Visual Arts Review: Helina Metaferia’s “Generations” – A Story of Heritage and a Call for Change


By Chloe Pingeon

The social message of Generations is powerful and clear: it requires us to be awake + indignant.

A picture of Helina Metaferia in her studio. Photo: MFA.

Glass doors lead into a room with white walls, bright lighting, and black text. To the left of the doors is the title of the program, Helina Metaferia: Generations(until April 3, 2022 in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston) is emblazoned in bold black letters. On the right a tiny label occupies a white wall. It reads ACKNOWLEDGMENTS. Under the heading, an italic text explains that every exhibition is the result of collaboration, care and common work. In this way, Metaferia honors those whose work has gone into every facet of the project. On her Instagram account, Metaferia points out the value of these acts of recognition and points out that artists are called to give due recognition to all the work and the voices of those who have contributed to the creation of their creations. In the gallery, the inscription “Acknowledgments” on the wall is so small that it might be overlooked at first glance. And yet it makes an emphatic statement – standing alone, the only inhabitant of a large white wall.

In view of the themes of this exhibition, Metaferia’s acknowledgment is of visionary importance. Generations is dedicated to celebrating the overlooked influence of women of color whose accomplishments have historically been minimized or ignored. She is particularly interested in the way activists have shaped (and are shaping) the future. Metaferia’s moral / political / aesthetic stance is in part about making sure her work doesn’t add to the silence she criticizes in her art. On the show, she credits everyone she can to the point that she makes note of the missing names, names MFA would not have included in the thanks. Obviously there is still work to be done.

A look at the “Headdress Series” in Generations Gallery.

Metaferia is an interdisciplinary artist based in New York City who works across media to question the body’s relationship to place and identity. In the past, she has used live performances to honor the themes of heritage and physicality. Understandably, the work of Metaferia is strongly tied to ancestors and lived experience. In her show at the MFA, Metaferia moves between the disciplines with a pleasant fluidity. Three large rectangular portrait photos line the first wall of the gallery. They are part of the “Headdress Series” (2021): The models were students and lecturers selected by universities in the Boston area. The women wear a mix of streetwear and bold colors, and their bodies are sketched on white canvases. Each female stands on a bed of collaged flowers, the first level orange, the next pink and white, the third yellow and blue. Every woman wears a headdress that at first glance is a coordinated homage to the colors of the flowers on which it stands. On closer inspection, however, you can see that the headgear consists of newspaper clippings, pictures of protesters. The raised fist characteristic of the Black Lives Matter movement is prominent on a headdress; another feature, in pink bubble letters, the words AWAKE + OUTRAGED. These headgear are crowns, their pictures come from the BIPOC liberation archives. Metaferia imagines every woman of color as an activist: the burden of the past and the potential for change sit on their heads.

A look at “THE WOKE” in the generations installation.

“THE WOKE” (2021) will be installed on the other side of the gallery. A series of black and gray signs are mounted on wooden sticks offset against a white background. Metaferia has engaged in interactive crowdsourcing of their past solo shows and this installation is the result. She asked the question “What’s your daily revolution” for the online answer. The protest signs on display were inspired by the reactions. CHANGES CHANGE MAKE WAVES reads one of the signs in the middle of the piece. Behind it hangs the inscription HISTORY IS STILL in gray letters on a black background. At the top right on the wall – hanging behind vague calls for change that occupy the central space – there are more specific calls for action. ABOLISH CAPITALISM is written in white on a small black canvas. REPARATIONS REPARATIONS REPARATIONS is available in various shades of gray and black on a light gray background. Almost invisible behind the messages in front of it: WE NEED SECURITY TO GROW. On the floor in the far left corner, on a large, shimmering silver canvas, are the words I CALL THE FOREASONS TO GO WITH ME.

When you see these signs, you are hearing audio from THE CALL, a Metaferia film. It’s a cross-generational story about the lives of four women who were the descendants of powerful civil rights activists – Dick Gregory, Frederick Douglass, and James Baldwin. The story of women is finally being told. The song “Star People” by George Michael can be heard in the background. “It is time for you to do what you came to do,” sings a woman’s voice. Then we hear a little girl repeating the woman’s words. This combination continues – each lyric of “Star People” is sung confidently first by the woman and then by a child whose voice is filled with amazement, enthusiasm and hope. “My father always said that the most important force is the voice of the black woman. The social message of Generations is powerful and clear: it’s time to be awake + indignant.

Chloe Pingeon is an aspiring senior at Boston College studying film and journalism. She writes regularly for the features and arts departments of the Independent Student Newspaper at Boston College The heights, and also has for the culture department of. written Lithium magazine. She is currently an intern in creative development at Foundation Films.


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