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MFA’s ‘Banner Project’ continues

Lauren Halsey, Diedrick Brackens slated to create new installations

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
MFA’s ‘Banner Project’ continues
Robert Pruitt’s portraits from the first installment of “The Banner Project,” 2019. PHOTO: CELINA COLBY

The Museum of Fine Arts Boston has commissioned Lauren Halsey and Diedrick Brackens to create the second and third editions of “The Banner Project,” a large-scale installation in the museum’s contemporary wing.

Halsey’s work will debut at the museum in the spring of 2021. A site-specific artist who often reimagines the relationship between art, architecture and community, Halsey is a perfect match for the glass-ceilinged, I. M. Pei-designed Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art. Halsey’s bright, fantastical, chaotic installations illustrate the history of Black cultural production through an architectural lens. The artist is also known for reserving certain works for non-white buyers and institutions, as a way of keeping Black art in the community. 

“I am thrilled that Lauren Halsey, whose visually striking work prioritizes community and synthesizes ancient and contemporary aesthetics, will be engaging with us,” says Akili Tommasino, Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art. “I look forward to her contribution, which I know will be impactful and incisive.”

Brackens is known for textile work on a large scale that addresses themes of memory, history and identity. Many of his previous works have featured Black figures, homing in specifically on Black history, ancestral memory and more recent history, such as the impact of the AIDS crisis on the queer Black community. Brackens’ work is fascinating not only in subject matter but in structure. The large-scale pieces have an immediate, visceral impact, while the detail-rich textile medium also begs for closer inspection.

“Massachusetts has an extensive, complex textile history, including past and present Indigenous artists, the legacies of cotton mills, and rich contemporary craft practices in this medium across New England,” says Michelle Millar Fisher, Ronald C. and Anita L. Wornick Curator of Contemporary Decorative Arts. “Long an admirer of Diedrick’s work, I am excited to see what perspectives he will bring to this project.”

Halsey and Brackens follow Robert Pruitt, who debuted “The Banner Project” in 2019 with his powerful portraits of Bostonians and museum employees interacting with objects from the museum and cultural symbols of Africa and the African Diaspora. The MFA recently acquired Pruitt’s original drawing for the piece “Birth and Rebirth and Rebirth,” a way for the artist’s temporary work to live on at the museum.

As the MFA continues its efforts to diversify its collection and create a welcoming environment for everyone, these pieces put Black artists and images at the heart of the museum.