Mithsuca Berry’s sober yet joyful hand-painted mural, “Protect Your Seedlings,” in the windows at the Boston Center for the Arts’s Mills Gallery, springs from the work of a group of Black feminist activists in Boston that disbanded more than 40 years ago.
Text in the mural is from a statement the Combahee River Collective published in April 1977: “If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.”
The words heed the strictures of centuries, but they thrill with possibility.
The Combahee River Collective was founded in 1974, splintering off from the National Black Feminist Organization to embrace Black lesbians. Named for a military operation Harriet Tubman led to free more than 750 enslaved people in South Carolina in June 1863, the group was visionary. Among other pursuits, they called attention to a series of murders of 12 Black women and one white woman in 1979. They worked to make the invisible visible, and to honor the dishonored. They broke up in 1980.
Their groundbreaking statement coined the term “identity politics” and laid out a blueprint for intersectionality decades before the notion of shared agendas became an organizing principle.
Berry’s mural, which kicks off a months-long series of events at the BCA called “Combahee’s Radical Call: Black Feminisms (re)Awaken Boston,” captures the group’s spirit of inclusion and its clear-headedness about the struggle. The artist writes, “Black women … heal generations by allowing others to make a home out of who they are.”
The mural’s contours are sweetly cartoonish; the palette a mix of sun and shadow. Two unsmiling figures appear: One with a high-top hairdo and impressive biceps, the other with an afro that seems to open and join with green tendrils circulating throughout the piece, her dark curls like grapes on the vine.
In “Protect Your Seedlings” Berry makes Black mothers and grandmothers gardeners, tilling soil made rich by more than their share of manure. The figures are serious, but the world growing around and from them is young, vibrant, and hopeful.
PROTECT YOUR SEEDLINGS
At Mills Gallery, Boston Center for the Arts, 551 Tremont St., through April 11. 617-426-5000, www.bostonarts.org/event/protect-your-seedlings/