Student Profile: Mary Ma

Mary Ma

LZ: Tell us a bit about yourself and the art that you create?

MM: My name is Mary Ma, I’m a 4th year student from the Sculpture and Installation program at OCAD U. I’ve always grown up in large cities, very human made places and I recently came back from an exchange in Portland Oregon. There I saw things that were kind of larger than our human world, in the forests, and mountains, and the ocean, and that has inspired the work that I make.

My projects are an attempt to find out for myself what it means to connect and be a part of these larger things in the landscape, and to reconcile a personal sense of loss or disconnect to the natural world to be in a forest, to really see the sky or to sit at the edge of a body of water. What can that tell us about ourselves? What can that tell us about the nature of the world? I take inspiration from those experiences and bring them back into my work and construct large, minimal structures that try to play with our experience of space, and use the imagery that I film from my excursions to create immersive light based work.

Could you describe your experiences going through the OCAD U Mobility and Exchange Program?

I went to a school called the Pacific Northwest College of Art. It was small, about 500 students with programs in design, animation, and art. They had a program there called Video and Sound, and that was where I started learning how to use video projectors as an art material. I took a course called Projection, Sound, Space, and also one called Video Installation, and they really taught me how to get comfortable with technology, and to use media in a malleable way to make work. We put on a media art show in this large gallery that was painted completely black inside, and we had this outdoor projection project where we drove out at night with an electricity generator and projected our work onto buildings. It was really exciting stuff.

Being in Oregon, I realized how influenced I was by my environment and the places I live. My previous work drew inspiration from the density and diversity of people in large cities, and my relationship with the architecture and people surrounding me were a big influence. I needed to renegotiate a new relationship in this new place, because in the beginning, none of the strategies I had were working and I couldn’t make anything. Your peripheral interests start to shift into focus, things that were latent before could now come alive.

Within The Green, 2014 by Mary Ma

What influenced your decision to major in Sculpture & Installation?

Sculpture and Installation appealed to me because I felt it was the most open program and the most conceptually rigorous, where I could do anything that I wanted to do materially and conceptually. It was a place where I could express my thinking in a critical way, while not being limited in terms of what process you take on. I like the diversity of peers and professors, you get to see a lot of interesting projects and talk about big ideas.

How long have you been interested in art? How long have you known that this is something you want to pursue as a career?

I’m not sure I’ve always known what art is. It was like this elusive quality that had been hard for me to define for a long time. I always loved drawing. I remember being a child of 4 or 5, and I wanted to draw this pear, so I started drawing it in chalk on the wall of my parent’s bedroom. My father was sitting in the corner, and he saw it and said it looked nice. I was really dissatisfied with that image so, I drew another one and he didn’t stop me. After that I thought that I had free range to draw anywhere I wanted to in the house. I felt that was an important experience even though I made a mess, that you can do something creatively and not have anyone limit you for it.

What inspires you?

Being by the sea.

Do you have a best time of the day to work on your projects?

I usually wake up the same time everyday, and work the whole day. I like this quote from Charles Dickens who said,

I never could have done what I have done without the habits of punctuality, order, and diligence, without the determination to concentrate myself on one subject at a time

and I try to live by that.

The Sky From This Morning, Mary Ma

Where are you the most productive? Tell us about your creative space?

Everything I do right now is at school. I make everything here but I am looking forward to finding new places to make work after I graduate.

What materials do you work with primarily? Why?

A Canon 70D camera, a tripod, my wide angle lens. A lot of projectors! And video adaptor chords, media players, power cables, that kind of stuff.

 The video projection for me is a reflection of something in reality, although I’m not trying to recreate reality. Technology doesn’t always to have to be antagonistic to the natural world. Perhaps it can be something that points us back to that world.

Meditations In Memory

Is there any artist from the past or present that you appreciate a lot?

Sharry Boyle, Maya Lin, Björk.

What advice would give first year students?

There are so many things you have to know when you first get here. When there is a problem, try to remember to be calm and focused and examine the scope of the problem that you are trying to solve, strategize and learn where you can ask questions.

