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The University of Massachusetts Amherst

One of Callender’s “Borderland Where Freedom Grows” drawings is part of the 60 Years of Collecting exhibition. Four other drawings have been reproduced as art posters and are available free at the UMCA and across the UMass Campus for the 2022-23 academic year.
Each drawing is accompanied by a speech by scholar W.E.B. Du Bois which you can hear below.

In “Borderland Where Freedom Grows,” artist Alex Callender uses images and objects drawn from UMass archival collections to inspire new landscapes reimagining ecology as part of our public.

Each drawing is accompanied by a speech by Du Bois, who spent his life challenging systems of colonial inequity. As a public intellectual who understood Black history as central to American history, Du Bois asked us to understand the intertwining legacies of land colonization and civil rights. In these four speeches, Du Bois addressed notions of the public's relationship to nature — writing on freedom and the solidarity of intersecting social movements and their relationship to on-going colonial extraction. Listen in:

A dark colored drawing with a person in the middle

Alex Callender, All the Stars We Have Known, 2022. Graphite and Ink on paper.
Archive Collections: Chester Davis papers, Black Mass Communication Project, UMass Herbarium, Du Bois Papers.

All the Stars We Have Known // Negro History Week, 1949, read by Cheryl Townsend Gilkes


A dark colored drawing with plants in the center

Alex Callender, The River Was the Center, 2022. Graphite and Ink on paper.
Archive Collections: University Archives Protests and Demonstrations, UMass Herbarium, Black Mass Communication Project, Du Bois Papers.

The River Was the Center // The Housatonic River, July 21, 1930, read by (in order) Reynolds Winslow, Madeleine Charney, and Bahar Behbahani


A dark colored drawing with plants and human figures in the background

Alex Callender, What Slips Between, 2022. Graphite and Ink on paper.
Archive Collections: University Archives Protests and Demonstrations, UMass Herbarium, Black Mass Communication Project, Du Bois Papers.

What Slips Between // Thinking and Writing, March 27, 1949, read by (in order) Chanel Prince and Aaron Yates


a dark colored drawing with black sign in the middle and plants in the background

Alex Callender, Time Reminds Us, 2022. Graphite and Ink on paper.
Archive Collections: University Archives Protests and Demonstrations, Science for the People, Jeffrey Drucker Photograph Collection, Du Bois Papers.

Time Reminds Us // Winds of Time, December 23, 1946, read by Ifa Bayeza

“Borderland Where Freedom Grows” (words borrowed from the 1949 W.E.B. Du Bois essay “Thinking and Writing”) is an artist commission as part of Art Pop! a Fine Arts Center initiative to present free, public art across the UMass Campus.

Callender researched UMass archival collections to create her drawings. They are interpreted landscapes, in which people and plants interact with public space on ethereal campus lawns. They draw from archival images of students engaging in public dialogue and dissent, protest signage, solidarity cloth, printed broadsides, strike processions, and banners. The works combine shapes of native grasses and meadow plants. Lovegrass, Bluestems, and Switchgrass attract pollinators, small animals and birds, create nesting material, and are crucial to soil sustainability. These and other meadow plants were largely cleared during the eras of settler colonialism and were replaced with non-native grasses for cattle grazing and agriculture resulting in our contemporary lawn grasses that blanket private and public space. The 1863 Morrill Act, which allowed the seizure of Native lands for public universities, is part of this colonial legacy.

Weaving together materials primarily from UMass Amherst collections’ — The W.E.B. Du Bois papers, The Black Mass Communications Project, Student Demonstrations and Protests, Science for the People, the Chester Davis papers, Sam Morrill papers, and UMass herbarium collections — this project hopes to draw archival materials into outside space, where we can consider how history lives with us; and, as Du Bois asks us, how we may know the world we are interpreting and how we may know ourselves.