Alumni Stories: “Where Are They Now?”

Edition 33—Silvi Naçi

That’s What Social Equity is All About

14-year-old Silvi Naçi did not know much English when they immigrated to America from Albania. However, art-making was a language they comfortably spoke. Their fluency in art was nurtured from a young age by their mother.

“I always went to art school—since I was in first grade. In Albania, even during communist years, we had an art and music school and I studied art there.”

“My mother was a cook her whole life. That’s how she put us through school, because my father is handicapped and she was the only one who worked. She paid for my after-school classes in Albania, which was something like $20 a month, which at the time in Albania in the ’90s was a lot of money.”

Silvi’s mixed memories of their homeland demonstrate the complexity of the immigrant experience.

Silvi concomitantly describes their homeland as both a “place where the whole neighborhood is your family” and as a “war-zone country.”

Their family of five, including Silvi, their two older sisters, and their parents, came to Boston in 2001 and moved into a small, studio apartment in Dorchester.

Silvi wasted no time before joining the Boston arts scene. They attended Boston Arts Academy for high school and worked on the Mayor’s Mural Crew during the summer. Silvi first heard about Artists For Humanity through other painters on the team. As a young teenager whose entire life had just been uprooted, Silvi found AFH to be immediately comforting and surprisingly familiar.

“There’s so many different people of color within Albania—and Europe, [people in the States overlook and ignore this diversity]. I have always surrounded myself with people from various backgrounds — coming to AFH was incredible as I was able to continue working and being with students from every walk of life — that’s what social equity is all about.”

“AFH and Boston Arts Academy were both very special places for me — it wasn’t just a black and white conversation, there were students from every intersection and we were all one big family — I was accepted and loved. It didn’t matter that I didn’t speak English very well, I just followed directions well and worked closely with the mentors.”

Capturing these unique observations and insights at an early age, Silvi remains attentive to the nuances of social narratives in their current work. As a multimedia artist and an independent curator, Silvi aims to enrich the representation of race, gender, and sexuality in every aspect of their work. On social equity, which Silvi witnessed at AFH and beyond, they expressed, “That’s what I’ve been trying to reinvent and recreate in every space that I’m in.”

Silvi graduated from California Institute of Art with a Master’s in Photography and Media. During their graduate study, they published, “ha mer ika: Institutional Interruptions,” a book on the immigrant and queer experience through prose, poetry, and photography.

Silvi also returned to Albania with a Félix González-Torres travel grant and a Tim Disney Fellowship to document two LGBTIA+ communities in an experimental film called “The Bow Wake [Vala e Harkut], 2019.” They organized STAND UP, an all-Women* group exhibition at Gallery Kayafas. Silvi was mindful to include many voices in this exhibition and did so by inviting other femme-identifying curators to include artists they felt weren’t represented in the art world.

“I asked them to pick 5–10 artists who they felt were underrepresented in the art market, culture, and dialogue today. The exhibition at Kayafas included fifty women* of color, queers, and immigrants. The youngest artist was 19 from the Museum School and the eldest 65. The exhibition featured photography, sculpture, film, and multi-media works, along with a full schedule of performances and readings.”

Seeing as how creativity has always lent them strength and purpose, it’s evident why Silvi has practiced art in all different places and times of their life. I ask them if AFH may have had any unique impact on this calling. For Silvi, the answer is the sense of community at AFH.

“I loved that when we were finished with studio work, we still hung out for a bit and the mentors always checked on our school work to make sure we were doing well and offer any help—Rob and SWAT were very supportive. For me, it wasn’t just a place where I could paint, this is where I made friends for life and really valued those connections, especially as an immigrant, lost teenager. I wish that every student had the opportunity to be part of AFH.”

One mentor stands out in Silvi’s experiences: Rob’s influence is evident from the very beginning of the interview when Silvi expresses how important Rob still is in their life — a brother for many years. After all, Rob was the first person Silvi talked to about joining AFH—they even share the same birthday ten years apart. While Silvi naturally had great goals, Rob always dared them to dream bigger.

He always supported me in going higher. “I’ll see you at the top, going up those clouds — you can go higher, you can go higher!” he would say.

“I don’t think I can explain—I think you’d have to know everything that I’ve gone through in my life to know how much having that support meant to me. I still think about what he’s told me, with every opportunity that comes along and everything I do.”

Written by Amy Chu.

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