Richmond summers can be hot and humid, but not even that prepared Nastassja Swift (B.F.A. ’15) for the August heat when she landed in Qatar. Swift, who studied painting and printmaking on the Richmond campus, is VCUarts Qatar’s 2015–2016 Artist in Residence. The residency program was established in 2011, making Swift its fifth participant.
In addition to her artistic development and culminating show, Swift is a teacher’s assistant for a painting course and an assistant with the digital lab and printmaking studios. She is also the advisor for Contemporary Fiber Crew, a student organization she started, where students learn various fiber processes and how to use specific materials.
For Swift, moving to Doha hasn’t been a seamless transition, but it’s been an eye-opening and humbling one.
“My ride to school or visit to the grocery store has become a part of my daily routine and I often forget that I’m in another country. But even those things are often interrupted by the norms of Doha—like the roads changing ever so quickly or the grocery store being closed for prayer,” said Swift. “Doha is changing almost everyday, it continues to feel like a new place.”
Cultural nuances aside, being an artist in a new country also comes with its own life lessons.
“Living in Richmond for the past four years, I knew where everything was, in terms of materials. Then I came to Doha, where there aren’t very many choices of where to find materials, so I had to quickly adapt. Whether it was building a frame loom on my studio wall, or being conscious of future material needs when ordering, I’ve learned to adjust and to also appreciate the access I had to certain materials I had back home.”
Swift graduated in spring 2015 and she hasn’t slowed down yet. She spent the summer at a residency program at Vermont Studio Center, which left her with a mere nine days to prepare for her international, multi-month stay in Doha.
“I struggled with jumping back into the studio. I needed time to really think about what I was making and ask myself questions about my work,” she said. “Luckily, the faculty here eased my worries of needing to immediately, and I was able to just be in the studio and sketch and read and sketch some more without committing. Taking that time in the beginning has played a major role in the development of my studio practice.”
Swift’s solo exhibition “I Keep Repeating it Over and Over in my Head” showed at the VCUarts Qatar Gallery from March 27—April 3. Her pieces show off both her painting and craft talents, including felting, weaving and dying. As for plans after Doha? Graduate school may be on the horizon, but Swift’s not rushing it.
“For now,” she says, “I want to continue learning about myself as an artist and person before stepping back into the realm of being a student.”
Above: Swift working on her exhibition, using a wet felting technique. Photograph by Rachel Cohn, assistant professor in art foundation at VCUarts Qatar.