Seeds of Change

Led by the Vera List Center for Art and Politics, the Seeds of Change: A Botany of Colonization working group will offer a variety of forms of engagement with the exhibition Maria Thereza Alves, Seeds of Change: New York – Botany of Colonization celebrating the 2016-18 Vera List Center Prize for Art and Politics prize-winner Maria Thereza Alves. Maria Thereza Alves’s Seeds of Change is a long-term project that examines legacies of colonialism and the global commerce of goods and people through the displacement of plants, focusing on the scientific, social, and political history of ballast, the waste material used to stabilize ships in maritime trade and dumped in ports at the end of the ships’ passages.

Ballast flora, cultivated from dormant seeds that traveled in ship ballast, opens up a space for conversation around many pressing issues of the day such as indigeneity and belonging which plants do and do not belong to this land; which plants stand to threaten “native” species and vice versa, and which plants have the “right” to be here? This quickly translates, metaphorically, to thinking about the ways that undocumented immigrants are framed in relation to the contemporary migration crisis. Additionally the work resonates with the shipment of human bodies during the transatlantic slave trade.

Just as the ballast seeds spread throughout New York along waterways, Seeds of Change has been collaborating with other arts and culture organizations in New York City. Beginning in summer 2017, the Seeds of Change working group has been working with Pioneer Works horticulturalist Marisa Prefer and New School students to propagate ballast seeds for the exhibition. Throughout the plants’ growth, students have had the opportunity to research the origins and varied uses of their plant, sharing the plant’s progress in biweekly newsletters. These plants will become part of the exhibition Maria Thereza Alves, Seeds of Change: New York – Botany of Colonization, running November 3-27 in the Arnold and Sheila Aronson Galleries in the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center at The New School.

When the exhibition closes, the plants will move to two other cultural organizations in the city, forming a permanent ballast garden at Weeksville Heritage Center in Brooklyn, and displayed as part of an exhibition organized by Highline Arts on the Highline in Chelsea in spring 2018. The Seeds of Change working group will continue to be involved in the gardens at our partner organizations through collaboration on public programming, including site visits for weed walks and lunchtime readings. Please check the Vera List Center website for updates on future working group activities.