“Helina Metaferia: Generations” Explores Matrilineal Inheritances and BlPOC Liberation Movements

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, exhibition inspired by travel made possible by SMFA at Tufts Traveling Fellowship
A group of Black women stand contemplatively in front of a harbor in this still from one of Helina Metaferia's videos
“The Call,” Helina Metaferia, single channel video, 17:05, 2019 (Image courtesy of artist)

Multidisciplinary artist Helina Metaferia centers women of color as protagonists in her collage, video, and installation works, exploring how inherited histories inform present-day experiences, in “Helina Metaferia: Generations.” The exhibition will be on view from November 6, 2021 – April 3, 2022 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), in the Edward H. Linde Gallery (Gallery 168).

The work comprising Metaferia’s exhibition was influenced by travel to meet individuals and communities involved in the work of Black and Brown liberation across the United States. The research journey was sponsored by a SMFA Traveling Fellowship Metaferia received from her alma mater, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University (SMFA at Tufts). Metaferia earned her MFA at the school in 2015.

The SMFA Traveling Fellowships provide critical early-career support for SMFA at Tufts alumni, allowing them to further develop and inform their practice. Selected by a jury, SMFA Traveling Fellowship recipients receive up to $10,000 to pursue travel and research related to their art practice. The application process is open to alumni working in any contemporary visual art discipline.

Metaferia’s exhibition is part of a long-standing collaboration between the SMFA and the MFA, and the third since Tufts acquired the SMFA. Through this collaboration, gallery space at the Museum is dedicated to the work of SMFA at Tufts students or recent alumni each year. The collaboration strengthens the relationship between the MFA and SMFA at Tufts, dating to the SMFA’s 1876 founding, and spotlights the work of emerging artists.

“Helina Metaferia: Generations” mines the oral histories and institutional archives of BIPOC liberation ephemera to point toward ways in which activists-especially women of color-can profoundly influence the future, and always have. Her works honor how the family and community that precede us shape how we see the world today. Her film The Call bears witness to the testimonies of female family members and descendants of prominent civil rights leaders, and her collage works elevate everyday people with whom she explores the powerful legacies left to them by their own ancestors.

Metaferia often involves communities as collaborators in her art-making practice, asking them to share their “everyday revolutions” or the ways they navigate and negotiate a world that tries to put barriers in their way. Their responses manifest in different media-including collage and video-that explore how we carry on the legacies of our elders, the kinship we find in our contemporaries, and the many ways these relationships inform and shape our worlds.

On November 3 at 6 p.m., SMFA at Tufts will host a Zoom conversation with Metaferia and Samantha Nye, also an alumna of the SMFA Traveling Fellowship program, whose exhibition “Samantha Nye: My Heart’s in a Whirl” is on view at the MFA through October 31, 2021. The event will be moderated by Michelle Millar Fisher, the Museum’s Ronald C. and Anita L. Wornick Curator of Contemporary Decorative Arts.

Metaferia received her MFA from SMFA at Tufts and attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. She has been featured in recent solo and group exhibitions at the Museum of African Diaspora, San Francisco; Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, Detroit; New York University’s The Gallatin Galleries, New York City; Smack Mellon, Brooklyn, NY; Modern Art Museum Gebre Kristos Desta Centre, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; and Alabama Contemporary Art Center, Mobile, AL, among many others. “Generations” is her first solo exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Metaferia’s work has been supported by several artist residencies including MacDowell, Yaddo, Bemis, MASS MoCA, and Triangle Arts Association. She is a participant of the 2021 Drawing Center’s Viewing Program and is an Artist in Residence at Silver Art Projects at the World Trade Center in New York. Her work has been featured in publications such as The New York Times, Financial Times, Hyperallergic, Artnet News, the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, and the San Francisco Chronicle. Helina is currently an Assistant Professor at Brown University, and she lives and works in New York City. She was named an SMFA Traveling Fellow in 2018.

A tradition of supporting young artists

In 1894, James William Paige left a bequest of $30,000 to SMFA at Tufts-then called the “Museum School”-to establish a travel fund. Income was to be used to send SMFA students to Europe, where they would study art for a period of two years.

By 1899, the first Traveling Scholar, Mary Brewster Hazelton, sailed to Europe. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, recipients typically traveled to Paris, Rome or Florence. Today, SMFA Traveling Fellows journey across the globe.

Notable past winners of the fellowships include Nan Goldin (Dip ’77), Ellen Gallagher (Dip ’92), Omer Fast (BFA/BA ’95), and Mike and Doug Starn (Dip ’84), as well as more recent graduates such as Evelyn Rydz (MFA ’05), Gonzalo Fuenmayor (MFA ’04) and Daniela Rivera (MFA ’06).

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