[Blackstudies-l] Artist Maria Thereza Alves Is Charting the History of Migration in NYC Using Seeds

Maria Lima lima at geneseo.edu
Sun Nov 12 11:15:02 EST 2017

lisaparavisini posted: " A report by Margaret Carrigan for The Observer.
For almost two decades, Brazilian artist Maria Thereza Alves has been
traveling to European port cities documenting the non-native plant species
she finds there. Her work is less horticultural than ethnog"
Respond to this post by replying above this line
New post on *Repeating Islands*
<http://repeatingislands.com/author/lisaparavisini/> Artist Maria Thereza
Alves Is Charting the History of Migration in NYC Using Seeds
lisaparavisini <http://repeatingislands.com/author/lisaparavisini/>

[image: Screen Shot 2017-11-10 at 11.48.00 PM.png]

A report by Margaret Carrigan for *The Observer*.

For almost two decades, Brazilian artist Maria Thereza Alves has been
traveling to European port cities documenting the non-native plant species
she finds there. Her work is less horticultural than ethnographic, however.
The project represents original research into the seeds that have been
transported across seas in ballast, a material (often gravel, sand or
coarse stone) used to balance maritime trade ships. Ultimately, this
project reveals the impact of human displacement due to migration and slave
trade over the course of centuries.

After exploring the shores of Marseilles, Reposaari, Dunkirk, and Bristol,
among others, Alves has now turned her attention to the “New World” by
bringing this ongoing project to the U.S. for the first time. She’s been
working with the New School’s Vera List Center for Art and Politics,
Pioneer Works, the High Line and Weeksville Heritage Center to excavate
seed sites around New York City. The artist’s findings of plant species
that were originally native to countries like the West Indies, Brazil, and
the U.K. are presented with her maps and drawings depicting the ships’
journeys in an exhibition of the same title at the Vera List Center through
November 27.

Alves told Observer that her research revealed that so much ballast came
into Manhattan, it was used to fill in the city’s ravines, marshes, creeks,
ponds and other “undesirable” local topographies from 1646 until the middle
of the 20th century. For example, she found that Eighth Avenue from about
155th to 140th Streets was filled in with an average of seven to ten feet
of ballast with seeds hailing from the Sweden, Ireland, Algeria, the West
Indies, Norway, Sierra Leone, Spain, Portugal, Antigua, France, Cape Verde,
Germany, Bermuda, Brazil and of course, England. “So when we are walking
around, due to the colonization process of our land, we don’t know if we
are stepping on New York or Bristol, Kingston, Lisbon, Rio de Janeiro, or
Oslo,” she explained.

Unique to the artist’s New York-based findings is the discovery that while
solid ballast like sand, earth, and stones gave way to the use of water
ballast from the early 1920s onwards in European cities, such was not the
case in America. According to Alves, ships sailing from New York harbor to
Europe during World War II to deliver armaments returned heavy in ballast
back to New York as there was nothing else to bring back.

“Many chunks of Europe ended up in New York and many chunks of New York
ended up in Europe over the last several hundred years and even more
recently,” said Alves, who explained that she found the deliberate
midcentury “displanting” of New York quite shocking. This continued until
the end of the Marshall Plan, which saw ships carrying food and building
materials to devastated Europe until 1951. “This isn’t a question of
reconstruction of a lost landscape or purity, but an acknowledge the
present coloniality we all find ourselves in.”

The project is a natural fit for the New School’s politically engaged Vera
List Center, who awarded Alves the Vera List Center Prize for Art and
Politics last year. But, for Alves, it was equally important to loop in
additional organizations. “*Seeds of Change* has from the beginning been
about involving the local community with the history of the ballast flora,”
she said, noting that Pioneer Works, located in Red Hook, is situated on an
area made of ballast landfill which has grown much of ballast flora that
will be exhibited in the Vera List Center’s galleries.

For the High Line portion of *Seeds of Change*, Alves worked with plants
that are found in the Western Rail Yards, an area that is still populated
only by plants that were growing here after the railway was abandoned.
“This project touches on one of the most important collaborations for us:
the relationship between art and horticulture, and the ways in which both
of these things can tell us stories about the histories of the city we live
in today,” Melanie Kress, assistant curator of High Line Art, told
Observer. “In this way, Alves is illuminating part of the history of the
park and the neighborhood within the larger narratives about trade,
colonialism, and slavery.”

The history of slavery in the West and the larger African diaspora is a
point to which *Seeds of Change *routinely returns in its many iterations
over the years, and for the New York edition of the project, Alves aptly
chose to work with Brooklyn’s Weeksville Heritage Center. Named after James
Weeks, an African American stevedore and former slave who purchased a plot
of land in 1838 and founded one of the first free black communities, the
institution “is a witness to the complexity of the history of ballast in
New York,” said Alves.

According to Rob Fields, interim president and executive director of the
Weeksville Heritage Center, *Seeds of Change* isn’t just about the
migration of seeds and flora, nor does it stop with abolition of slavery.
“Migration is also a recurring theme for many African-Americans,” he told
Observer. Indeed, African Americans fanned out all across the country after
Reconstruction to seek a life free from the oppression of the Jim Crow
South. “It’s that search for haven, for community, and for a new start that
brought the founding residents of Weeksville together: free
African-Americans and formerly enslaved African-Americans alike,” he said.

Fields is quick to point out that the project has a special relevance for
New York City, which is a city of transplants. “Of course, there are plenty
of people who are born and bred New Yorkers, but it’s the transplants who
came here, had something to prove—that they could make it here—that have
really found ways to thrive,” he said. “Like the flora contained in those
seeds, at some point, we all became natives.”
*lisaparavisini <http://repeatingislands.com/author/lisaparavisini/>* |
November 10, 2017 at 11:51 pm | Categories: News
<http://repeatingislands.com/category/news/> | URL: https://wp.me/psnTa-yES

   See all comments

to no longer receive posts from Repeating Islands.
Change your email settings at Manage Subscriptions

*Trouble clicking?* Copy and paste this URL into your browser:
Thanks for flying with WordPress.com <https://wordpress.com>
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://mail.geneseo.edu/pipermail/blackstudies-l/attachments/20171112/8b8d5627/attachment-0001.html>

More information about the Blackstudies-l mailing list