 2020