Between May and September, artists and activists Ekua Holmes (African American, b. 1955) and Elizabeth James-Perry (Aquinnah Wampanoag, b. 1973) created a “Garden for Boston” outside the MFA’s main entrance. The two installations that comprise this exhibition, in dialogue with each other and the surrounding space, reshape the grounds around Cyrus Dallin’s monumental bronze sculpture Appeal to the Great Spirit (1909) with sunflowers and corn—ephemeral plants that are nonetheless part of the endless cycles of nature and long histories of New England land.
Working with United Neighbors of Lower Roxbury Community Gardens, Holmes planted some three thousand sunflowers for Radiant Community. An extension of her ongoing “Roxbury Sunflower Project,” which uses sunflowers to spread beauty and hope throughout the historically Black Boston neighborhood, the installation transformed a prominent section of the Museum’s lawn in a field of color, amplifying the power of self-determination as a tool to change one’s community.
James-Perry’s installation, Raven Reshapes Boston: A Native Corn Garden at the MFA, drew on planting techniques used by local Indigenous people for thousands of years, centering the reciprocal relationship between humans and the land. The artist and her collaborators from Green City Growers created a field of corn, beans, and sedges—grown in mounds using a traditional Woodlands Native American method—in the shape of a horseshoe crab and framed by crushed shells. Over time, tall corn stalks surrounded Appeal to the Great Spirit—made by a white artist for white audiences—emphasizing the enduring Native presence in New England and serving as a counterproposal to the misrepresentations and erasures the sculpture embodies.
Together, Holmes’s and James-Perry’s installations recast the MFA’s Huntington Avenue lawn into a growing, blooming summer garden that represents the resilience, strength, and hope of both artists, their communities, and their ancestors.
See also “The Radical Act of Growing a Plant: Garden for Boston at the MFA” by Paige Curtis in Boston Art Review, Issue 7: Rooting, 10, 24, 2021