vera list center for art and politics at the new school presents maria thereza alves, seeds of Change: new york — a botany of colonization

Exhibition explores colonialism, slavery, and global commerce through the lens of displaced plants in ballast — the waste material historically used to balance ships in maritime trade

Opening Reception: Friday, Nov. 3, 7-8:30 p.m.
On view through Nov. 27 at the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center Arnold and Sheila Aronson Galleries, 66 Fifth Avenue

Alves, winner of the VLC Prize for Art and Politics 2016-2018, will participate in a keynote conversation and Prize presentation on Friday, Nov. 3 at 6 p.m. at The New School Auditorium, 66 West 12th Street

The Vera List Center for Art and Politics at The New School presents an exhibition by Berlin-based, Brazilian artist Maria Thereza Alves in November.

NEW YORK, Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017 – The Vera List Center for Art and Politics (VLC) at The New School announces an exhibition by Berlin-based, Brazilian artist Maria Thereza Alves, winner of the VLC Prize for Art and Politics 2016-2018, at The New School's Sheila C. Johnson Design Center (SJDC) Nov. 3-27.

The exhibition, Maria Thereza Alves, Seeds of Change: New York — A Botany of Colonization, is the first presentation of Alves' long-term project, Seeds of Change, in the Americas. The project explores colonialism, slavery and the global commerce of goods through the lens of displaced plants in ballast — the waste material historically used to balance ships in maritime trade. Collected at one port at the start of a voyage and dumped in another at the end, ballast often carried seeds that resulted in the introduction of non-native plant species to coastal cities around the globe. Remarkably, ballast seeds can remain dormant in the soil for hundreds of years before germinating and growing. Alves identifies such seeds and traces the displacement of lands and people by the transatlantic slave trades through local flora.

The exhibition at the SJDC, which will have a New York focus, will feature a “living installation” — a greenhouse of more than 60 ballast plants, a list of flora, and maps that highlight the species and areas filled in with ballast in the New York region.

Previously presented in several European port cities, including Marseille, Liverpool, and Bristol, the New York iteration of Seeds of Change explores the history of foreign flora that traveled to New York City by trade ship ballast over the past two centuries. To understand this history, the VLC facilitated Alves’ collaboration with horticultural experts and local communities at Pioneer Works, The High Line, Weeksville Heritage Center, and The New School to research the ballast flora and related stories of migration, commodification, and valuation. Each organization brings a distinct botanical history and community to the project.

“Maria Thereza’s extraordinary work incites conversation around many pressing current issues such as involuntary migration or indigeneity and belonging,” said VLC Director Carin Kuoni. “The exquisite beauty of her project—the delicate drawings, prints and maps as well as the actual budding flowers — provides an easy entry to very challenging questions on the values that get associated with certain moving bodies, both historically and in our current time, and how ‘alien’ is never an intrinsic quality but one bestowed by context.”

“Alves’ ballast flora garden will act as a key for identifying the nonindigenous plants we come across everyday as signs of displacement and migration throughout the New York landscape,” said VLC Curator Amanda Parmer.

“When we are walking in New York, we do not know if we are stepping on New York or Bristol, Kingston in Jamaica, Lisbon, Rio de Janeiro or Oslo,” Alves said. “Many chunks of Europe ended up in New York and many chunks of New York ended up in Europe, especially during the early colonial years. That image is quite shocking: the ‘displanting’ of New York.”

Alves selected two sites and communities for propagating the seeds for the exhibition. As the home of the VLC, The New School faculty, staff, and students grew ballast flora over the summer months. Pioneer Works’ community youth program also propagated ballast seeds in July.

Prior to the exhibition opening reception, Alves will accept the VLC Prize for Art and Politics object, Yoko Ono’s sculpture, The Third Eye, and participate in a keynote conversation at 6 p.m. at The New School Auditorium (RSVP to the exhibition opening and keynote conversation on Eventbrite).

The Vera List Center Prize for Art and Politics 2016-2018: Maria Thereza Alves, Seeds of Change: New York — A Botany of Colonization is organized by Carin Kuoni, director of the Vera List Center for Art and Politics and Amanda Parmer, curator of the Vera List Center, and is made possible by Prize Founding Supporters: James Keith Brown and Eric Diefenbach, Elizabeth R. Hilpman and Byron Tucker, Jane Lombard, Joshua Mack, and The New School, with additional support from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and The Kettering Fund. The exhibition is made possible with the support of the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center at The New School.

Hyperallergic is the exclusive media partner of the Vera List Center Prize for Art and Politics 2016-2018.

Maria Thereza Alves (1961, Brazil, lives in Germany) is an artist. Alves was co-founder of the Partido Verde of São Paulo, Brazil in 1987 and in 1981 served as representative to the U.S. for the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers' Party) of Brazil. In 1979, as a member of the International Indian Treaty Council, based in New York, she made an official presentation on the human rights abuses of the indigenous population of Brazil at the U.N. Human Rights Conference in Geneva. In 2012, José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Union, asked Alves to be part of his special committee to formulate a New Narrative for Europe. Alves’ art work has been seen in many international exhibitions and biennials, among them the 29th São Paulo Biennale (2016, 2010), the Moscow Biennale (2015), the Berlin Biennial (2014), and dOCUMENTA13 (2012), and is currently on view at the Sharjah Art Biennial 13.

The Vera List Center Prize for Art and Politics is biennial and international, and honors an artist or group of artists who have taken great risks to advance social justice in profound and visionary ways. The two-year Prize initiative is an integral part of the intellectual life of The New School and unfolds across various platforms that include an exhibition, Prize publication, classes, public programs and an international conference. The inaugural Prize recipient (2012–14) was Theaster Gates for Dorchester Projects, and the 2014–16 Prize recipient was Abounaddara the anonymous collective of Syrian filmmakers.

The Vera List Center for Art and Politics is a scholarly research center and public forum for art, culture, and politics. It was established at The New School in 1992—a time of rousing debates about freedom of speech, identity politics, and society's investment in the arts. A pioneer in the field, the Center is a nonprofit that serves a critical mission: to foster a vibrant and diverse community of artists, scholars, and policy makers who take creative, intellectual, and political risks to bring about positive change. 

In 1919, a few great minds imagined a school that would never settle for the status quo, one that would rethink the purpose of higher learning. The New School was the result. Today it is a progressive university housing five extraordinary schools and colleges. It is a place where scholars, artists, and designers find the support they need to unleash their intellect and creativity so that they can courageously challenge convention. We dissolve walls between disciplines to create a community in which journalists collaborate with designers, architects with social researchers, artists with activists. Our academic centers in New York City, Paris, Shanghai, and Mumbai offer over 10,000 students more than 135 undergraduate and graduate degree programs uniquely designed to prepare them to make a more just, beautiful, and better-designed world.

Follow the Vera List Center on social media at @VeraListCenter!

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