I think it’s important to do one thing at a time, solve each problem, one after the other otherwise you can become overwhelmed. If you take a step back from the fact that you are here at OCAD for the first time, and that you will be here for a long time past this one problem, and that there is a whole life after that, maybe that perspective will help you feel less crazy about first year.

You recently had a solo exhibition at Katharine Mulherin’s NO FOUNDATION Gallery. Tell us about your experience around the exhibition?

The show was a part of our thesis exhibition series in the Sculpture and Installation program, where we applied to galleries across the city and mounted work outside of school. It was a very exciting thing to do. I had never really worked so hard and so long on something like that before, but people were very kind and enthusiastic. It was nice to see the public’s response to your work and I feel very fortunate to have an opportunity to work with the gallery.

What are your plans when you graduate?

I will be participating in an artist residency at the University of Windsor and living there for a month in May. After that I am going to come back and hopefully find a job.




04 2015

MAAD 2015: Ritual and Repetition Exhibition

100 Fish, Secrets & Charms by Shiva Moghaddasi

Ritual and Repetition is the must-see annual fibre arts exhibition hosted in the Learning Zone at the end of each year. Featuring OCAD U’s students final projects from Faculty of Design instructor Lynne Heller’s 3rd year MAAD Fibre: Concept Development Course.

Employing 100 elements ritually repeated is examined by the students through experimentation and technique resulting in handmade pieces of artwork.

Using various textiles, materials, techniques and activities such as collecting, stitching, crocheting, sewing, embroidering, braiding—creating personal and meaningful works.

On display until April 20th



04 2015

Visionaire Periodical Collection & Design Annuals in the Learning Zone

Visionaire: 46 Uncensored, Mario Testino

The Learning Zone Visionaire periodical collection keeps on expanding with two new additions, Issue No. 46: Uncensored by Mario Testino and Issue No. 51: Harmony Black.

Issue No. 46: Uncensored curated by photographer Mario Testino, features many contemporary artists including photographs by Testino himself. Uncensored is a provoking magazine about sex in the contemporary world.

Issue No. 51: Harmony Black is an interactive publication featuring six 25-piece puzzles from leading artists—Maurizio Cattelan, Robert Wilson, Yayoi Kusama, Vik Muniz, Massiom Vitali and Richard Misrach. Stretch your imagination with each puzzle by combining the pieces to create other unique images – on your own or collaboratively.

Visionaire: 51 Harmony

Visionaire is not a traditional art magazine but a contemporary art and fashion publication. Showcasing art, fashion and design using guest curators including prominent artists, designers and photographers. Each issue is unique in format, themes and experience.

Visionaire 62 Rio

Learning Zone is also host to many Design Annuals including American Illustration, Art Directors Annual, Europe’s Best Advertising, and Art Basel.

Design Annuals


04 2015

Celebrate Freedom to Read Week: Freedom of Expression Zine Display

Censor poster

circa 1980


The Learning Zone celebrated Freedom to Read Week, February 22-28 with a special zine display that presented content that might challenge popular norms.

Freedom to Read Week, is an annual event marked with celebrations across Canada, inviting Canadians to exercise their rights to intellectual freedom as protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedom.

Free Expression remains as important today as ever, there is a perpetual struggle to protect the right to freedom of speech and free access to material. It’s a freedom that you can’t take for granted.

The OCAD Zine Library collection reflects a large diversity of content and freedom of expression—drop by for a visit and express your right to read!

To learn more about Freedom to Read Week visit their website:

Freedom of Expression Zine Display; Learning Zone

Ask Me About My Tubal Ligation by Sarah Lawrence; Land of Make Believe and Dress Up: Some of My Experiences Doing Sex work in NYC as a Queer Anarchist by Rachel; Whorelicious: Premier Issue: Coming Out; Little Cockroach Press 18, Untitled by AA Bronson & Matthias Herrman; A Beautiful Storm has Come by Kara Sieve Wright & David Cunningham; Maille à Part:; Little Cockroach Press 13, 12 Assholes and a Dirty Foot by John Waters, Untitled:; I’ll Piss In That Rubber Boot For Five Bucks!: The Family Suckass Issue 3


03 2015

Student Profile: Aicha Niazy

Aicha Niazy

LZ: Can you tell us a bit about yourself? And the art you create?

