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X-Ray Vision

Gift supports mural on campus by alumna inspired by medical imaging

Transforming a century-old factory into modern classrooms and labs, if done right, creatively blends the best of the old with the new. Tufts has done just that with the Collaborative Learning and Innovation Complex, or CLIC, which opened in May 2015 in Medford. Sturdy beams and massive windows blend seamlessly with open, fluid spaces energized by a vivid color palette architects call “industrial pop.”

But Tufts has gone further by also including contemporary art, which elevates the experience to even greater heights.

Spanning CLIC’s four-story open stairwell is a bold and dynamic mural by Sophia Ainslie, AG01. The installation at 574 Boston Avenue, In Person 574, comprises seven large-scale digital prints on vinyl. Rounded forms of bold colors engage in a push and pull with white—they were inspired by an x-ray that revealed that Ainslie’s mother had cancer. The heavy dark lines evoke the landscape of Ainslie’s native South Africa.

This merger of science with art is an apt fit for CLIC, which brings together departments with a potential for cross-disciplinary collaboration—physics and astronomy, occupational therapy, entrepreneurial leadership studies, child study, community health, and robotics.

The art installation is made possible through the generosity of Joan M. Henricks, J69, and her husband, Alan. The couple established an endowed art acquisition fund to allow Tufts to purchase new work from emerging artists who graduated from Tufts. Henricks pursued a doctorate in public health, but she has sustained a lifelong passion for art since taking studio art classes at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts (SMFA) in Boston while an undergraduate. It’s a fascination she has shared with others as a docent and guide at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

When Henricks learned about Ainslie, a graduate of Tufts’ partnership with the SMFA and now a Northeastern University lecturer, she was “astonished” by Ainslie’s approach to murals over the past six years. The paintings have used the x-ray as a touchstone for color, form, memory, and meaning.

“She was able to look at microscopic cells and blow them up into incredible macroscopic works,” Henricks says. “I thought her artwork would be compelling to a large audience of any age. We are delighted to support an artist who has clearly developed an original voice.”

Ainslie grew up surrounded by contemporary art. In 1964 her father, an abstract painter, established a studio and school in Johannesburg, South Africa, where her parents defied the strictures of an apartheid society. Her mother, while not an artist, had “a real drive and forcefulness.”

Ainslie remembers when she saw the x-ray that revealed her mother’s cancer. “So many thoughts were going through my mind,” she recalls. “I remember saying to my mother, ‘I’m going to make a portrait of you from the inside.’ My mother giggled and said to the doctor, ‘You see, with artists, nothing is out of reach!’”

After her mother’s death, Ainslie returned to the x-ray and began creating paintings that keep her mother’s vigor and fearlessness very much alive.

“I hope this work will create a sense of wonderment and pique the imagination,” she says. “Maybe it will open us up to bigger moments, and then we can have a new dialogue with the world around us.”