Reflections and a Seed Library from Fatema Maswood, AIR with the Office of Sustainability
“I wanted to share some updates about my time as artist-in-residence with the Office of Sustainability. At the beginning of this residency, I found myself reflecting on dormancy as a survival strategy. Several months into the pandemic, still struggling with the necessity of staying apart to be well together, I looked to seeds as teachers. Dormancy is the state of intentional rest a viable seed exists in before the right conditions allow it to germinate. I thought about the desire to mobilize and the circumstances required to do so. A state of emergence. Potential energy bundled up in small, maybe unexpected, spaces.
The work that has come out of this time is a public seed library in collaboration with Providence Community Libraries and supported by many advisors. Over the past several months I have sourced culturally relevant, open-pollinated, and heirloom seeds — seeds that can be saved from one year to the next, and varieties that have relationships to the communities of people that live here. This work is an attempt to build a seed commons — a space where new and experienced gardeners can receive free, culturally resonant seeds, and return seeds from what they grow in following years. There are cowpeas, hot peppers, eggplants, beans, culinary herbs, flowers, greens, fibers, and medicines. There are seeds that are indigenous to this Narragansett, Wampanoag, and Pokonoket land. From my own family’s Bangladeshi and Tunisian culinary traditions, there are seeds for borboti (yardlong beans), data shak (amaranth), cumin, korola (bitter gourd), mlokhiya (jute), felfel (pepper), luffa gourd, and many others. These seeds are all going into the PCL catalogue thanks to tremendous support and work from librarians (special thanks to Gale Yallop, Cora Morrigan, Amy Rosa, Kevin Veronneau, and Cheryl Space, though they are not the only folks that have put time and energy into making this project possible). Along with an excellent crew of teen collaborators from PVD Young Makers and Queer Umbrella, we are building planters and a demonstration garden at Washington Park library, and seeding the knowledge for young folks to build more gardens at other library branches this summer.
Seeds and the plants we grow from them are symbols of abundance, cultural and intellectual commons, connection to our cultural traditions, and stewardship of the places we live. They are part of a commitment to a future in which health, nourishment, clean soil, and land access are essential components of community wealth. To me, planting and sharing them is a commitment to land justice and the liberation of Black, Indigenous, and all other People of Color by holding a strong connection between the places we come from and the futures we are building.
Seeds from the seed library will be available for free to the public at the Washington Park, Knight Memorial, and Mt. Pleasant Providence Community Library branches. Seed distribution will expand to other branches in the coming months. For updates, please take a look at provseedlib.com or follow @provseedlib on Instagram. Feel free to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions!”
Fatema Maswood Bio and Artist Statement
Fatema Maswood (they/them, she/her) is an ecological designer, builder, gardener, and educator of Tunisian and Bangladeshi descent. Their work addresses decentralized water infrastructure, disaster resilience, soil remediation, and land justice. Their projects include explorations of traditional North African water harvesting technologies, designing future cities with youth, interactive disaster preparedness games, and graphic introductions to zoning documents and cooperative land ownership. Informed by being raised in a Sufi tradition, Fatema works to embody spiritual practices of recollection, remembrance, and revolution within their artistic practice.
Maswood holds a Bachelor of Arts in Architecture from Barnard College and a Master’s in Landscape Architecture from the University of Washington in Seattle. They were recognized as a 2019 National Olmsted Scholar Finalist by the Landscape Architecture Foundation, and awarded a Merit by the American Society of Landscape Architects. They design, build and repair things as a member of Building Circle, a Providence-based worker-cooperative, and garden and make medicine with the Tooth and Nail community support collective.
The call for this residency can be found here.