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ARTS

Postering the city with literature and Black feminism

Arielle Gray celebrates Black feminism with her “The Roots That Bind” citywide poster project.
Arielle Gray celebrates Black feminism with her “The Roots That Bind” citywide poster project.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

A year ago, Arielle Gray set to work on her love letter to Black feminism: a citywide poster project.

The artist and writer wanted to take up space in a seemingly white city. She wanted to open a conversation between her art and the city, her art and other Black artists, her art and everyday Bostonians.

“Black people have been pushed out of a lot of neighborhoods in Boston,” said Gray, 29. “These posters are a reminder that we’re here. We’ve been here, we’re still here, and we’re still building community spaces and thriving.”

She also wanted to provide the community with revolutionary texts, stuff they could read for free. “The other part of this is to get people intrigued by the idea of interacting with Black feminism and Black feminist literature,” said Gray, who co-founded the two-year-old Print Aint Dead initiative with artist Cierra Peters to promote accessibility to works by Black writers.

So much has changed while Gray has been working on the project over the past year. The pandemic had her working from home for her day job at WBUR, while the influx of white interest in Black Lives Matter meant she was offered more and more artistic projects.

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Still, she said, her goals for the posters never changed. The world she introduced them in did.

“A lot of people feel like they have to be in school, or they have to be an academic to talk about Black feminism and they don’t,” said artist Arielle Gray.
“A lot of people feel like they have to be in school, or they have to be an academic to talk about Black feminism and they don’t,” said artist Arielle Gray.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Gray’s artworks, complete with QR codes that link to Black feminist writings, have been posted in public spaces across the city; Dorchester Art Project and Black Market Nubian were the first installation sites. Gray’s “The Roots That Bind” poster project is part of the Boston Center for the Arts’ yearlong “Combahee’s Radical Call,” featuring public art installations that center on Black feminism.

Gray created imagery for the posters inspired by change and growth. All of her pieces include superimposed images of mycelium, or the part of a fungus that forms complex filament structures.

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“Black feminism is so similar to mycelium,” Gray said. “You can find mycelium in any landscape on this planet. It’s what connects everything — it shuttles nutrients and shuttles information to and from trees. It is literally the reason why we’re able to live and breathe and walk on this planet. It’s a global connection, and that’s how I view Black feminism.”

Her Audre Lorde-inspired poster, for example, features superimposed and overlapping images of mycelium: “It represents the space that we have to be tender with each other to connect with each other,” said Gray.

Other posters link to writing by Black feminists Toni Cade Bambara and June Jordan. And in a nod to mycelium, each vinyl work features a call-and-response, inviting further input from Black feminists. (Instructions are noted at the bottom of each poster.) Gray hopes to print and display some of the responses she receives.

Each of Gray's posters features a QR code that links to literary works by Black feminists.
Each of Gray's posters features a QR code that links to literary works by Black feminists. Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Of course, Gray’s artwork was inspired by the excerpts she chose. But literary works were also chosen for an inclusive audience; folks who are not neurotypical, are unable to access higher education, or have trouble speaking English are invited to engage with the works, said Gray.

“A lot of people feel like they have to be in school, or they have to be an academic to talk about Black feminism and they don’t,” she said. “This was intended to bridge that gap. All of these readings are very simple, to the point, and easy to digest. We want that information to be accessible.”

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Many people won’t scan the link to read the writing and that’s OK, added Gray. The project still takes up space with Black feminism, which is especially important following 2020.

“We’ve gone through so much trauma and even still we’re asked to carry more burdens,” said Gray. “It’s made me more determined to focus on Black people in my work, which has always been the case. But it’s even more so now.”

THE ROOTS THAT BIND

Through June 30. Citywide call-and-response poster project by Arielle Gray. Presented by Boston Center for the Arts. www.bostonarts.org


Natachi Onwuamaegbu can be reached at natachi.onwuamaegbu@globe.com.