Winner of the 2016–18 Vera List Center Prize for Art and Politics: Maria Thereza Alves

Winner of the 2016–18 Vera List Center Prize for Art and Politics: Maria Thereza Alves

Vera List Center for Art and Politics

Maria Thereza Alves, Seeds of Change: A Floating Ballast Seed Garden, 2012–2016. Photo © Max McClure. Courtesy of Bristol City Council, Arnolfini and University of Bristol Botanic Garden.

November 29, 2016
Winner of the 2016–18 Vera List Center Prize for Art and Politics: Maria Thereza Alves

Vera List Center for Art and Politics 
The New School
66 West 12th Street
New York City

Brazilian artist Maria Thereza Alves has been named winner of The New School’s 2016–18 Vera List Center Prize for Art and Politics by an international jury of artists, curators and scholars including Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Charif Kiwan, Carin Kuoni, and Radhika Subramaniam, chaired by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev. Alves is awarded the prize for her ongoing project Seeds of Change that explores the social, political and cultural history of ballast flora in port cities and, in so doing, reveals patterns, temporalities and instruments of colonialism, commerce and migration going back many centuries. Maria Thereza Alves was nominated by Lara Khaldi, an independent curator based in Ramallah, Palestine.

The prize presentation as well as the accompanying conference, exhibition and publication will take place in New York in October 2017. The inaugural prize recipient (2012–14) was Theaster Gates for Dorchester Projects; the 2014–16 prize winner was Abounaddara, the anonymous collective of Syrian filmmakers.

The five Finalists for the 2016–18 Vera List Center Prize for Art and Politics are the London-based interdisciplinary research agency Forensic Architecture; the artists coalition Gulf Labor; House of Natural Fibers (HONF), a new media arts laboratory in Yogyakarta, Indonesia; IsumaTV, a collaborative multimedia platform for indigenous filmmakers and media organization in Canada; and MadeYouLook, an artist collective based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Seeds of Change
Seeds of Change is a long-term project that so far has been presented in several European port cities—Marseille, Liverpool, and Bristol among them. It examines the legacies of colonialism and the global commerce of goods and people through the displacement of plants, focusing on the scientific, social and political history of ballast, the waste material used to stabilize ships in maritime trade and dumped in ports at the end of the ships’ passages. Ballast contains “dormant” seeds that can remain viable in the soil for hundreds of years before germinating and growing. As Alves grows young plants from these dormant seeds—often in floating barges or gardens, developed in collaboration with local communities and scientists—she examines how we understand the identity of a place and its sociopolitical histories. As such the project questions the official accounts of culture as well as the lands it is built on and through.

Jury citation:
“The jury unanimously awards Maria Thereza Alves the third Vera List Center Prize for Art and Politics for her boldness in addressing through art urgent questions of resistance to the homogenization of life itself. By reimagining the historical geography of the contemporary world, she practices globalization from below to understand the planet as a holistic ecology. Seeds of Change, since 2002, tracks the routes of transport of goods and people while making visible the dormant potentialities of soil, seas, and people. Artistic excellence is expressed across mediums and Alves’ critical practice inside and outside of the art world is key to the precise forms of impacts her projects achieve.”

Vera List Center Prize
The biennial, international Vera List Center Prize for Art and Politics honors an artist or group of artists who have taken great risks to advance social justice in profound and visionary way. It is awarded for a particular project’s long-term impact, boldness, and artistic excellence. More than a single moment of recognition, the prize represents a long-term commitment to the prize recipient, mining how the art project advances social justice and how we speak of, evaluate and teach such work. The two-year prize initiative unfolds across various platforms that also involve an international Prize Council, and is an integral part of the intellectual life of The New School.

An exhibition of the winning project at Parsons Sheila C. Johnson Design Center, a conference, New School classes, and a publication featuring nominated projects complement a cash award, a prize sculpture by Yoko Ono and a short-term New York City residency for the honoree. In the spirit of Vera List Center programs, the prize catalyzes public conversations on the intersection of art and social justice that engage audiences in New York City, nationally and around the world.

The Vera List Center Field Guide on Art and Social Justice, No. 1
Edited by Carin Kuoni and Chelsea Haines, this reader celebrates the inaugural Vera List Center Prize for Art and Politics, with an in-depth section on prize recipient Theaster Gates and essays on 20 nominated projects internationally. With original contributions by Shannon Jackson, Thomas Keenan, João Ribas, Sharon Sliwinski, Mabel Wilson and many others.

Prize Founding Supporters
James Keith Brown and Eric Diefenbach, Elizabeth R. Hilpman and Byron Tucker, Jane Lombard, Joshua Mack, and The New School

For further information, please visit or contact [email protected].

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