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MA Degree Show 2020: Creativity in a time of Covid

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Published on 08 October 2020

MA Degree Shows
MA Degree Shows

From subjects such as our interactions during lockdown, ocean pollution and sustainable textiles to loss, memory recall and ‘invisible domestic work’- the exhibitions highlight the array of artistic talent from our art and design students.

With many of their works borne out of their own personal experiences of the Covid 19 lockdown, academics say this year’s group have produced incredible works under challenging circumstances.  

The work by students from the MA Glass and Ceramics, MA Photography, MA Fine Art and MA Design programmes have been congratulated by guest speakers and Faculty of Arts and Creative Industries staff and students, during a virtual celebration event. Guest speakers included Andy Sandoz (Alumni graduate and partner and UK chief creative officer of creative digital consultancy, Deloitte Digital) and Nicholas Baumfield (Arts Council England).

Professor Kevin Petrie, Head of the School of Art and Design at the University of Sunderland, said: “What stands out for me is the resilience and creative drive of these graduating masters students - who despite the range of challenges presented by the pandemic have continued to develop and adapt their creative visions. 

“The range of outstanding work presented is testament to their professionalism and the qualities of adaptability, personal responsibility and cutting-edge creativity needed for Masters level study.”

Following the celebration event, the students’ work is available to view at www.sunderlandcreatives.co.uk – our online creative hub for the work and creativity of students, graduates and staff from the Faculty of Arts and Creative Industries at University of Sunderland.

Among those exhibiting their work at this year’s shows are: 

Iam Burn: MA Photography 

Iam Burn 

Iam, 48, from Sunderland, came into higher education later in life graduating from the Photography, Video and Digital Imaging degree in 2018 (first class BA Hons) and continuing his journey with the MA.

His multidisciplinary practice demonstrates a responsibility to the social and political capacity of photography – utilising his own traumas, experiences and curiosities to evoke a wider public discussion. Using photography as therapy has been a significant and influential element with Iam’s work. He is also an emerging sports photographer, primarily experienced in shooting football, horse racing and mass participation events.

Iam Burn artwork  

For his Degree Show he has created a body of work titled ‘Once’. It is a mix of images and haiku poetry looking at the subject of loss.

“Without sounding too morbid, it started with a personal revelation. I realised I had not fully grieved for someone I’d lost several years ago. It hit me that, because of the time that had passed, I probably never would. It made me think about all forms of loss we encounter as people throughout our lives. We share this connection, although we experience our losses in diverse ways.  But loss has another aspect that connects and affects us all.”

Once explores the threads that connect us all. It is a response to different strands of loss, asking the viewer to pause, reflect on this familiar subject and consider how it has impacted on their own life, and may affect them in the future.”    

Fedra Matolcsi: MA Photography 

Fedra Matolcsi

Fedra travelled hundreds of miles from her home country in Hungary to study her MA in Sunderland, but her on-campus experience was short-lived when Covid 19 hit within three months of her arrival. However, Fedra used the experience of lockdown to focus fully on her degree and experiment with ideas she says.

Fedra Matolcsi artwork  

Supported by the university with the equipment she needed and staff on hand for advice and guidance, Fedra says: “The pandemic surprised all of us and no one could prepare for what was going to happen. But being locked in a place while waiting on the pandemic to settle made me more passionate about my work and added variety to my days.” 

Her degree show entry, ‘Placelessness’ is inspired by those experiences of isolation. 

Based on the idea of place attachment, Fedra says: “Memories of places fill my mind when I think of my past. I travelled and moved so much, it almost feels like I have no home. Places that comforted me are not protecting anymore. The sadness of leaving these beloved spaces behind and breaking the attachments I felt are the strings that pulled this project together. This must sound sad now, but grieving my past also means I can go forward in my life.”   

Liz O Connell: MA Glass and Ceramics 

Liz O Connell

Mature student Liz O Connell is an emerging artist with Irish and Yorkshire heritage, through her research into her family’s links with textiles she creates visual sketchbooks, film and photographs.

Liz says she knew she wanted to study at the National Glass Centre the moment she paid a visit and has been inspired by her academics. 


Liz O Connell artwork

For her Degree Show project, Liz explores domestic narratives by making glass textiles and using them performatively, exploring complex ideas about gender and ‘invisible’ work. She reappropriates domestic detergents and materials, subverting domestic chores by filming the process and creating film stills and canvases.

“I have always been fascinated by textiles and materials, so I began to use glass threads to make textiles and then started to use the glass textile objects and film and photograph myself in the process. I was inspired by filmmaking and performance artists and encouraged to pursue this.”   


Terry Varley: MA Glass and Ceramics 


Terry Varley

A glass-blowing experience at the National Glass Centre with her husband, inspired freelance illustrator Terry Varley to apply for the MA, and she’s never looked back, enjoying learning all the different aspects of glass and ceramic. 

Inspiration for her entry to this year’s degree show, came from the sea life found around Lundy - an island in the Bristol Channel, off Ilfracombe - where annual family holidays were taken. In 2010 Lundy was made the first Marine Conservation Zone to help protect nationally important marine life, habitats and geology. 


