Illustrating histories through portraits of radiance and resilience
A lifelong resident of Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood, Ekua Holmes (b. 1955) is an artist and community activist whose body of work explores themes of childhood, family bonds, memory, and resilience. This exhibition focuses on her award-winning children’s book illustrations—vibrant collages revealing stories of self-determination, love, and community that reflect the artist’s distinctive vision and commitment to Black imagery and representation.
The more than 40 works on view include original illustrations from Holmes’s published book projects: Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement (2015) by Carole Boston Weatherford, Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets (2017) by Kwame Alexander, and Black Is a Rainbow Color (2020) by Angela Joy. The exhibition also features a selection of Holmes’s luminous illustrations for the recently released book Saving American Beach (2021) by Heidi Tyline King—on view for the first time—as well as a selection of her independent work, including portrait installation pieces. Interpretive materials include a video interview with the artist and a group of wall texts written by teen participants in the MFA’s Curatorial Study Hall program.
Growing up in Roxbury and attending the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts as well as studio classes at the MFA, where she recalls being the only student of color in the room, Holmes was profoundly affected by what she saw as a lack of positive Black images and believed that art could fill this void. Influenced by the artist’s life experiences, familial connections, and friendships, Holmes’s artwork is an invitation for all to see the world anew.
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