How is This Political?

Jen Mergel, curator of “Political Intent” in Gallery 158 and Beal Family Senior Curator of Contemporary Art, has asked a guest author to choose a work from the MFA's collection and share personal discoveries and opinions about its political meaning.

Explore these works of art, and the stories behind their selection.

Then, share your thoughts in the comments below each entry: Is this political to you? Why?

Illustrations to Tao Qian's prose poem “Homecoming”

Nancy Berliner
The poem “Homecoming” by Tao Qian (Chinese, AD 365–427) describes the poet’s dramatic decision as a government official, frustrated with corruption…

Greasy Grass Premonition #2

Jacqueline Gertner
David Paul Bradley's Greasy Grass Premonition #2 (1995) poignantly acknowledges the underlying recurring struggle for American Indians to attain…

“Slave-in-Chains” medallion

Emily Stoehrer
Jewelry is political. Because of its highly visible nature, jewelry offers a way to wear your “heart on your sleeve,” around your wrist, on your…

Watson and the Shark

Layla Bermeo
Copley’s original sketch for Watson and the Shark shows only white men. Yet, when he painted the dramatic rescue scene on canvas—his first large-scale…


John Moore
Tiny in scale, the scene painted on this spoon is loaded with meaning: a fox dressed as a hooded monk reads the word “pax” (peace) from a podium to…


Olga Khvan
What does the word “supermodel” evoke? In today’s world, it might conjure images of glossy magazine covers and runways populated by people who are…

Dos Mujeres (Salvadora y Herminia)

Elliot Bostwick Davis
This double-portrait of Salvadora, left, and Herminia—maids in her mother’s household—is a powerful statement of Kahlo’s staunch belief in the ideals…

Jewelry box

Kathryn Wysocki Gunsch
This jewelry box is part of the colonial history of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Mangbetu royal court—founded in the 18th century…

Sons of Liberty Bowl

Caroline Cole
On February 17, the MFA reprises a Remix that looks afresh at Revolutionary-era art through themes from the Broadway musical Hamilton. One highlight…

L’Abbatoire No. III

Sara Rex
Having been familiar with Eldzier Cortor’s delicately layered, nostalgic painting style, I was shocked and moved by his viscerally intense print…

Flags of Many Nations

Sarah E. Thompson
When Mizuno Toshikata’s image was circulated in a literary magazine in October 1904, Japanese readers were well aware that their country was engaged…

Design for a candlestick

Meghan Melvin
This monumental candlestick was intended as part of a large diplomatic gift from Napoleon Bonaparte to Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah Qājār, then ruler of Persia.

Semiramis Receiving Word of the Revolt of Babylon

John Hawley
In 1660 the States General—a body of delegates representing the provinces of the Dutch Republic—presented 28 paintings (most by Italian masters), 12…

Sketch for The Unveiling of Truth

Morgan McKendry
I first encountered one of Sargent’s preliminary sketches for The Unveiling of Truth, part of his grand murals in the MFA’s Rotunda, when I was an art…

Two Military Musicians

Anne Havinga
This photograph dates from the early days of the medium, and is one of the first examples of the political use of photography. It was taken by Joseph…