Maria Thereza Alves

Recipes for Survival
Seeing you

Seeds of Change


Seeds of Change, 1999-ongoing

Site-specific Installations

Seeds of Change: Marseille 1999-2000
Seeds of Change: Reposaari 2001
Seeds of Change: Liverpool 2004
Seeds of Change: Exeter and Topsham 2004
Seeds of Change: Dunkirk 2005
Seeds of Change: Bristol 2007
Seeds of Change: Antwerp 2009/2019


Seeds of Change is an ongoing investigation based on original research of ballast flora in the port cities of Europe. Projects have been developed for Marseilles, Reposaari, Dunkirk, Exeter and Topsham, Liverpool and Bristol. Material such as stones, earth, sand, wood, bricks and whatever else was economically expedient was used as ballast to stabilize merchant sailing ships according to the weight of the cargo. Upon arrival in port, the ballast was unloaded, carrying with it seeds native to the area where it had been collected. The source of these seeds can be any of the ports and regions (and their regional trading partners) involved in trade with Europe.

The botanist, Dr. Heli Jutila, an expert on ballast flora writes, “Although seeds seem to be dead, they are in fact alive and can remain vital in soil for decades, and even hundreds of years in a state of dormancy.” Seeds contained in ballast soil may germinate and grow, potentially bearing witness to a far more complex narrative of world history than is usually presented by orthodox accounts.

Seeds of Change does not duplicate scientific work within an ‘art’ context but rather contributes with original research by locating historical ballast sites and ballast flora. Local archives are first researched for evidence and then ballast sites are located with the aid of historical map references. From these sites, samples of earth are taken and potted and seeds germinate.

Although they have the potential to alter our notions of the identity of place as belonging to a defined bioregion, the historical importance of these seeds is rarely acknowledged. The Seeds of Change project is, therefore, designed to question those discourses that define the geographical and ‘natural’ history of place: At what moment do seeds become ‘native’? What are the socio-political histories of place that determine the framework of belonging?

If official accounts of history fail to account for, and even work to erase local knowledge and experiences, by contrast, art has the potential to reclaim such narratives to contemporary social realities.

overview (PDF) about the whole project Seeds of Change

In 2019 Seeds of Change: Antwerp was exhibited for the first time in the exhibit Artefact in STUK. The work links the colonization of Guatemala by Leopold I in order to ease the emigration of Belgians due to famine and the atrocities committed by Belgian citizens and companies as well as Leopold II in the Belgian Congo along with the quotidian racism in contemporary Brussels. For this work, Alves uncovered original ballast flora research previously unavailable in Antwerp.
(Originally commissioned by Anselm Franke for Extra City Center in Antwerp in 2010, the incoming new director in 2011 was uninterested and the project remained unfinished until the STUK exhibit. The artist would like to thank STUK and its staff for the commitment to this work.)


recommended literature on Slave Trade:
- Kenneth Morgan, Shipping Patterns and the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1749-1770
- R.B. Sheridan, The Commercial and Financial Organization of the British Slave Trade 1750-1807
- Guillaume Daudin, Profitability of Slave and Long-Distance Trading in Context: The Case of 18th Century France



Maria Thereza Alves: Seeds of Change.
Edited by Carin Kuoni and Wilma Lukatch. Published by Amherst College Press and the Vera List Center for Art and Politics, The New School. Designed by Common Name. 2023.

The first monograph of Alves’s historic project, Seeds of Change is edited by Carin Kuoni and Wilma Lukatsch and features essays by the artist as well as Katayoun Chamany, Seth Denizen, Jean Fisher, Yrjö Haila, Richard William Hill, Heli M. Jutila, J. Kehaulani Kauanui, Lara Khaldi, Tomaž Mastnak, Marisa Prefer, and Radhika Subramaniam.

The book can be ordered through Amherst College Press or
Vera List Center for Arts and Politics.


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