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Who is art for? An evolution of access and audience at the BCA

Basil El Halwagy's “Fine Art Superheroes.”Courtesy Basil El Halwagy

The theme of “ACCESS: Art,” the latest online exhibition from the Boston Center for the Arts curated by Amanda Contrada, is art’s availability to everyone. It’s also a document of the pandemic era.

Cindy Lu’s Franklin Park installation “Appearance of Quiescence,” documented in photographs here, confronts divisions exacerbated by COVID-19 and hate speech. Lu wrapped a favorite bench in parafilm, a plastic used in labs, as if to protect a relic of community gatherings. To manipulate the parafilm in cold weather, she had to breathe on it — a radical public act for an Asian-American. The black-and-white images are by turns intimate and chilling.


Cindy Lu's "Appearance of Quiescence," 2020.Courtesy Cindy Lu

Grappling with isolation imposed by COVID-19, choreographer Callie Chapman brought dancers together by recording individual performances and digitally manipulating the video. “[Blend],” a shimmering collection of those dances, is dreamlike and full of yearning, with references to touch that don’t quite meet reality.

Not all the work is COVID-centered. Photographer Hector René Membreño-Canales photographs the plinths of eradicated monuments: The statue of Lincoln and a kneeling Black man removed from Park Square last December, the Robert E. Lee statue taken down in Richmond, Va.

From Hector René Membreño-Canale's "After Ozymandias" series, 2021.Courtesy Hector René Membreño-Canale

Membreño-Canales titles the series “After-Ozymandias,” a nod to Percy Bysshe Shelley’s sonnet about ruins found in Egypt. “And on the pedestal, these words appear:/ My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;/ Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!” yet all around is empty desert. We memorialize power, but the world shifts, the demi-gods tumble, and we’re left hungry for icons. Graffiti over the Lee statue’s plinth hints at a new society rising.

Basil El Halwagy’s “Fine Art Superheroes” wear spectacular costumes and headdresses rooted in ancient archetypes and patterns, crafted to meet present-day conflicts. Photographs capture them at Boston festivals pre-COVID. Blue and white stars and hexagrams from an Egyptian mosque emblazon Electrostar’s costume. Remon wears Arabic calligraphy with only one legible glyph: “No.”


This exhibition investigates how we impose, accommodate, and subvert “no.” Access is about privilege — who is welcome and whose stories we tell. “ACCESS: Art” recognizes that our stories and our tools for telling them are always changing, and that shoring up privilege by blocking access is maybe not the best survival strategy.


Online at Boston Center for the Arts through May 30.www.bostonarts.org

Cate McQuaid can be reached at catemcquaid@gmail.com. Follow her on Instagram @cate.mcquaid.