About the project


ongoing since 1999


Various locations

Proposed by

Shela Sheikh

Seeds of Change, an ongoing investigation of ballast flora, was initiated in 1999. Ballast was any economical and heavy material used to stabilize merchant sailing vessels and dumped along with accidental seeds upon arrival at the port for more freight to be carried on. I trace these unnoticed seeds that have arrived in European ports such as Marseille, Reposaari, Exeter/Topsham, Liverpool, Dunkirk, Bristol, New York and in 2019 in Antwerp.

I research ports, ships and botanical records, locate ballast sites, take earth samples and pot them. Seeds germinate and grow, potentially bearing witness to a far more complex narrative of world history which includes slavery, colonization, global migration, and commodification than is usually presented by orthodox accounts.

Maria Thereza Alves

For example, in Liverpool, such a massive quantity of ballast acquired through the trade of enslaved peoples arrived that it used as construction material for ‘ballast-made roads’ where non-autochthonous flora was found growing.

Each iteration of the project was developed to address local contexts and communities specifically. A Floating Ballast Seed Garden along with a five-year public program was established in Bristol. Ballast Flora Gardens were created for Weeksville Heritage Center, the High Line and Pioneer Works in New York.

Historically, categories of knowledge prevent knowledge from being developed; art offers a multidisciplinary approach, and thus this work has impacted thinkers such as Jill Casid, Seth Denizen, Jean Fischer, Kevin Slavin, Nicholas Wray, and Yrjo Haila. If official histories fail to account for, and even work against local knowledge and experience, art, by contrast, has the potential to reclaim such narratives as the contemporary social reality.

About the artist

Maria Thereza Alves was born in Brazil. Alves has exhibited in Manifesta, dOCUMENTA (13), Sao Paulo Biennale, and Guangzhou Triennale. Solo exhibitions include CAAC in Sevilla and MUAC in Mexico City. She was co-founder of the Green Party of State Sao Paulo in 1987 and a speaker on human rights abuses of indigenous peoples in Brazil at the Human Rights Commission of the UN in Geneva in 1979.


External link
Read here the book "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.
Watch here a video on Seeds of Change: A Floating Ballast Seed Garden for Bristol
External link
A text by Jean Fisher, on Seeds of Change