Location: Boston, MA, United States
Completion date: 2021
Artwork budget: $27,000
City of Boston Poet Laureate
“Black as Light” was a poetry projection piece on the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, inspired by the central themes of Hanukkah – light, miracle, and community – and connected to the racial tensions of today. This poem, written by City of Boston Poet Laureate Porsha Olayiwola, was animated and projected on the façade of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston by artist Erik Jacobs, for the eight nights of Hanukkah, 2020.
Black as Light
we stay lit. beacon
doomed to this brunet burning, body a lighthouse,
a dawn splintering
a dim sky into sunbeam morning, a mourning.
lawfully widowed citizen, lantern weighting the window, we star-
starless night. we still a heavenly body, still body of breaking,
break of day, abyss
of earth, ethereal beings birth with veil. flash of
of brilliance, jet breath budding, onyx blossoming.
we buried berries
blooming. somber gleam looming a luminous glare.
we glint and glimmer
we dark swelling, gluttonous glow of sheen, pitch black.
Black as Light was designed to share the light and connection of Hanukkah with Boston audiences in the cold, dark, COVID-19 2020 winter.
While in a non-COVID-19 year, we would have celebrated Hanukkah in-person with thousands of Bostonians during one of the top-rated Hanukkah parties in the country, we were not able to enter the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston in 2020. Black as Light enabled us to bring some of the celebration from inside the museum out into the community for safely distanced outdoor viewing.
The visual interplay between darkness/blackness and light spoke to both the Hanukkah themes and to Black Lives Matter, connecting Jewish and Black communities through art in a tense and racially charged moment. It was especially appropriate for the poem to be projected onto the MFA, as they continue to strive to become a more open and inclusive institution.
Commissioned by the Jewish Arts Collaborative, this exhibit engaged broad audiences online on issues of race and identity through social media and zoom gatherings surrounding the work.
Black as Light was one of eight installations that made up Brighter Connected, the Jewish Arts Collaborative’s Hanukkah public art series, featured in neighborhoods across Greater Boston. For this project, JArts commissioned area artists to create pieces that would not only bring the light of Hanukkah to the community, but that also engaged the community in the creation process.
The concept for Black as Light came to be when projection artist Erik Jacobs, poet Porsha Olayiwola, and community artist Tova Speter collaborated to brainstorm ways to share the universal beauty and light of Hanukkah with the city. In addition to the collaboration between Porsha and Erik, this project was also a partnership with the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the City of Boston Office of Arts & Culture.
The Jewish Arts Collaborative (JArts) brings people together to explore and celebrate the diverse world of Jewish arts, culture, and creative expression. Porsha Olayiwola, current City of Boston poet laureate, is a Black poet, hip-hop feminist, womanist and a native of Chicago who now resides in Boston. Olayiwola: a writer, performer, educator and curator who uses afro-futurism and surrealism to examine historical and current issues in the Black, woman, and queer diasporas. She is an Individual World Poetry Slam Champion and the artistic director at MassLEAP, a literary youth organization. Erik Jacobs is a visual storyteller dedicated to producing compelling messages with a particular yen for work that connects us to each other and deepens our connection to the natural environment. His mission: to create distinctive and impactful work that generates attention, capital and success for people engaged in work that moves humanity forward – sustainable agriculture, the environment, journalism, social justice, the arts, science, technology and education. Erik’s piece Boston #StandsWithImmigrants is an internationally recognized public art project emblazoning Boston with the faces of immigrants, highlighting their contributions and showing the world we stand with them in solidarity.