Metro, Arts

Boston Teens Curate ‘Black Histories, Black Futures’ Exhibit at the MFA

Upon entering the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, museum-goers encounter the “Black Histories, Black Futures” exhibit encircling the rotunda. Partnering with various youth empowerment groups, the MFA selected six Boston-area teens to curate the exhibit, highlighting prominent Black artists. 

The teenage curators were fellows at the youth empowerment groups Becoming a Man, The BASE, and the Bloomberg Arts Internship Boston program. They used the skills they developed through a pilot internship program at the MFA to arrange the exhibit into four themes: “Ubuntu: I am Because You Are,” “Normality Facing Adversity,” “Welcome to the City,” and “Smile in the Dark.” 

One curator, Jadon Smith, a 17-year-old from Dorchester, Mass., defines Ubuntu as being “who I am today because of what you’ve done or been through.” 

The American visual artist Archibald Motley exemplified this theme, as his most famous works depict the vibrant life of the Harlem Renaissance. Motley is best known as a “Jazz Age Modernist,” incorporating high-contrasting colors into his lively nightlife paintings. 

Motley’s oil painting Cocktails is the focal point of the exhibit and depicts several Black women gathered around a table, drinking and engaging with one another. The selected painting connects the way Black artists express and celebrate Black existence.

Along with Motley, Smith featured Allan Rohan Crite, whose 1970’s dark ink drawings represent African culture and the African American community in Boston. 

Eighteen-year-old Dorchester native, Armani Rivas, curated the “Normality Facing Adversity” section. The section most notably features a photograph of the all-African American 369th Infantry Regiment from World War I mourning the life of its fallen soldiers, taken by James Van Der Zee. 

The photograph shows the soldiers lined up outside of a funeral home in Harlem, stoically grasping their rifles and beginning to salute their commander. Black soldiers fought and died in the gruesome war, only to return to the injustice and racism that plagues America. 

Destiny Santiago-Mitchell, an 18-year-old from Dorchester, organized “Welcome to the City” which assembles vibrant urban-style paintings. 

In one of the featured painting, Rain Over São Paolo, the self-taught artist Maria Auxiliadora da Silva captures the exciting bustle of the Brazilian city with rain beginning to pour from the dark sky, individuals of all skin tones scrambling for shelter, and people in nearby apartments opening their windows to peak at the excitement. 

The final section “Smile in the Dark,” curated by 18-year-old Jennifer Rosa, featured a collection of photographs, along with other mediums, to celebrate Black families. Rosa described her favorite piece of her section to the Boston Globe, referencing Richard Yarde’s 1989 watercolor painting Savoy: Leon & Willa Mae.

In this painting, the bright yellow background contrasts against the muted tones of the playful dancers. Yarde’s unique brush strokes allow his subjects to spring to life. 

Yarde is known for his innovative watercolor paintings, even incorporating images of his own X-rays into some of his paintings.  

High school graduates Alejandro Flores and Jingsi Li also helped curate the exhibit and the pieces remain visible in the galleries, according to a press release from the MFA last year. 

According to a poster at the entrance of the exhibit, the teen curators emerged from diverse backgrounds, with limited to no art experience, and devoted themselves to developing an impactful exhibit by attending curatorial skill-building workshops throughout the summer as part of the MFA internship program. 

“Black Histories, Black Futures” is on display at the MFA Boston from now until June 20. Admission to the museum is free with a promo code from the Office of Student Involvement to reserve a time slot online and confirmation of an Eagle ID. 

The MFA’s first all-teen curated exhibit demonstrates the importance of engaging youth in the arts, and the exhibit’s featured artwork by Black artists lays the foundation for more inclusive exhibits in the future. 

Featured Image by Olivia Vukelic / Heights Staff

February 16, 2021