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Halifax MFA Offers Unrivalled Freedom

The MFA in Media Art from the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design in Halifax, Canada provides students with unusual freedom in choosing to either hone in on a specific media practice or to study a set of them in an inter-disciplinary way.
BY Rajyasri Rao |   2012
Filmmaker Smriti Mehra did her MFA in Media Art from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Halifax

Independent filmmaker, Smriti Mehra who did her MFA in Media Art from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, in Halifax, Canada says she is indebted to the open and liberal approach provided by NSCAD for having given her the space and time to really figure the art form she truly loves.

Here are excerpts from an interview she gave Rajyasri Rao.

You have an MFA in Media Art from Nova Scotia College of Art & Design, Halifax, Canada. Can you tell us what Media Art is and what pursuing an MFA degree in it entails?

The MFA in Fine and Media Arts at Nova Scotia College of Art & Design, Halifax, Canada is cross-disciplinary in nature, although students can focus especially on audio and video, digital media, drawing, film, installation, painting, performance art, photography, printmaking or sculpture.

The program is also practice based. The work I did over two years was on one project that I pursued although that is not prescribed.

Looking back on your time at Halifax, what do you think you have taken away from there?

“There are many options for financial aid and the college administration is very helpful with resources — internal as well as external.”

I went to graduate school six months after finishing my undergrad studies in Communication Design. This course gave me time to reflect on and define my practice from where I had left off. I had already started building a body of work of short, non-fiction videos. I was able to build on that practice in a bigger, more informed and critical way.

What is Communication Design about, where did you do it from and under what broader program?

I did my bachelors at the Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology. My journey at Srishti was quite fluid. I studied graphic design for a year and a half. I was then in a lab space where we examined social media and focussed more on context.

As students of the course we helped organise two conferences ‘Development by Design’ and ‘Sunoh’ in which we also participated.

“Halifax is a small city but it has a few large universities and so is filled with a diverse student community. I found it an ideal place to study because it had enough cultural things to keep you stimulated without the pressures of a big city.”

One of the first films I worked on was Silent Spaces which was an outcome from ‘Sunoh’. It is a film on sexuality and was made in collaboration with others in my class. I enjoyed the process immensely and then moved into the ‘Digital Video Production’ department at Srishti.

My diploma project was video based narratives that looked at migrant construction labourers in Bangalore. Structurally, there have been some changes in the ways students can navigate their courses at Srishti but the freedom it allows to charter their own learning is still at the very core of the philosophy of the institution. 

To return to your post grad study - how international is Halifax? Are there any financial aid options for South Asian students to keep in mind?

Halifax is a small city but it has a few large universities and so is filled with a diverse student community. I found it an ideal place to study because it had enough cultural things to keep you stimulated without the pressures of a big city. There are many options for financial aid and the college administration is very helpful with resources internal as well as external.

Can you tell us a little more about the financial aid available at NSCAD?

There are some bursaries and scholarships that the college gives out independently. In my first year I received the MFA Entrance Scholarship and Alexander J. McDonald Memorial award.

The finance department is also very good with guiding students to look for other external sources of funding. In my second year I received a scholarship from the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation.

You are now an independent film maker. Can you tell us a little about the films you have worked on so far?

“There are some bursaries and scholarships that the college gives out independently. In my first year I received the MFA Entrance Scholarship and Alexander J. McDonald Memorial award. In my second year I received a scholarship from the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation.”

I am fascinated by my role as both a purveyor of information and storyteller. I enjoy the challenge of taking the mundane and everyday and reassembling these details into visible intricacies.

My films tend to look at labour practices and examples of these are Neerinakallu (Waterstone) that looks at the ritual of work at a Dhobi Ghat. DeadBeat is a short video of the meat market. PushpaPatha: The Flower Trail looks at the journey of plucked flowers in the city of Bangalore. Tade (Impediment) looks at the cleaning of a tank after the immersion of Ganesha idols on Ganesh Chaturthi.

Most of the spaces I go to stem from a nostalgia I have for a way of life that I had once known and that no longer figures in my routine.

I used to go shopping to the meat market with my grand uncle, a dhobi used to come home twice a week and take clothes to wash, iron and starch in a big bundle on his bicycle and I don’t remember anything ever going missing.

Today I buy meat from the supermarket where it’s already cut and cleaned, I have a washing machine at home and the clothes I wear don’t need starch and so there’s no need for a dhobi.

To what extent has your current role been affected by your having been a student of Media Art? And in what way does your time at Halifax influence your current interests as a film maker?

My practice today has been shaped by my experiences, educational and otherwise. Studying abroad also broadened my horizons and I was exposed to so much more than can be quantified. I came across opportunities to travel and exhibit my work. I was very influenced by my mentors at Halifax, all of whom are very well accomplished artists.

“The degree of freedom the program offers is very liberating. I could have chosen to spend two years painting if I wanted to. This gave me the space to really think about what I wanted to do...”

The degree of freedom the program offers is very liberating. I could have chosen to spend two years painting if I wanted to. This gave me the space to really think about what I wanted to do and where I wanted to take my practice. I have always seen my role as a facilitator and a storyteller. My practice is unconventional and non-commercial. NSCAD gave me the confidence to stick by it.


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