Artists Ekua Holmes and Elizabeth James-Perry Bring MFA Lawn to Life with “Garden for Boston”

Elizabeth James-Perry’s “Raven Reshapes Boston” ( left). Ekua Holmes’ “Radiant Community” ( top/ bottom right)

Whether or not you go inside the Museum of Fine Arts, outside on the front lawn you will find rich offerings by artists and curators attentive to soil, sun, sea, community, and history. One morning in early August, I joined other visitors enthralled by plantings and perspective in the collaborative venture called “Garden for Boston.” Delighted by discoveries, I’ll share a few of my iPhone photos with quotes from enlightening resources on the MFA website and other specified links.

Ekua Holmes’ “Radiant Community” (left) Elizabeth James-Perry’s “Raven Reshapes Boston” (right)

“Between May and September, artists and activists Ekua Holmes (African American, b. 1955) and Elizabeth James-Perry (Aquinnah Wampanoag, b. 1973) will create a “Garden for Boston” outside the MFA’s main entrance. The two installations that comprise this exhibition, in dialogue with each other and the surrounding space, reshape the grounds around Cyrus Dallin’s monumental bronze sculpture Appeal to the Great Spirit (1909) with sunflowers and corn—ephemeral plants that are nonetheless part of the endless cycles of nature and long histories of New England land.” (Quote excerpt from Garden for Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

“This image, on a billboard at the MFA’s Huntington Avenue Entrance, is the first in a series celebrating “Garden for Boston” that highlights the verbs reclaim, repair, and revive. They describe processes necessary for healing inequality. Collaged together into one image, a wampum belt and a raven on a corn stalk intersect with cowrie shells and a sunflower. Behind them are portraits of five historic Native and Black women:…..” ( quote excerpt from “reclaim.-repair.-revive”)

James-Perry’s installation, Raven Reshapes Boston: A Native Corn Garden at the MFA, draws on planting techniques used by local Indigenous people for thousands of years, centering the reciprocal relationship between humans and the land……. a field of corn, beans, and sedges—grown in mounds using a traditional Woodlands Native American method—in the shape of a horseshoe crab and framed by crushed shells.” ( quote excerpt from third paragraph, Garden for Boston)

A gardener and multimedia artist, Holmes connects her practice to a long lineage of Black women who were inspired to make and grow things for beauty and community betterment.” ( quote excerpt from Radiant Community)

Key Resources , with links in red type

The MFA website offers great information about all components of “Garden for Boston” along with links to press coverage under In the News

Elizabeth James-Perry , About the Art and Artist 

Ekua Holmes website, Art

Also, for more background about Holmes’s “The Roxbury Sunflowers Project”, see Greg Cook’s WONDERLAND article from June 2018: What Happens If You Plant 10,000 Sunflowers At The Heart Of Boston’s Black Community?

For Roxbury’s Ekua Holmes, an art career that keeps flowering, article by Murray Whyte in the Boston Globe July 29, 2021 is a wonderful way to connect the artist’s sunflower gardens with her art on exhibit inside the MFA, Paper Stories, Layered Dreams: The Art of Ekua Holmes.

Paper Stories, Layered Dreams, The Art of Ekua Holmes​ exhibit at the MFA through Jan 23, 2022

Visitors in “Radiant Community” with notice about Ekua Holmes’ exhibit above museum entrance


  1. Bernard Gurman · · Reply

    You have reminded me that probably the first museum I visited on my own* was Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. As I recall, it needed a cleaning as it was dark and imposing, although much smaller than today. I knew little of art. I had seen pictures, almost exclusively in black and white. Imagine a Manet or Monet in black and white, but now….in color. I really do not recall my reaction to any of the visit, except to say that I recall being impressed.

    * It is possible that my mother and father may have taken me to a museum, but they were never art enthusiasts.


  2. Thank you for the recollections of the museum and for your very pertinent perspective!


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