An installation artist raising awareness for issues such as the refugee crisis and plastic waste, Maria Nissan has traveled around the world creating powerful community and therapy-based projects and programs.
A 2018 graduate of the MFA in Studio Art program at SACI, Maria Nissan is an Assyrian installation artist whose work focuses on creating large-scale sensorial installations through community involvement. Her practice has spanned the U.S., Italy, Greece, and Jordan, and focuses on global issues at a local level – diving into problems such as plastic waste and the refugee crisis.
Raised in Athens, Georgia, Maria received her bachelor’s degree in art education and a minor in painting and drawing from the University of Georgia. She taught art at Athens Academy and worked as a ceramicist for Winterhawk Pottery before moving to Florence, Italy, to pursue her master’s degree at SACI. After graduation, she was selected to exhibit at the SACI New York Gallery, where she presented her exhibition 18,443 Souls, a community-based installation composed of large-scale textiles sewn from used coffee and tea filters collected in Athens, GA, and Florence, Italy, as an expansion of local community and a reflection of multicultural identity.
Maria’s practice then took her to Athens, Greece, where she worked closely with Syrian refugees through art therapy courses, advocating for awareness and aid for victims of the refugee crisis. Maria worked with The Unmentionables, an organization for which she developed two art therapy programs, Art Therapy for Refugee Men and Art Therapy for Teenage Women. She also completed many installations, murals, and photo documentation, including 440 Transparent Documents, an interactive play area of plastic coffee cups built to shield refugee children from traumatic events; S.A.M Single Adult Men, interviews and photographs delving into the problems faced by this group of refugees often excluded from the services reserved for women and children; and Colliding Worlds/Morning of Jasmine, wall murals covering the entire interior and exterior of Happy Caravan, a school for refugee children in Lamia, Greece. Maria also organized From Athens to Athens (Athens, Georgia, and Athens, Greece) at Ciné in Athens, Georgia. The event raised awareness about the refugee crisis through a screening of the documentary Faraway Land, an examination of the struggles refugees face in Athens.
Following her work in Greece, Maria moved to Amman, Jordan, where she turned her focus to plastic waste and how to raise awareness for the growing problem. Her resulting projects included a permanent installation at the Wild Jordan Center called 976 Plastic Oceans, made from plastic materials collected from local restaurants and cafes. The installation was also coupled with lectures and workshops, in which Maria led discussions on plastic waste and taught community members how to turn plastic items into artworks incorporated into the installation.
In Amman, Maria also completed 1,120+ Plastic Oceans, a community based sensorial installation composed of large scale textiles created from 1,120 used plastic bags, shisha pipes, and bottles draped throughout the Q0DE Art Space. She also spoke about her work and the problems created by plastic waste during a public talk at the Jadal for Knowledge and Culture جدَلللمعرفةوالثقافة. Since beginning Plastic Oceans, Maria has exhibited versions of the project in numerous other galleries and cultural centers, such as Orient Gallery, Dar Al-Anda Art Gallery, and Mystic Earth in Amman, Jordan, as well as Victoria Square in Athens, Greece.
In addition to bringing awareness to the way we treat our environment, Maria’s Plastic Ocean installation series, an ongoing initiative, uses ironing and sewing to critique other systems of oppression, such as inequality between men and women and the domestic role women play in the Middle East.
Maria has been featured in numerous publications for her work with plastic awareness and art in the face of global warming and the refugee crisis.
Learn more about the MFA in Studio Art program at SACI.