By Katy Rogers
Boston based artist, Allison Cekala, currently has work inspired by Winthrop’s Snake Island on display at the Boston Sculptor’s Gallery. The exhibition, which is part of The Isles Art Initiative, was titled “34” after the thirty four islands in Boston Harbor. To coordinate with the islands, thirty four artists were invited to participate, each being assigned a different island to serve as artistic inspiration. Cekala was asked to represent Snake Island in Winthrop for the exhibit.
Typically, Cekala’s work includes two-dimensional photographs and films inspired by nature, but her current work entitled “Crassostrea virginica” takes a three dimensional form due to restrictions she came across in the creative process. The piece itself appears to be a nest with white oyster shells inside resembling bird’s eggs. The nest was created from materials located on the mainland near Snake Island, while the shells were cast from actual oyster shells.
Cekala explained that Snake Island is off-limits to visitors during the majority of the summer as it serves as a nesting ground for American Oystercatchers, hence her being unable to photograph on location. Since the area is conserved for the birds, Cekala was forced to work outside of her most comfortable medium in order to respect the rules of the island.
Cekala explained that during a portion of the summer, “Snake Island is home to several nesting pairs of American Oystercatchers, birds that travel to Boston Harbor each year from the Caribbean to have their young. Snake island has the most pairs of any of the harbor islands. Since they are a shy, sensitive bird and affected by human presence significantly, the National Park Service prohibits visitors to the island in the spring and summer while they are nesting.” Due to the restrictions, this challenged Cekala to push the boundaries of her latest work and create something entirely different than the two-dimensional imagery she is most comfortable with.
While Cekala’s original idea was to get on the island for photographs, after communicating with someone from the National Park Service, she was slightly disappointed to find out the island was off-limits this time of year. However, after learning about the American Oystercatcher’s nesting, she became intrigued with the birds residing on the island and began researching them. “I quickly realized that oysters, once abundant in Boston Harbor were nearly extinct due to pollution, landfilling, and o
verharvesting,” Cekala shared, “The Oystercatchers now eat other bivalves like clams and muscles, not oysters.”
In her research, she came across Andrew Jay of the Massachusetts Oyster Project, a group that is looking into reintroducing oysters to the Snake Island area. By nature, Oysters act as filters and offset pollution, being a great way to keep the water clean. With all of the information she obtained, Cekala’s piece universally addresses and celebrates the history of Snake Island, including the presence of the American Oystercatchers, and the reintroduction of Oysters to the island in the future, hence the oysters within the nest. Cekala’s piece is on display as part of the exhibit “34” at the Boston Sculptor’s Gallery until August 16.