Vera List Center Marks 25 Years of International Impact

2017 25th anniversary conference, biennial Prize, exhibition and events announced for fall 2017
NEW YORK, NY—The Vera List Center for Art and Politics at The New School—the only organization focused exclusively on advancing research, scholarship and public discourse on contemporary issues at the intersection of art and politics—announces a series of dynamic events to celebrate its 25th anniversary in the fall, including an exhibition of works by Brazilian artist Maria Thereza Alves that addresses the timely topics of human migration, indigeneity and commodification.

A scholarly research center and public forum for art, culture and politics, the Vera List Center has championed the arts as expressions of political moments since its founding in 1992 amidst the Culture Wars. Today, debates around freedom of speech, identity politics and society's investment in the arts make the Center's charge as critical now as it was then.

"The Center's work is more relevant than ever, as we find ourselves in a political climate not unlike the one that led to our founding in the early 90's," said Director Carin Kuoni. "For our 25th anniversary, we will dive deep into the question of the political relevance of contemporary art. While global regimes of communication and capitalism have destabilized Western representative democracies, artistic projects have inserted themselves successfully in various political contexts. It is exhilarating to examine these forms of political and civic engagement through our programs and the Center's network of international collaborators and partners."

As part of its 2017-2018 anniversary season, the Center will present an International Biennial Prize Conference on Nov. 3 and 4 at The New School, accompanied by an exhibition of work by Brazilian artist Maria Thereza Alves, recipient of the Vera List Center Prize for Art and Politics 2016-2018.

All events are free and open to the public. Registration is now open.

Centered on Maria Thereza Alves' exemplary Prize winning project Seeds of Change and the practices of the Prize finalists, the conference will assemble artists, cultural leaders, scholars, curators and policy makers who will explore the field of art and social justice over two days of vigorous conversations and lively events. Friday, Nov. 3 will culminate in a keynote and presentation of the Vera List Center Prize for Art and Politics to Alves, followed by the opening of her exhibition Maria Thereza Alves, Seeds of Change: New York—A Botany of Colonization.

"The International Prize Conference will mine the projects of Maria Thereza Alves and the Prize finalists to understand urgent global issues, and to model ways in which the artists successfully address them," said Mary Watson, executive dean of the Schools of Public Engagement, The New School. "New School faculty will join the conference participants, among them artists, curators and scholars from South Africa, Indonesia, Colombia, Mexico, Canada and the U.S."

The five 2016-2018 Prize finalists include: 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.

In the spring of 2018, the Vera List Center will celebrate the achievements of Vera List Center Fellows over the last 25 years.

Alves' Seeds of Change explores colonialism, slavery and the global commerce of goods through the lens of displaced plants in ballast—the waste material historically used to balance ships in maritime trade. Collected at one port at the start of a voyage and dumped in another at the end, ballast often carried seeds that resulted in the introduction of non-native plant species to coastal cities around the globe. Remarkably, ballast seeds can remain dormant in the soil for hundreds of years before germinating and growing. Alves identifies such seeds and traces the displacement of lands and people by the transatlantic slave trades through local flora.

Seeds of Change has been presented previously in several European port cities including Marseille, Liverpool, and Bristol. The New York iteration of Seeds of Change explores the history of foreign flora that traveled to New York City by trade ship ballast over the past several centuries. To understand this history, the Vera List Center facilitated Alves' collaboration with horticultural experts and local communities at Pioneer Works, The High Line, Weeksville Heritage Center and The New School to research the ballast flora and related stories of migration, commodification and valuation. Each organization brings a distinct botanical history and community to the project.

Maria Thereza Alves, Seeds of Change: New York—A Botany of Colonization will feature a "living installation" or greenhouse of more than 60 ballast plants, drawings and paintings on canvas and paper with flora and maps that highlight the species and areas filled in with ballast in the New York region. The exhibition will be on view to the public in the Arnold and Sheila Aronson Galleries in the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center at The New School, 66 Fifth Avenue, from Nov. 3-27.

The Vera List Center Prize for Art and Politics is biennial and international, and honors an artist or group of artists who have taken great risks to advance social justice in profound and visionary ways. Juried by a Prize Council of 25 leading international artists, curators, activists and educators, it is awarded for a project's long-term impact, boldness, and artistic excellence. The two-year Prize initiative is an integral part of the intellectual life of The New School and unfolds across various platforms that include an exhibition, prize publication, classes, public programs and an international conference. The inaugural Prize recipient (2012–14) was Theaster Gates for Dorchester Projects, and the 2014–16 Prize winner was Abounaddara, the anonymous collective of Syrian filmmakers.

The Vera List Center for Art and Politics is a scholarly research center and a public forum for art, culture, and politics. It was established at The New School in 1992—a time of rousing debates about freedom of speech, identity politics, and society's investment in the arts. A pioneer in the field, the Center is a nonprofit that serves a critical mission: to foster a vibrant and diverse community of artists, scholars, and policy makers who take creative, intellectual, and political risks to bring about positive change.

In 1919, a few great minds imagined a school that would never settle for the status quo, one that would rethink the purpose of higher learning. The New School was the result. Today it is a progressive university housing five extraordinary schools and colleges. It is a place where scholars, artists, and designers find the support they need to unleash their intellect and creativity so that they can courageously challenge convention. We dissolve walls between disciplines to create a community in which journalists collaborate with designers, architects with social researchers, artists with activists. Our academic centers in New York City, Paris, Shanghai, and Mumbai offer over 10,000 students more than 135 undergraduate and graduate degree programs uniquely designed to prepare them to make a more just, beautiful, and better-designed world.

Follow the Vera List Center on social media at @VeraListCenter!

Kristin Guiter
kkg arts + culture communications
(917) 635-1805

Scott Gargan
Media Relations Manager
The New School
(212) 229-5667 x3794