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With new exhibit, Chicago artist builds upon the history of Boston’s black community

“Boarded and Backboned” by Faheem Majeed
“Boarded and Backboned” by Faheem MajeedTufts University Art Galleries

The materials that build a society reveal its biases. History echoes through wood and concrete. In “Faheem Majeed: Who Takes the Weight?” at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University, the Chicago artist turns his attention to Boston’s freighted history with racism.

The show, just down the street from the Museum of Fine Arts, is perfectly timed. Last May came reports that middle school children of color were taunted with racist remarks at the museum. The MFA apologized, banned visitors who had harassed the students, and stepped up training for staff and volunteers.

The MFA and institutions like it were founded on 19th-century practices that stemmed from colonialism and notions of white supremacy. That’s a challenging foundation to dig up. SMFA is tangled up in that history: The Museum of Fine Arts opened the school in 1876. In 2016, the museum transferred operational responsibility of SMFA to Tufts, though the MFA still owns the buildings.

Majeed’s work is particularly poignant in the wake of the MFA incident. The show’s title quotes Elma Lewis (1921-2004), a legendary champion of the arts in Boston’s communities of color.

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Majeed’s piece “Boarded and Backboned” shows us the scars of underserved neighborhoods and rejoices in their resilience. Pillars covered in chipboard fill the Grossman Gallery. Majeed dyed the wood chips in Kool-Aid colors, echoing the palette of AfriCOBRA, a Chicago black artists’ collective founded in 1968. While the chipboard suggests neglect or abandonment, these pillars take the weight in a garden of colors.

Faheem Majeed’s “Planting and Maintaining a Perennial Garden: Indebted Mass”
Faheem Majeed’s “Planting and Maintaining a Perennial Garden: Indebted Mass” Tufts University Art Galleries

SMFA recently replaced its auditorium’s floor. In “Planting and Maintaining a Perennial Garden: Indebted Mass,” which nearly fills that space, Majeed heaps great ribbons of the auditorium’s old carpet on a wooden platform, memorializing the ordinary and easily forgotten. The platform’s wood echoes the walls at Chicago’s South Side Community Art Center, where artists of color have nailed and stapled art for decades, and where Majeed was executive director from 2005 to 2011. The carpet, too, bears traces of use by thousands.

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The objects in a museum reflect the beliefs undergirding our culture. So do the materials we build with. In rooms and on streets, Majeed sees records of our sweat and values. His work eloquently invites us to witness the struggle, and to cherish the hard work.

FAHEEM MAJEED: WHO TAKES THE WEIGHT

At School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University, 230 The Fenway, through Oct. 26. 617-627-3518, https://artgalleries.tufts.edu/


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