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MFA launches new ‘Banner Project’ with artist Robert Pruitt

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
MFA launches new ‘Banner Project’ with artist Robert Pruitt
“Cut Piece” by Robert Pruitt as seen from the museum’s second floor. PHOTO: CELINA COLBY

Visitors to the Museum of Fine Arts can reflect on a new array of faces in the Eunice and Julian Cohen Galleria. Three new banners by Robert Pruitt have been installed, hanging from the ceiling and visible from the first and second floors of the space. “Banner Project” reflects real faces of the Boston community and celebrates the breadth of African aesthetic traditions.

Banners as seen from the museum’s second floor. PHOTO: CELINA COLBY

Banners as seen
from the museum’s second floor. PHOTO: CELINA COLBY

The three portraits, “Birth and Rebirth and Rebirth,” “Red Starbursts” and “Cut Piece,” are double-sided, featuring black women in contemporary garments on one side and then interacting with African art pieces on the back side. These art pieces are pulled from the MFA’s collection. One woman wears an ancient Egyptian beadwork dress that’s on view just a few galleries away in the Egyptian wing. Another has an American pictorial quilt by Harriet Powers draped over her. Visitors can connect the portraits with their visit to the museum or use them as a jumping-off point to explore the African highlights in the collection.

They can also connect the figures with their experience in Boston. Each portrait represents a different generation in the local community. One depicts Sofia Meadows-Muriel, a former MFA intern; another shows Jacqueline Cummings-Furtado, a community leader and advocate; and the final portrait illustrates Brenda Lee, who has worked as a security officer at the museum for almost 40 years.

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Boston isn’t the only connecting thread throughout the project. Each woman is interacting in some way with a set of 19th-century ceramic face jugs, some of the earliest surviving aesthetic objects made by African Americans. In this way the banners are representing the African diaspora, how artistic themes have floated from the banks of Nile to the slow-moving rivers of the American South.

The project is part of a new annual series in which the MFA will commission artists to create large-scale banners for this space. Pruitt is the first to christen the gallery with this style of work. Pruitt’s celebration of African culture and community is perhaps another step on behalf of the museum to create a welcoming space for visitors of color.

These banners illustrate Pruitt’s artistic strengths, as he is known for his large-scale portraits and use of themes pulled from the African diaspora. The MFA doesn’t own any of Pruitt’s work, but for further viewing, visitors can see several of his engraved lithographs at the Worcester Art Museum.