Galleries | Cate McQuaid

At BU, the art of protest

Ramiro Gomez’s “Laborers at Lunch,” 2015 mixed media installation.
Charlie James Gallery, Los Angeles
Ramiro Gomez’s “Laborers at Lunch,” 2015 mixed media installation.

For an exhibition about taking your space, “Occupancies” comes across as oddly empty.

Boston University Art Galleries’ artistic director, Lynne Cooney, started planning the protest-themed exhibition a year ago. Mounted in the Faye G., Jo, and James Stone and 808 galleries, it examines ways artists use bodies, sometimes only by inference, to take a stand.

The exhibit breaks down into factions calling at each other across chasms. Most of the work is in 808, where the problematic space dwarfs and sometimes separates the art, but the problem also stems from artists representing often-siloed groups — feminists, blacks, LGBTQ, and more.


Too bad, because “Occupancies” has many compelling works. Nona Faustine, a black artist, shot searing self-portraits outside Lefferts Historic House, in Brooklyn. The Lefferts family had ties to the slave trade. Faustine stands in front of the house topless, in a white skirt with white baby shoes tied around her waist, evoking enslaved women used for labor, childcare, and sex.

Get The Weekender in your inbox:
The Globe's top picks for what to see and do each weekend, in Boston and beyond.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Much of this art strives to make the invisible visible. Ramiro Gomez slyly brings attention to Hispanic workers keeping ritzy neighborhoods running in Los Angeles. “Laborers at Lunch,” his life-sized cutouts, have the indistinguishable faces of the overlooked.

Absence is used as pointedly as presence. Marlon Forrester’s “Sideline” installation started as a basketball court taped on the floor and walls. Forrester plays on society’s propensity to celebrate and objectify black athletes, inviting viewers to use the tape to redraw boundaries that shape racist stereotypes. The space now feels more chaotic, but somehow more fertile and open.

Voices squeak and groan in Jonah Groeneboer’s remarkable “Double Mouth Feedback,” a circle of speakers at the Stone Gallery. The artist invited people to vocalize their experience of gender. The funny, sometimes angry, exaggerated sounds are unhindered by stale categories of masculinity and femininity.

In the United States now, many groups are joining one resistance, and it would be lovely if “Occupancies” mirrored that chorus. But that’s a new development, perhaps for another show.



At Boston University Art Galleries, 808 and 855 Commonwealth Ave., through March 26. 617-353-3329,

Cate McQuaid can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.