Seeds of Change

Presented by the Vera List Center for Art and Politics at The New School, Maria Thereza Alves, Seeds of Change: New York — A Botany of Colonization studies 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. Dumped in ports at the end of passages, ballast often carried “dormant” seeds collected from its place of origin that remained in the soil for hundreds of years before germinating and growing.

Brazilian artist Maria Thereza Alves’s New York iteration of Seeds of Change explores the history of foreign flora that traveled to Red Hook and surrounding areas by trade ship ballast over the past two centuries. As part of this community-focused project, Alves collaborated with horticultural experts and local communities at Pioneer Works, the High Line, the New School, and Weeksville Heritage Center to research the non-indigenous plant species and the stories they tell about migration, commodification, and valuation.

Pioneer Works served as a site for the propagation of these plants, selected by Alves and planted by the 2017 Summer Youth Garden Program. These ballast flora plants served as the cornerstone of Alves’s exhibition—a “living installation” or greenhouse of more than 60 ballast flora—which was on view at the Arnold and Sheila Aronson Galleries in the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center at the New School from November  3 – 27, 2017.  Following the exhibition, a selection of plants returned to the Pioneer Works garden to serve as a resource for community and youth educational programming during the summer of 2018.

Maria Thereza Alves is the recipient of the Vera List Center Prize for Art and Politics 2016-2018, a biennial award given to artists who have taken great risks to advance social justice in profound and visionary ways.