Eben Haines, Facades, 2021. Installation view, The 2021 James and Audrey Foster Prize, the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston, 2021–22. Photo by Mel Taing.
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(Boston, MA—August 12, 2021) The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston (ICA) presents the 2021 James and Audrey Foster Prize exhibition with major works on view from Boston-area artists Marlon Forrester (b. 1976, Georgetown, Guyana), Eben Haines (b. 1990, Boston), and Dell Marie Hamilton (b. 1971, New York). This group of artists works in a diversity of media, including collage, painting, performance, photography, sculpture, and installation, with unique artistic practices that share the impulse to explore questions of identity and history in the present to create connections with others and articulate their place in the world. On view September 1, 2021 through January 30, 2022, this exhibition is organized by Jeffrey De Blois, Assistant Curator and Publications Manager.
“We are grateful to Jim and Audrey Foster for their generous support which allows the museum the time and resources for the research and presentation of this important biennial exhibition,” said Jill Medvedow, the Ellen Matilda Poss Director of the ICA. “The works of Marlon Forrester, Eben Haines, and Dell Marie Hamilton help illuminate ways forward—and the need for community—in our complex time.”
“The 2021 Foster Prize artists illustrate the creativity, vitality, and expertise of Boston’s artistic community,” the Fosters added. “We congratulate Marlon, Eben, and Dell on this well-deserved achievement and look forward to seeing their work shared with all visitors to the ICA.”
This year’s iteration of the Foster Prize is the result of research made through sustained and ongoing conversations with artists and art workers about their perspectives on the cultural fabric of the city and the different institutions and histories that continue to inform artists working locally. The individual projects composing the 2021 James and Audrey Foster Prize exhibition draw on these perspectives to explore themes of memory, appropriation, inequity, and exchange, as well as intergenerational artistic legacies unique to Boston.
First established in 1999, the James and Audrey Foster Prize is key to the ICA’s efforts to support artists working in and around Boston, showcase exceptional artwork, and support the city’s thriving arts scene.
The exhibition begins with Marlon Forrester’s If Black Saints Could Fly 23: si volare posset nigra XXIII sanctorum, a new cycle of monumental paintings that begins with associations between ideas of flight, resistance, and freedom in the legend of Flying Africans, popular folktales about enslaved Africans harnessing the power of flight to return home. Forrester’s approach is framed conceptually by his notion of “psychic homeland,” his multilayered sense of identity, belonging, and disequilibrium as a Guyanese American of the Caribbean diaspora. Each painting in the cycle features a frontally posed figure rendered with graphic flatness over an intricate allover pattern (which is made from the geometric shapes found on basketball courts). These figures take their iconic poses and trappings of saints and biblical figures largely from sculptures that decorate the ornate portals on the Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres in France. Beyond replacing conventionally white figures with those historically denied such veneration, he subverts these very traditions by incorporating a multiplicity of overlapping cultural influences. The complexity of experience inscribed in each painting aims to counter historical exclusions and marginalization by centering the Black male body as a site of celebration, commemoration, and transformation.
The next gallery presents Eben Haines’s Facades, a sculptural stage set built to display works that take up different notions of shelter as necessity or commodity. The set evokes forms of New England architecture, such as the gable roof, with distressed walls that call to mind the rooms of lived-in homes fallen into disrepair. In one section, natural or supernatural phenomena recur across paintings of New England landscapes, at times presented on or in domestic furniture. In another section, representations of Roman portrait busts—such as the Forbes Augustus or the Nelson Head in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston—stand in for the corrupting force of unchecked power. Candles, either burning in paintings or recently extinguished on wall fixtures, appear to signal that time is running out, or that we are on borrowed time. Born out of ideas refined through Shelter In Place Gallery, a scale model gallery that has featured local artists throughout the pandemic, Facades is an imaginary interior space where illusion is a means for challenging structures of power and exclusion.
The final gallery presents Dell Marie Hamilton’s The End of Susan, The End of Everything, a multimedia installation encompassing Hamilton’s work with hundreds of possessions of the late art historian, Susan Denker, a longtime faculty member at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. When Denker passed away unexpectedly in 2016, Hamilton inherited her friend and mentor’s many belongings. A room-filling work in three sections, The End of Susan, The End of Everything is modeled on the living room, study, and bedroom of Denker’s former Cambridge apartment. The installation—which aims to “map the unmappable,” according to the artist—enacts a creative exchange between the two individuals pointed at making a layered portrait of Denker rooted in their relationship, Hamilton’s own history and lived experience, and, frequently, her body. By engaging with the complex and innumerable material traces of Denker’s life and using her own body as a medium, Hamilton attempts to answer the question: How do we make meaning out of what is left behind after someone dies?
