The state of Massachusetts is a hotbed of heritage and culture, making it a great place to visit some exhibitions over the coming months.
Situated in the New England region of the northeastern United States, Massachusetts is the nation’s sixth-smallest state by land area. But when it comes to educational prestige it packs a serious punch, with a huge concentration of colleges and universities to be found here. Many of these institutions have their own museums where exhibitions spanning diverse themes take place throughout the year. We’ve picked out 10 of the best exhibitions to visit across the state’s myriad seats of learnings and beyond this fall.
Displaced: Raida Adon’s Strangeness
Israeli-born actress and artist Raida Adon’s imagery deliberately references 20th and 21st-century documentary photographs of Jewish, Palestinian, Syrian, and European refugees. In this immersive video exhibition, she invokes experiences of displacement and enduring journeys in search of home, with prominent scenes from the video drawing inspiration from diverse cultural sources, including Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Catholic rituals and imagery, and Shakespeare’s drowning Ophelia. A carefully chosen soundtrack amplifies the themes captured by the visual images.
University Museum of Contemporary Art, University of Massachusetts Amherst / Through 10 December 2023
Shehuo: Community Fire
When acclaimed Chinese artist Zhang Xiao began his photography in 2007, the traditional spring festival known as Shehuo (meaning ‘Community Fire’), held in rural northern China to coincide with the Lunar New Year, was celebrated with great regional variation, and included prayers for a good harvest and ritual performances of local folk tales. A decade later, Zhang found that the festival – while still fascinating and visually engaging – had become a highly commercialised, tourist enterprise with mass-produced props and costumes. This photographic exploration shines a light on the transformation of the festival over his time capturing it on camera.
Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, Cambridge / Through 14 April 2024
Day One DNA: 50 Years in Hip-hop Culture
This immersive multimedia exhibition celebrates 50 years of hip-hop culture through the archives of hip-hop icons and long-time collaborators Ice T and Afrika Islam – together owners of one of the world’s largest private repositories of hip-hop ephemera and artefacts. Presenting over 200 objects from their holdings, the exhibition is divided into thematic sessions, each offering a distinct perspective on the cultural, political, and economic influences that shaped the duo’s artistry through uncharted territory. On view are items such as tour laminates, studio reels, archival photographs, party fliers, magazines, custom-made garments, jewellery, musical instruments, and recording equipment.
The Ethelbert Cooper Gallery of African & African American Art, Harvard University, Cambridge / 3 November 2023 – 31 May 2024
AI: Mind the Gap
It’s been pointed out by many that there is a deep irony in the emergence of artificial intelligence in that it inspires new perspectives on human intelligence. From AI in the home to robots in the workplace, the presence of AI all around us increasingly compels us to question its potential – as well as to recognise the risks. What has become abundantly clear is that the more we advance AI technology and consider machine ability versus human ability, the more we need to mind the gap. Through a diverse assortment of thought-provoking displays, this interactive exhibition explores the limitless promise, unforeseen impacts, and everyday misconceptions of AI.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge / Ongoing
Véxoa: We Know
Developed by curator and educator Naine Terena – a member of the Terena Indigenous people of the Brazilian State of Mato Grosso do Sul – this exhibition argues for new aesthetic criteria to reflect the contributions of Indigenous nations in today’s Brazil. Informed by the role of art as a tool for activism, the exhibition presents the work of 22 artists and collectives from regions throughout Brazil, and ranges from painting, drawing, and sculpture to video, performance, and sound installation.
Tufts University, Medford, Greater Boston / Through 10 December 2023
Arghavan Khosravi: Black Rain
Known for weaving Persian motifs with surreal iconography, Iranian-born artist Arghavan Khosravi deftly blends East and West, past and present, religious and secular, reality and fantasy, aligning her deeply-felt internal schisms and sense of paradox with the political strife of the present moment. This exhibition offers a comprehensive display of Khosravi’s meteoric trajectory from her student days, when she “doodled” on the pages of her Iranian passport, through her bold experimentations with multipaneled reliefs, to her monumental sculptures produced for exclusively for the exhibition.
Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Brandeis University / Through 22 October 2023
Stories That Take Me Home
Descriptions and visions of the Black Home on the African continent often veer toward narratives of “death, destruction, disease, and danger”. Regrettably, these homes are frequently regarded as mere artefacts, subjects for study, or curiosities to be sampled. In reality, these structures provide shelter, and reflect culture, identity, and traditions. In an effort to rectify these misconceptions, this groundbreaking exhibition unites African visionaries – designers, sound artists, storytellers, and creators – to celebrate the diverse interpretations of black homes throughout the continent.
Harvard Graduate School of Design, Harvard University, Cambridge / Through 18 October 2023
Featuring works by six visual artists, this exhibition takes its title from 19th-century New England author Ralph Waldo Emerson, whose influential notion of the “infinitude of private man” championed the limitless potential of the self-reliant individual, freed from societal constraint. The works on display conjure both the vast scale of the galaxy and the seemingly boundless reaches of technology and personal ambition driving the contemporary space race, pausing to look at how art is responding to these expanded frontiers.
Northeastern University, College of Arts, Media & Design, Boston / 21 October – 16 April 2023
Tiny Treasures: The Magic of Miniatures
Simply defined, a miniature is an object smaller than its parent object – compare a chair made for a dolls’ house at two inches tall with a normal-sized one. The unexpected scale of miniatures, especially in relation to humans as viewers, can be instantly unsettling and uncanny. But miniatures are full of charm and humour, and they carry meaning all the more profound for being distilled into a smaller form. Featuring works in an array of media – paintings, drawings, ceramics, precious metals and gems, and more – from the 7th century to the present day, this exhibition explores miniaturisation in art and how artists and artisans play with our perception of scale.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston / Through 11 February 2024
Elizabeth Atterbury: Oracle Bones
Throughout her work, Portland artist Elizabeth Atterbury – who has achieved widespread acclaim for her vibrant geometric prints – is interested in questions of legibility and opacity, improvisation and play, and object-making and remaking as ways to think through her interrupted family histories and Chinese American heritage. Named in reference to pieces of ox bone or tortoise shell that were used for pyromancy – divination by fire – in late Shang Dynasty China, this installation explores the question of whether lost, interrupted, and broken stories – or the remnants from their various disappearances—can ever regain meaning, retain it, or simply stumble back into it.
Clark Art Institute, Williamstown / Through 21 January 2024