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Artists interpret Harbor Islands history

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Artists interpret Harbor Islands history
Poet Brian Sonia-Wallace. COURTESY PHOTO

Next month, the Boston Harbor Islands will come alive with events and artmaking by the three 2019 Boston Harbor [Re]creation artists-in-residence. Marsha Parrilla, Robin MacDonald-Foley and Brian Sonia-Wallace will use their unique artistic perspectives and media to intertwine art and nature on the islands.



For MacDonald-Foley, this project is a homecoming. A Quincy native, she frequented the islands and spent a lot of time in her family’s cabin on Peddocks Island. “My family started going to the island back in the ’60s, and I have all these memories,” she says. “And I thought, how cool would it be if people came over and we shared stories in this visual format? It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do.”

Those stories will manifest themselves in quilt squares. During her residency, wherein she’ll be living on Peddocks Island for three weeks, MacDonald-Foley will invite the public to embellish quilt squares with her while sharing stories of their time on the islands. The artist will then attach the squares together to create a larger art piece that illustrates our common threads and experiences.

Unlike MacDonald-Foley, who is deeply entrenched in a personal history of the islands, Sonia-Wallace has never been to the Boston Harbor. Coming from California, the typewriter poet will bring a fresh, outsider perspective during his two-week residency on Peddocks Island. Sonia-Wallace originally studied sustainable development before becoming a full time poet and says he’s excited to apply those environmental preservation ideas to his piece.

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The poet will be active on the island with a typewriter during his residency. He will create impromptu poems for visitors based on conversations they have about their life experiences. “The island was such an incredible natural extension of that work — to be able to do something that was tying in the natural world, that was tying in reclamation, tying in transit,” he says.

Dancer and choreographer Marsha Parrilla will turn her attention to the indigenous history of the islands during her residency. Her project will span two years, starting in August with a panel of Massachusetts-based Native American leaders discussing the native history of the harbor. After the panel, visitors can participate in activities like a healing salve-making workshop using plants indigenous to the islands. Next year, Parrilla will debut a dance performance based on these interactions.

“History has been very successful at erasing the history of native people. As someone who is from Puerto Rico, an Afro-Taino person, I grew up thinking my people were extinct. Those are lies that have been fed to us. And I think the same thing happens here,” says Parrilla. “It’s important to go back to the indigenous roots and the people that were the original stewards of the land.”