Art as Advocacy

The Black Market, Hosted by Boston Hassle

by Samantha Bratkon

Art by Katrina Chaput

Art by Katrina Chaput

The entrance to the Black Market is underground. Once you’ve paid the one dollar admission fee, the women at the door marks your hand by drawing a smiley face with a lime green sharpie. Inside, your body is forced to move with the current of people around you. The music blares as you stand in front of the speaker, but quickly fades as the current pushes you forward and the tones blend into the constant hum of human voices.

Black Market is hosted by Boston Hassle, a nonprofit volunteer run organization, committed to bringing independent art and music to the Greater Boston area, one Sunday of every other month.

Locals sell their products including t-shirts, embroidery, jewelry, pins, and candles. While the variety of items for sale is limitless, most products are handmade and showcase artwork of all forms. The event is a combination vintage flea market, craft fair, and art gallery.

Browsing the booths in the dark Elk’s Lodge basement in Cambridge, certain themes become clear. The room brightens as guests make their way up the wide staircase to the second floor of vendors. Some artists draw inspiration from nature, featuring gemstones, mountains, human anatomy and constellations in their work. However, another subject is even more prominent: activism.

One vender, Brilliant Botany, sells pins and stickers advocating to “Save the Bees!” A sect of these bee stickers includes critters who have traded their trademark black and yellow for some other well recognized stripes. These stickers are available in the colors of the gay pride, bisexual pride, pansexual pride, asexual pride, and non-binary pride flags.

Claire Hopkins, 26, started selling her identity bees for Boston Pride in 2017. Hopkins, who does science education, aims to “make a bridge between science and the arts.” For her, sharing her artworks is a productive mode of communication.

29 year old Erica Lockwell, creator of Our Back Pockets, found a home at the Black Market because she needed somewhere offbeat to sell her products. Her greeting cards and pins are marketed towards the queer community and didn’t quite fit at a traditional craft fair. Her goal is to showcase the aspects of queer life that aren’t often represented and to create wearable, shareable art. “I’m very attached to the idea of art you can wear in everyday life,” Lockwell says.  

She Cult, a Boston-based zine focused on femininity, is represented at the market by Emerson students Sara Barber, 20, and Beatrice Black, 19. They describe She Cult as a safe place for opinions to be expressed and for education on sexual consent and queer identity.

My Big Pink Crafty Box, a booth run by Sophia Giordano, 30, is hard to pass by without at least a second glance. Handsewn felt and bells come together to form the well known image of the vulva in all its glory. On top of running her own booth, Giordano is also the vendor manager for the Black Market.

Giordano has composed a new spin on a well known phrase. Her pink “Open Carry” pins are decorated with doodles of tampons and menstrual cups. Her goal is to “make people giggle and feel excited about the things that we tend to get embarrassed about.” She hopes to help end the stigma that the female body is something to be ashamed of.

Even when it’s raining and there is no place to park, checking out the Black Market is well worth the “hassle.” While there, make sure to chat with the vendors and grab some artwork that will be sure to start a conversation.