"Acknowledge + Listen" is now on the Rose Kennedy Greenway after a year-long installation at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum. Photo by Mel Taing
“Acknowledge + Listen: Undoing Colonial Design in Massachusetts,” a Lesley public art project co-developed with community members, has now been installed on Boston’s Rose Kennedy Greenway.
Designed by Lesley College of Art and Design students, faculty and Native American advisors, the lasered birchwood sign has a circular viewfinder that gives a window to the surrounding landscape. On one side is the message “You Are Standing on Native Land,” and the other displays the federally and historically recognized sovereign Native nations and local tribes within Massachusetts. A QR code leads the viewer to the Beyond the Flag podcast, which honors the voices of Native cultural and political leaders who were advisors for “Acknowledge + Listen.”
The podcast and sign were co-developed by teams of students, peer-led by Interactive Design BFA alumna Madeline Meyer '21 and Graphic Design BFA alumna Chelsea Johnson ‘22 (Passamaquoddy Tribe), respectively. Both aspects of the project were guided by consultation with Indigenous leaders and facilitated by Social Practice faculty and Director of Community Engagement Katherine Shozawa.
The installation and podcast grew out of a multi-semester project through Lesley’s Community Design Studio, a course led by Director Rick Rawlins. Studio projects usually pair students with nonprofits to offer pro bono design. Acknowledge + Listen was a little different.
For two semesters, the Community Design Studio students, along with Shozawa, partnered with the North American Indian Center of Boston (NAICOB), Native cultural and political leaders, and non-Indigenous historians and MA legislative staff to support a redesign of the state’s racist seal and motto. The state’s special commission voted unanimously to recommend a complete redesign of the seal and motto, which appear on the Massachusetts flag, in May 2022. A final report is expected to be released early this year.
The current seal features an image of a Native American man whose composite design includes the head of Thomas Little Shell, a Chippewa chief from Montana; body proportions derived from bones excavated in an archaeological dig in Winthrop; and the sash of Native leader Metacomet (King Philip), whose severed head was displayed by British colonizers as a war trophy in Plymouth for 20 years. Above the figure, an arm holds a sword and underneath a Latin phrase that translates to “By the sword we seek peace, but peace under liberty.”
As Elizabeth Solomon, an elder of the Massachuset Tribe at Ponkapoag, said in a statement, "The imagery of the current flag and seal promotes a history of conquest, appropriation, and genocide.”
Johnson, who discovered her own Passamaquoddy heritage while working on Acknowledge + Listen, said she had never really grasped the extent of harm against Indigenous people until she began to listen to the project’s Native American advisors.
“(It) opened my eyes to how much I didn’t know, which in turn made me think about how much other people probably don’t know,” she says.
To the Greenway
The deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum featured Acknowledge + Listen in conjunction with the monumental work of Mississippi Choctaw artist Jeffrey Gibson from June 2021-22.
Upon learning about the project, Greenway Director and Curator of Public Art Audrey Lopez recognized the significance of bringing the sign to Boston. Lopez worked with NAICOB Board President Jean-Luc Pierite and Executive Director Raquel Halsey and Shozawa to bring the piece to the Greenway.
The installation is located at Seaport Boulevard near Atlantic Avenue and will be on display until at least August.
“It’s really doing what it’s intended to do, which is to move the needle on public consciousness and awareness of Native communities alive and well in Boston,” says Shozawa. “It really pushes the larger implications of what it means to change the seal, motto and flag.”
The project also resides as a large-scale photo mural in the street-level window of the Lunder Arts Center, located on the ancestral homelands of the Massachuset Peoples also known as Cambridge, Massachusetts.