Out on the Town: Roxbury Afro-American Art Museum

Going off campus repeatedly is enriching in more ways than one. In addition to the thrill of seeing a new place, one can make connections between different institutions as they see more and more of the city. Learning about Boston’s distinguished individuals and the communities in which they live bestows character and humanity on an already interesting city. For example, during my recent visit to the Afro-American Art Museum in Roxbury, I viewed an exhibit that was actually collected by Antonio Inniss, who works as an SMFA shuttle driver. Moments like that make me feel closer to Boston as a whole. Located southeast of Jackson Square, the museum offers unique exhibitions for a very agreeable price. Recently, I took the T over to Roxbury to see all that it had to offer.

This trip takes slightly longer than a trip to Park Street, for example, but it is quite simple, since buses are optional. I took the Davis Square shuttle to Davis and hopped on the Red Line headed inbound. Once I got to Downtown Crossing, I transferred to the Orange Line headed to Forest Hills. The Orange Line trains feature what seem to be faux-wooden interiors, and have a novel ’70s quality to them. Getting off at Jackson Square, I elected to walk to the museum. One may also take the 44 bus from the T station to the museum for an additional $1.50. The route I took involved mostly side streets. There was a nifty little hillock in between two houses that featured a view of downtown Boston, so if you love cityscapes, the walk may be preferable to the bus route.

Once I got there, I stopped and briefly took in the building itself. According to a plaque on the side of the museum, the Victorian-style building had been erected in 1872 as a private residence. It was later purchased by the National Center of Afro-American Artists Museum in 1976. Once inside, presenting my student ID to the receptionist knocked $1 off an already modest $5 price tag.

The art in their permanent collection was eye-catching and vibrant. I enjoyed the different types of art on display there, including a few intriguing collages. A hefty backstory accompanied most pieces, so I had a good guideline for how the artist interpreted their own work. There were quite a few pieces from former SMFA professors, as well as other local artists. Boston’s rich art history was foreign to me before the trip. I also learned a lot about Boston’s history of institutional racism, including the Boston busing crisis of the 1970s and 1980s. The exhibit that captivated me the most involved a series of handbags woven from cigarette packaging by inmates in U.S. prisons (this was the Inniss collection). The unmistakable American iconography of the packaging all over the bags, combined with educational tidbits about America’s dysfunctional prison system, gave me quite a lot to think about. For anyone curious about the creative expression of Boston’s African-American community, or Boston’s role in institutional racism, this museum has a lot to offer.