Marlon Forrester (b. 1976, Georgetown, Guyana) is an artist and educator whose artworks take the representations and uses of the Black male body as a central concern. Forrester’s work explores ideas of ritual and transformation, often through themes and motifs drawn from basketball culture. Following an influential return visit to Guyana, Forrester’s work increasingly examines the instability of identity and complex ideas of homeland for individuals of the Caribbean diaspora. Forrester holds a BFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and an MFA from Yale University. Forrester holds a BFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University and a MFA from Yale University. He is a resident artist at the African-American Master Artist Residence Program (AAMARP) at Northeastern University. His work has been exhibited at such venues as University Hall Gallery, UMass Boston; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, Boston; the Ethelbert Cooper Gallery of African & African American Art, Harvard University; 808 Gallery, Boston University; Ajira, a Center for Contemporary Art, Newark, NJ; Montserrat College of Art Gallery, Beverly, MA; and the Museum of the National Center for Afro American Artists, Roxbury.
Eben Haines (b. 1990, Boston) investigates the life of objects and their contexts through works that challenge the authority of history by emphasizing its constructed nature. Haines employs various techniques and materials to suggest the passage of time, volatility, and degradation. Many works explore the conventions of portraiture, picturing lone, unidentifiable sitters against cinematic backdrops or in otherworldly scenes. Recent works consider themes of housing and access to art during the pandemic, especially his project Shelter In Place Gallery, an artist-run, 1:12 scale model gallery. Haines holds a BFA from Massachusetts College of Art and Design. His work has been shown at such venues as 13forest Gallery, Arlington, MA; AREA Gallery, Boston; Aviary Gallery, Jamaica Plain; Boston Center for the Arts; and Grin Gallery, Providence. In 2018, Haines received a Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist Fellowship in Drawing. Shelter In Place Gallery received a Transformative Public Art grant from the City of Boston Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture and the original model was recently acquired by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Dell Marie Hamilton (b. 1971, New York) is a multidisciplinary artist, independent curator, and archivist who uses the body—often her own—to investigate themes of memory, gender, and history. With roots in Central America and the Caribbean, Hamilton’s work frequently draws upon the personal experiences of her family as well as the folkloric traditions and histories of that region. Hamilton holds a BA in journalism from Northeastern University and a MFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. She has frequently presented her work at venues around New England, including Stone Gallery, Boston University; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH; and Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA, where she became the first visual artist to present a performance artwork in their galleries. Her most recent curatorial project, Nine Moments for Now, which was presented at the Ethelbert Cooper Gallery of African and African American Art at Harvard, was ranked by Hyperallergic as one of 2018’s top 20 exhibitions in the U.S. In 2019, she presented work in the 13th Havana Biennial in Matanzas, Cuba. Along with her collaborator, Magda Fernandez, Hamilton is part of the U.S. Latinx Art Forum’s 2021 inaugural cohort of recipients of the Charla Fund, a Ford Foundation-sponsored initiative that provides grants to Latinx artists. A frequent performer in the work of María Magdalena Campos-Pons, Hamilton appears in Campos-Pons’s collaborative performance When We Gather, which includes poetry and choreography from artists LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs and Okwui Okpokwasili. She is currently at work on a variety of research and curatorial projects at Harvard’s Hutchins Center for African and African American Research.
Since its founding in 1936, the ICA has shared the pleasures of reflection, inspiration, imagination, and provocation that contemporary art offers with its audiences. A museum at the intersection of contemporary art and civic life, the ICA has advanced a bold vision for amplifying the artist’s voice and expanding the museum’s role as educator, incubator, and convener. Its exhibitions, performances, and educational programs provide access to the breadth and diversity of contemporary art, artists, and the creative process, inviting audiences of all ages and backgrounds to participate in the excitement of new art and ideas. The ICA is located at 25 Harbor Shore Drive, Boston, MA, 02210. The Watershed is located at 256 Marginal Street, East Boston, MA 02128. For more information, call 617-478-3100 or visit our website at icaboston.org. Follow the ICA on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
The 2021 James and Audrey Foster Prize exhibition and prize are generously endowed by James and Audrey Foster.