Exchange Codes

Exchange Codes acknowledges the interconnected history of a material past. The project traces pathways of global exchange—originally by ocean—of goods, services, people, and the works and ideas of artists. In this project, I worked with student artists from 10 local community centers, and introduced 197 children to the concepts of intersectionality and inclusivity through an exploration of world cultures and the appreciation of our differences and our common threads.  

During visits to the MFA, students viewed artworks from many cultures and identified visual, cultural, and material similarities between objects produced around the world, to help them understand how the history of art is also a history of global trade. The young artists learned to identify the iconography that marks geographic locales, such as the vegetal designs found in art from Islamic cultures in the Middle East and South Asia. Then they produced their own artworks, working with stone, clay, resin and metal powder, and textiles and utilizing techniques suggested by the historical processes they encountered at the Museum. Assembled together, the pieces create a colorful, undulating surface resembling a topographical map of an entirely new interconnected world. Shown nearby is a map featuring  some of the numerous trade routes originally used to move people, materials, knowledge, and art around the globe via the world’s oceans.  

This collaborative artwork illustrates how individual voices are strengthened and multiplied when joined together. Geographic boundaries disappear, connections are made between formerly disparate works, and new relationships are formed between young people from different communities.  


The dotted lines on this map represent some of the trade routes that enabled global exchange of ideas, artwork, people, and goods in the era of sailing ships. The economies of many countries relied on the transportation of sugar, tea, coffee, and spices; metals such as gold and silver; textiles and other manufactured items; and people, many of whom were enslaved and moved against their will from the west coast of Africa and other locations to European settlements in the Americas.

Video copyright Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Founded in 1870, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston stands on the ancestral and unceded lands of the Massachusett people, whose name was appropriated by the Commonwealth. I pay respect to the Massachusett elders past and present, and acknowledge this sacred land where the Museum stands. This land has been and continues to be home to the Massachusett people, rightful guardians of the lands and waters, who live in Boston today as they have for 13,000 years. 

Exchange Codes would not have been possible without the support of so many amazing people at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Many thanks as well to the MFA Community Arts Liaisons and Program Directors at the participating community centers, including the Boys and Girls Club of Dorchester; the West End House Boys and Girls Club of Allston-Brighton; United South End Settlements; Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center; Vine Street Community Center; and five Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston located in Blue Hill, Charlestown, Chelsea, Roxbury, and South Boston.  

This project was generously supported by the Linde Family Foundation.

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