Boston-based public artist Mag’s Harries sculpture Asaroton is now considered a cherished landmark in the urban landscape, but at the time of its creation in 1976, it was steeped in controversy, as it engaged with contentious topics regarding class, race, and gender. The piece was commissioned as part of the Boston Bicentennial celebrations, and thus Harries conceived it thinking about whose history, which people, and what audience this artwork was addressing. Located on the site of Haymarket, the sculpture was meant to honor the market peddlers, many of whom were descendants of multiple generations of North Enders. However, they considered the work an epitaph, as the recent urban renewal projects in Boston had displaced their market to make way for a supposedly more efficient and clean city of the future. Harries inserted a Boston Globe newspaper with headlines that many felt were incendiary: one line about South Boston busing, which hit a nerve in regards to the tense race relations, and another about an Icelandic women’s strike, which highlighted the feminist movement. This paper contextualizes Asaroton to highlight the sociocultural frictions present at the time in Boston, which were largely due to the rampant urban renewal projects of the 1950s and ‘60s.
“Burnishing Histories: Mags Harries 1976 Asaroton” Public Art Dialogue (PAD), special edition “Food as Activism in Contemporary Public Art,” Vol. 8, No. 1 (Spring 2018): 50-71.