Maria Molteni often operates at the intersection of art and craft and feminism and athletics. Her latest project is a visionary mural of moons, lightning and a roiling sea painted across a basketball court in Salem’s Point neighborhood. It’s about reimagining the basketball court visually—as well as socially.

“Feminism is about reclaiming spaces that women or other marginalized people have not felt safe in or invited in in the past,” the Boston artist says. “There’s also that aspect of queerness. Men have tended to dominate the spaces. This is in no way about removing them from the spaces, but opening them up potentially. It’s more about opening the mind up through something physical.”

The mural is scheduled to debut with a free party from 3 to 6 p.m. this Friday, June 15, at the court on Ward Street, just east of Lafayette Street. Kristine Roan and Jena Tegeler of Salem have been helping her paint the design, which depicts a stylized sun floating above storm clouds crackling with lightning. Waves roll across the baseline near the hoop. Disembodied eyes hover in the painted sky. A green moon/ball clutched by claw-like fingers rings the free throw line. And the free throw lane features phases of the moon illustrated with basketballs. The basketball hoop features a net that Molteni crafted herself through knitting, crocheting and macramé.

Maria Molteni paints her “Storming the Court” mural in Salem, June 13, 2018. (Greg Cook)
Maria Molteni paints her “Storming the Court” mural in Salem, June 13, 2018. (Greg Cook)

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Molteni arrived in Salem with the theme of “Storming the Court”— “It’s when a team wins and then they all rush on the court to celebrate”—and worked with neighborhood children to sketch ideas. “They’re really into emojis. So that’s why we’re plugging in the lightning and eyeballs,” Molteni says. “Then they kept saying they really wanted a witch in the center, so that’s why we threw in the claws a couple days ago.”

The witch evokes the Salem’s nickname, “Witch City,” which itself is a reference to the community’s notorious witchcraft scare of 1692 and ’93. The public high school’s basketball team is also called the Witches.

“We’re in ‘Witch City,’” Molteni says, “and I really, really identify with various forms of witch culture and so do Jena and Kristine. But I also wanted to come into it a little bit sensitive that that’s the tourist image of the city.”

Maria Molteni (left) and Jena Tegeler paint the “Storming the Court” mural in Salem, June 13, 2018. (Greg Cook)
Maria Molteni (left) and Jena Tegeler paint the “Storming the Court” mural in Salem, June 13, 2018. (Greg Cook)

For Molteni, the witch is a notion of a “shapeshifter,” she says. “Think of it as a naturally occurring force. There were definitely historically really women who were behaving in powerful ways who were called a witch. Not only women. A lot of women, a lot of feminists and queer people have been reclaiming it. … It’s building your internal power and your internal resistance to the harmful effects of external privilege or patriarchal power.”

The basketball court mural is part of the Punto Urban Art Museum, some 50 murals that have gone up over the past year in Salem’s Point neighborhood as part of a social justice effort by the North Shore Community Development Coalition. The aim is to beautify the neighborhood and break down bigotry against the community, which has long been home to immigrants—French Canadians 100 years ago transitioning to Caribbeans about half a century ago and to Dominicans and some Puerto Ricans today.

“It’s a pervasive stigma,” says Mickey Northcutt, CEO of Northshore CDC. “It’s oriented toward the neighborhood but also the people around class and race.”

Maria Molteni's first basketball court mural at the (now defunct) art and sports Clubhouse at 471 Somerville Ave. in Somerville in 2016. Caleb Neelon painted the wall. (Greg Cook)
Maria Molteni’s first basketball court mural at the (now defunct) art and sports Clubhouse at 471 Somerville Ave. in Somerville in 2016. Caleb Neelon painted the wall. (Greg Cook)

Molteni’s Salem mural is the third one she has painted on a basketball court—first at the (now defunct) art and sports Clubhouse at 471 Somerville Ave. in Somerville in 2016, then “Hard in the Paint” across two side-by-side basketball courts in Harambee Park outside the Perkins Community Center in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood last summer. She was invited to do the Salem project as part of the Peabody Essex Museum’s “PlayTme” exhibit this spring and along with the Punto Urban Art Museum.

Maria Molteni painted “Hard in the Paint” across two side-by-side basketball courts in Harambee Park outside the Perkins Community Center in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood during the summer of 2017. (Photo by Alan Shapiro)
Maria Molteni painted “Hard in the Paint” across two side-by-side basketball courts in Harambee Park outside the Perkins Community Center in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood during the summer of 2017. (Photo by Alan Shapiro)

Molteni grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, a faithful Roman Catholic and very involved in sports, especially basketball. But it was her interest in art that brought her to Boston University to study painting. After graduating in 2006, seeking personal subject matter for her art, she returned to sports. She taught herself to knit and crochet—and crocheted a basketball net. Then she thought, “The hoop that I play with down the street doesn’t have a net. Maybe I’ll put my net on it.”

It was the beginning of her “craftletics,” a variation of yarn-bombing (a spinoff of graffiti that involves wrapping or draping outdoor structures with knitting) and a method to challenge the way sports too often exclude women and girls. “A net is already an example of a piece of public fiber art that’s in the world,” Molteni told me last year. “You could insert yourself into that. It disrupts it enough, but it’s not causing anyone a problem.”

Maria Molteni (left) and Jena Tegeler paint the “Storming the Court” mural in Salem, June 13, 2018. (Greg Cook)
Maria Molteni (left) and Jena Tegeler paint the “Storming the Court” mural in Salem, June 13, 2018. (Greg Cook)

Her hand-crocheted basketball nets led her to launch Net Works in 2010, a loose group of basketball net knitters and crocheters that included Boston artists Samantha Fields, Taylor McVay, Andrea Evans and Cara Kuball. That group evolved into New Craft Artists in Action—punning on the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)—which self-published an instructional manual of how to craft homemade nets for empty basketball hoops in your neighborhood. Their nets ended up hanging from hoops in the Philippines, Hungary, Australia, South Africa, Germany and all across the United States.

“We talk about participation over spectatorship,” Molteni says, “and how we can express our own personal and cultural identities through recreation and sports and public space as opposed to the commercial content and styles of expression that we’re sold or are told are the models for these things.”


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Kristine Roan (from left), Maria Molteni and Jena Tegeler at the “Storming the Court” mural (in progress) in Salem, June 13, 2018. (Greg Cook)
Kristine Roan (from left), Maria Molteni and Jena Tegeler at the “Storming the Court” mural (in progress) in Salem, June 13, 2018. (Greg Cook)
Maria Molteni paints her “Storming the Court” mural in Salem, June 13, 2018. (Greg Cook)
Maria Molteni paints her “Storming the Court” mural in Salem, June 13, 2018. (Greg Cook)
Maria Molteni's “Storming the Court” mural in Salem, June 13, 2018. (Greg Cook)
Maria Molteni’s “Storming the Court” mural in Salem, June 13, 2018. (Greg Cook)
Jena Tegeler (left) Maria Molteni and Kristine Roan (background) paint the “Storming the Court” mural in Salem, June 13, 2018. (Greg Cook)
Jena Tegeler (left) Maria Molteni and Kristine Roan (background) paint the “Storming the Court” mural in Salem, June 13, 2018. (Greg Cook)
Maria Molteni's “Storming the Court” mural on Ward Street in Salem's Point neighborhood, June 12, 2018. (Photo by David Valecillos of the Punto Urban Art Museum)
Maria Molteni’s “Storming the Court” mural on Ward Street in Salem’s Point neighborhood, June 12, 2018. (Photo by David Valecillos of the Punto Urban Art Museum)
Categories: Art Public Art