Reflecting on our favorite arts and culture moments of 2021

Tania Ralli, Dianna Bell, Cristela Guerra, Andrea Shea, Amelia Mason, Arielle Gray, Magdiela Matta, WBUR, December 21, 2021

After a year spent indoors, 2021 was one of cautious optimism that saw a return of the events we love and a reopening of the spaces we missed. With vaccines and the wearing of face masks, we were able to once again enjoy live music, theater, museums, community festivals, and more. Below, WBUR's arts and culture team reflects on moments from the year that provided reprieve, whether it was through a trip to the ICA or watching a movie at the cinema.


Artist Firelei Báez's sculpture at the ICA's Watershed

Firelei Báez’s massive sculpture that filled the East Boston Watershed this past summer had a long, beautiful title: “To breathe full and free: a declaration, a re-visioning, a correction (19º36’16.9”N 72º13’07.0’’W, 42º21’48.762’’N 71º1’59.628’’W)”


It was one of my first times visiting an art gallery in a year and a half. I remember getting  emotional as I walked in. I had forgotten how much I loved consuming art in-person. I also became increasingly aware of every person in that room at the time, of the air we were breathing, of the monumental sculpture that rose before me inside the ICA’s Watershed.


I circled it in awe. It wasn’t fully completed at the time. Painters were blending shades of blue, the tarp covered our heads full of holes that made the light play and sparkle against the back wall. I would learn that it contained a multitude of meanings. The indigo, symbolic of a color that represented both the enslaved and their ancestors in west Africa, whose specific technique created this deep shade of blue.


Báez intended the piece to transport its viewers through time and space, between ocean and sky, hearkening back to the ruins of the Palace of Sans-Souci built by Henri Christophe, the first northern kingdom of Haiti.  And then there were the voices, prompted by movement, emerging like whispers from speakers above our heads in all different languages. They were stories of immigrants, who traveled to places far from the familiar. That’s when I knew this piece was for me too, for all of us who migrated, who crossed oceans and land to start again. This sculpture represented all of us who dreamed that we would find what we needed at the end of our journey. —Cristela Guerra



Jeffrey Gibson's 'Infinite Indigenous Queer Love'

What does it mean to be queer and of color? I think about this all the time as a Black queer artist myself. When I saw that Jeffrey Gibson, a queer Choctaw-Cherokee artist, and his exhibit “Infinite Indigenous Queer Love” was coming to the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, I was ecstatic. I am an art lover, that’s true, but it’s different when you feel an artist or their work speaks directly to your personal experiences. Gibson and his exploration of identity says something important about the times we live in. Often, those of us who occupy multiple marginalized identities must envision our own futures in which we are free.


“Infinite Indigenous Queer Love” does exactly that. I found myself entranced, not just by Gibson’s generous use of color and texture but also by the assemblage of different materials into cohesive pieces that exalt love and identity that exist beyond the binaries of gender and sexuality. One of the most stunning parts of the exhibit is the massive hanging fringed pieces, a reclamation and reinterpretation of fringe, a material often used in traditional Native wear. Gibson does not labor too long on the oppressions queer and trans Indigenous people endure but instead seeks to educate through celebration. We are so much more than our pain and Gibson epitomizes that in his work by envisioning a past, present and future in which queer people of color are free. —Arielle Gray

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