Terry Varley artwork

Terry, from Northumberland, says: “Our oceans are in a dire state with all the pollutants and need more of these zones to help safeguard for future generations. I hope my work captures some of the essence and beauty of the undersea world for other people to enjoy.” 

Once she graduates, Terry hopes to improve on the glass etching and sandblasting techniques learned on the course, combining it with her illustrative work.  

Alice Potey: MA Glass and Ceramics  

Alice Potey

After living in the UK for five years, working in hospitality in Newcastle, French born Alice discovered a passion for pottery and turned to the National Glass Centre to explore her craft further.  

The 28-year-old, who also has a degreein Social Work, revealed how her lockdown experience influenced her MA Degree Show entry. 

 She explained: “The work I created this year was inspired by the current context of lockdown and the daily interactions people have with their sense of touch. Seeing as people were going back to crafts and hobbies using their hands, I decided to create work around the sense of touch and the changes we are going through as individuals in times of a global pandemic.

Alice Potey artwork   

“Lockdown was intense for everyone, I think. I just tried to take it slow and not let the frustration of having limited access to material get to me. There were ups and downs, having to adapt constantly.”  

Currently back in France, Alice is now perfecting her wheel throwing technique and plans to keep going with her passion for pottery.  


Lisa Thompson, MA Fine Art 


Lisa Thompson

As a freelance illustrator, Lisa Thompson, 32, from Northumberland, wanted to formalise her skills and develop them in an environment that would expand her horizons and give her the support and resources she needed. “Sunderland was the perfect choice for me.” 

Her entry into the MA Degree Show, 'Digital Bodies', focuses on our relationship with our own identity and bodies in digital space in contrast to the physical world.

Lisa Thompson artwork   

Lisa explains: “This initially was inspired by the difference between what people present on social media versus the real world. This developed over time to become more abstract and was informed by the different media I used. Some of my work was created in Virtual Reality which is where the inspiration for using light came from. Bringing these digitally sculpted bodies into the real world was interesting to me. My final installation involved an immersion experience where the light sculpture was presented in a dark room full of smoke that gave the work a surreal other worldly experience which I really enjoyed.” 

Although Lisa says she found lockdown hard to share her work the way she would like, the support of her tutors helped her through. She’s also celebrating landing a new role as a Digital Content Designer with the NHS Busines Authority, combing her professional experience with her creative side. “I’m really excited about it,” she says.  


Joanne Liddle, MA Fine Art

Joanne Liddle artwork   

The opportunity to study Fine Art came with a move back to the region for Joanne Liddle having lived in London for 40 years. 

Joanne, 60, felt she needed something productive to do, after her move from friends and finishing working. “My first degree was in Theatre Design, but I always wished I'd done Fine Art. My own practice felt 'stuck' and I thought doing the MA would be a way to push me forward with that. I also enjoy academic study.”  

Joanne’s entry for this year's degree show was two series of paintings 'Black series' and 'White series', and two video/sound collages. 

She says: “The body of my work is rooted in memory and how we perceive and process memories. It's also an exploration of time passing and how this affects our memory recall.” 

As someone with fragile health, Joanne’s life was not vastly changed by the Covid lockdown, but she missed the big studio space she had at University. “I had to manage my impulse to work on a large scale, otherwise, I have been happy to work at home with the regular online tutorials.”  


Sophie Henderson: MA Design


Sophie Henderson

With a Bachelor's degree in Fine art and experience working as a milliner before running her own streetwear accessories brand for six years, Sophie decided it was time to continue her professional practice and  challenge herself to see what she could achieve with a Master's degree.  

Her MA also proved a welcome distraction and something positive to occupy herself with throughout lockdown.

Sophie Henderson artwork  

Her final design was inspired by textiles techniques and their origins, paying homage to the women who developed them over generations.

“These techniques were often sustainable, utilising local materials and working with hand-crafted tools,” explained Sophie. “This ethos was carried through to my own professional practice, using waste materials and hand-made techniques. Each piece of waste material I used carried some form of sentimental attachment, such as: my daughter’s baby clothes, packaging from Christmas gifts, clothing from lost loved ones. Every section holds some form of memory. The final design was intended to be a thoroughly sustainable example of textiles surface design possibilities, showing a sense of value to our heritage and the items we see as waste.”  

The 36-year-old rom Rowlands Gill, Gateshead, now plans teach within Higher Education across art, design, textiles and fashion, drawing on all those skills she’s adapted over her career.

She said: “I am open to new possibilities and would like to continue with my own professional practice alongside teaching.”  


Abiodun Ogunfowara: MA Glass and Ceramics 


Abiodun Ogunfowara

With a background in environmental biology and scientific glass blowing, Abiodun Ogunfowara wanted to study a Masters degree to “explore great skills within its reflective learning environment” he says.

The Nigerian-born student’s work concerns unique waste recycling research. 

Abiodun Ogunfowara artwork

He says: “I wanted to integrate the day-to-day, real life of recycling into art. My recyclable artwork is created to be wearable and look cool.”  

He added: “This program has given me the opportunity to explore great skills within its reflective learning environment. The lecturers are very knowledgeable with the skills I need, and the learning environment is fascinating with the National Glass Centre and it’s amazing facilities.”