As COVID restrictions loosen and life starts returning to normal — albeit still filled with hand sanitizer and masks — artists are reflecting on the year that wasn't.

The Minneapolis College of Art and Design facilitates that reflection through three exhibitions featuring work primarily by current students or alumni. Sprawled across three flexible spaces, these shows remind us of the times we are in while also offering something to contemplate other than lockdown life.

"2021 Made at MCAD" features work by 41 BFA and MFA students over the past year.

Tamar Patterson, 24, a senior in entrepreneurial studies, created a series of black-and-white archival inkjet prints titled "My Mother's Daughter," for which she posed with her mother at her family's house in Burnsville.

They sit together on the couch, staring at the camera. Tamar lies on her stomach on her bed while Mom looks on from the background. Tamar observes her mother, hunched over a laptop in the kitchen. They sit at opposite ends of the kitchen table, looking in opposite directions.

Patterson said she was already living with her family when COVID hit, so her location didn't change but her relationships did. She found herself spending a lot more time with her mom, a teacher who suddenly was working from home, too.

"As kids we don't typically see our parents as friends, but when we move into adulthood that relationship kind of changes. ... It's about the exploration of our relationship," Patterson said of her project. It was inspired by photographer Carrie Mae Weems' iconic "Kitchen Table Series," which explores Black female identity, experiences and relationships in that traditionally female-gendered domestic domain, and LaToya Ruby Frazier's series "Notion of Family," where she photographs herself with her mother and grandmother.

Not every artwork is a direct response to pandemic life, but some can be viewed through that prism.

Yao Jian, 23, a second-year MFA student from Guangzhou, China, wrote and illustrated a children's book called "Loneliness Is a Friend of Mine" about a young girl who embraces rather than rejects that uncomfortable feeling. Jian personifies loneliness as a bearlike character with bright blue eyes.

She had started working on the project before the pandemic hit, but "I was stuck at home so I started to do a lot of self-reflection about my past, my childhood memories," she said. "I decided to include them in the story."

The first page references her memory of being laughed at by kids in ballet class when she was 7 because she was "a little bit fatter than other kids," she said. In her work, she "tries to narrate hard feelings from a positive perspective," in part to help children learn to talk about them.

Views of America

The two second-floor exhibitions both deal with American culture.

"America, I Sing You Back" is a multitiered show featuring more than 20 artists — most of them MCAD grads — responding to COVID, racial injustice and the possibility of global community.

On a table in the gallery, visitors can pick up copies of "After Covid-19," a collection of global responses compiled by MCAD alums Aries Qian and Peng Wu, and Chun Yu.

It includes a screenprinted photo by Turkey-based artist Jessica Belt Saem Eldahr, showing her kid running down an empty seaside street with overlaid text about the country's strict curfew on people under 18 and over 60. The piece also hangs as a real-life artwork in the gallery.

On the racial justice end of things, HOTTEA's large-scale, acrylic-paint-on-magnets portrait of George Floyd takes the iconic image and blurs its edges and pixels, giving it an effervescent quality.

The third show, "FLAG," features work by 1993 graduate Lauri Lyons. The artist traveled the United States and Europe from 1995 to 2007, photographing and interviewing people while they posed with or draped the American flag somewhere.

An attempt at interrogating the idea of the American dream, this series meanders through two decades but feels like it could've been shot last year.

A woman somewhere in France sits with the American flag over her legs. On a piece of paper hanging next to the photo, there's text in French that translates as: "America is a great nation. I wish I were American."

Two Dutch guys, one with the American flag tied around his neck like a cape, pose in front of a graffiti-covered wall; their text translates as: "How can you discover a country when there are already people living there?"

An older Black male park ranger named Emmett Charles holds a folded-up flag and writes: "I feel great to be an American."

The image seems to invite viewers to agree or disagree, leaving one wondering about a country that's currently grappling with both its past and future.

@AliciaEler • 612-673-4437

MCAD exhibitions

When: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 1-5 p.m. Sat.-Sun. Ends May 9.

Where: Minneapolis College of Art and Design, 2501 S. Stevens Av., Mpls.

Admission: Free, but reservations required at

Info: 612-874-3700 or