AN: My name is Aicha Niazy, I am from Egypt and this is my first year at OCAD, I’m transferring from UTM, University of Toronto Mississauga. My program is Graphic Design; and so far it’s very interesting.

What influenced your decision to major in Graphic Design?

It’s really weird to be honest. When I was in grade 11 and 12, I was not thinking about graphic design at all, it didn’t even cross my mind. I was going to go into economics and then changed my mind to anthropology, criminology, or marine biology and then I kept on going through lists of programs. I was also interested in psychology. But in my last year, grade 12, I decided that I really wanted to be a designer. It’s because I look around me and find some awful designs and then I would find the urge to fix them but then I also wanted to know how people design all these things because when I think about it graphic design is in every single aspect of our lives. Everyone needs a graphics designer, be it firms and corporations, schools, doctors’ offices and hospitals and the list goes on, this is when I decided to major in graphic design.

What is your creative process?

Observing, I really like to observe, and see a lot of details around me, it’s what informs me

Where are you most productive, tell us about your creative space?

During the summer, I would say the beach or the sea when I’m floating on the water. Otherwise it would be in my room or when showering. When I get an idea, I try to develop it to a certain extent before I Google it because I want to see where my thinking will take me and without being influenced by the Internet.

What two graphic design tools could you not live without?

Sketchbook and a pencil, to write down my thoughts or illustrate them in some way also Adobe software programs like Illustrator, Photoshop and inDesign, these are the programs I mostly use at this point.

Is there another medium you would like to work in?

I would like to experiment with painting, I’m not a painter myself, I’ve never painted but lately I’ve been feeling the urge to paint. So, I would like to experiment and see what I get, just practice and do some sketches.

I’ve noticed on your online portfolio, Format, you were working in photography was that something that you were always interested in or have worked on?

Photography has always been interesting as an approach where I can capture things. For example if you have seen my series City Lights? It’s of water bottles with lights reflected on them, this is something that I would not see without the lens of the camera, with the camera lens zoomed in, it makes the lights really stand out, that’s the one thing I would like to experiment with, see what the camera captures what you don’t see with your eyes.

Do you have a preference of analogue over digital cameras?

I don’t have preference, yet. I have only been taking pictures for a year. However, I loved analogue in terms of how I get to develop my own film and print out the photographs, it just reminds me of the old times with pictures in albums, and as a kid I would always wonder how it worked, now I know. I’ve worked in darkrooms and also created photograms which was so much fun. And I did my own pinhole and took a few pictures with it. It was cool to experiment with the primary method of how the camera came to be.


Would you like to keep the photographic aspect of your work separate from graphic design or would you integrate them together?

If I worked with photography I would integrate into my graphic designs.

You wrote a paper on the comparisons of calligraphy with architecture?

The paper was basically discussing the calligraphy we see inscribed on architecture, and how these are designs (typographic designs), and their beautiful impact on architecture. In Islamic tradition there is no use of images or pictures representing prophets, and calligraphy is used as a form to transmit the words of god, written beautifully, to glorify it.

The most splendid mosques that I have come acrossed are Taj mahal, Hagia Sophia Mosque in Turkey, Sultan Hassan, Al-Refai and Muhammad Ali mosques in Egypt. I learned that there are different calligraphic scripts such as Kufic, Naskhi, and more. They are displayed in square forms, linear and sometimes even combined with designs like floral designs, mosaics, arabesques and of course it depends on the medium.

What do you enjoy most about studying graphic design?

It’s totally up to me to create the design from scratch but also the professors direct you, they give you the basics, even when you ask, they try to navigate you without telling you what to do so, it’s your own creative design.

What do you do to relax?

I read, workout and if the sea is there, I swim.

What is your dream job?

I don’t have a dream job right now. but I have standards for a job; it has to be a space that fosters creativity that ‘s very important to me.

What is your favourite thing about studying in Toronto?

Toronto is full of artists, designers, film festivals, different art related venues and events, and I live downtown so I don’t have to commute.


03 2015

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