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Public Art by black artists

For Boston’s Black artists, the city is a canvas

“Breathe Life 3” by Rob Gibbs. Photo by Ruby Wallau/Northeastern University

Boston is full of art—as long as you know where to look. This month, we’ll introduce you to the hidden gems of the city’s public art scene, as well as the artists whose work enlivens buildings, tunnels, and academic campuses throughout Boston’s neighborhoods. Take a virtual tour of some of Boston’s finest displays by Black artists before heading out on foot, camera in hand.

Cedric Douglas: A World Of Innocent Discovery

30 Leon Street, Fenway

Cedric Douglas

We’ll start at Northeastern’s Boston campus, where aerosol artist Cedric Douglas painted the mural A World Of Innocent Discovery on the side of Behrakis Health Sciences Center at 30 Leon St. The piece—part of the public art initiative of Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern—is meant to encourage imagination in young people. Douglas is also the artist behind a nearby mural on the exterior wall of the former Punter’s Pub. 

Douglas served as an artist-in-residence with Northeastern’s Center for the Arts in the fall of 2015 and he created the mural the following spring.

Mural by Daniel Anguilu and Cedric Douglas. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Silvia López Chavez: 999 Cranes

1150 Tremont Street, Roxbury

Silvia López Chavez

Local muralist Silvia López Chavez painted two murals, “999 Cranes” and “Joy” near the  entrance to the Ruggles train station.

“Joy” by Silvia López Chavez. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

López Chavez is also behind a number of other murals in and around Boston such as Creative Freedom at the Cambridge Public Library’s Central Square branch and Patterned Behavior on the underpass along the Charles River Esplanade.

Rob Gibbs: Breathe Life 3

808 Tremont Street, South End

Rob Gibbs

Roxbury, Massachusetts, native Rob “Problak” Gibbs painted this mural as part of a series called “Breathe Life.” It depicts a Black brother and sister using American Sign Language to sign “breathe life.” All of the pieces in this series were painted at locations that held special significance for Gibbs. This one, “Breathe Life 3,” is located in the neighborhood where he grew up.

“Breathe Life 3” by Rob Gibbs. Photo by Ruby Wallau/Northeastern University

Fern Cunningham-Terry: Step on Board

Harriet Tubman Square, South End

Fern Cunningham-Terry

Fern Cunningham-Terry created “Step on Board” in 1999. Located in Harriet Tubman Park in the South End, it shows Tubman leading others to freedom, and is inscribed with Tubman’s Underground Railroad route. The sculpture is also a stop on the Boston Women’s Heritage Trail.

“Step on Board” by Fern Cunningham-Terry Photo by Ruby Wallau/Northeastern University

The work is one of several Cunningham-Terry creations throughout Dorchester, Mattapan, and Roxbury. She was commissioned in the 1990s to create “Earth Challengers,” which shows three Black children holding up the globe, for the Joseph E. Lee School in Dorchester. Her other bronze creations, “Family Circle” and “Sentinel,” featured Black families and women.

“I came into this world noticing that I didn’t see African American sculptures,” Cunningham-Terry, who died in 2020, once said in an interview. “We seem to be a people who are left out. I…chose to right that wrong.”

Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller: Emancipation Declaration Statue

Harriet Tubman Square, South End

Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller

The “Emancipation” statue was created by sculptor Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller. She cast it in plaster in 1913 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, but it wasn’t until long after her death in 1968 that it was cast in bronze and placed in Harriet Tubman Square. Warrick Fuller was born in Philadelphia in 1877. She studied at the Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Arts. Later she traveled to Paris, where she further developed her individual style. Throughout her career, she created several sculptures celebrating African heritage, including “Ethiopia Awakening,” a piece designed to emanate hope for the future of Black people.

Emancipation Declaration statue by Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller. Photo by Hannah Moore/Northeastern University

Hank Willis Thomas: The Embrace

Boston Common

Hank Willis Thomas

“The Embrace”, a sculpture on Boston Common that will pay tribute to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, will be dedicated on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2023. It is designed by Hank Willis Thomas in collaboration with MASS Design Group. The memorial is meant to resemble arms embracing and was inspired by a photo of the Kings taken when they heard news that he had won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Taj Francis: Guiding Giants

150 Liverpool Street, East Boston

Taj Francis

Jamaican visual artist Taj Francis creates works that draw influence from a variety of influences and customs, including Jamaican reggae, Japanese Manga, vinyl and poster art, Baroque paintings, and pop art.

“Guiding Giants” by Taj Francis. Photo by Hannah Moore/Northeastern University

This mural, which focuses on warming seas, was created as part of Sea Walls Boston, a collection of artworks that bring attention to marine environmental issues.

Sabrina Dorsainvil: Sea Keepers

135 Gove St, East Boston

Sabrina Dorsainvil

Also part of Sea Walls Boston, this mural by Boston- based artist Sabrina Dorsainvil focuses on sea turtle conservation and marine biodiversity loss. The mural is painted on a playground at the Donald McKay School and is meant as a joyful celebration of sea turtles as guardians of the sea. It calls upon all of us to see ourselves as fellow keepers of this vital marine ecosystem.

“Sea Keepers” by Sabrina Dorsainvil. Photo by Hannah Moore/Northeastern University

Nneka Jones: Intersectional Environmentalism: Generational Uproot

Donald McKay School, Cottage Street

Nneka Jones

Trinidad-born Nneka Jones has long been fascinated with drawing, painting, and sculpting portraits of women and notable Caribbean figures. She is a multidisciplinary, activist artist working in mixed media, embroidery, and paint, to produce artwork that advocates for the protection of women and girls. One of her more notable achievements was a commission from TIME magazine to produce the cover artwork for the Aug. 31/ Sept. 7, 2020, issue entitled The New American Revolution: Visions of a Black Future That Fulfill a Nation’s Promise

This mural in the school yard of the Donald McKay School serves as a reminder and warning of the extent of damage and potential dangers affecting future generations of marginalized communities.

Silvia López Chavez: Rise

218 Marginal St

Silvia López Chavez

This mural by Dominican-American visual artist Silvia López Chavez focuses on the harmful impact that plastic pollution has on oceans. López Chavez believes in the power of the creative process as an agent for positive change and uses art as a vehicle for connection. Through her murals, she provides opportunities for interrelation, healing, and celebration.

“Rise” by Silvia López Chavez. Photo by Hannah Moore/Northeastern University

Rob Gibbs: Roxbury Love Story

674 Shawmut Ave

Rob Gibbs

This mural by Rob Gibbs, appropriately named “Roxbury Love Story”, depicts Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King speaking together on the phone during their courtship. The mural is a dedication to their love and its location has a special significance to King as well. From 1951 to 1954 he served as an assistant minister in the Twelfth Baptist Church which formerly stood here.

“Roxbury Love Story” by Rob Gibbs. Photo by Hannah Moore/Northeastern University

Various: Nubian Square Public Art Initiative

2168 Washington St.

Various Artists

The Nubian Square Art Initiative led by Black Market Nubian was started by founder and chief curator at Black Market, Kai Grant in order to support Black businesses and Roxbury’s creative economy. In July 2020 a group of artists kicked off the initiative by painting a “Black Lives Matter” street mural on Washington street in Nubian Square.

One of the murals in Nubian Square. Photo by Hannah Moore/Northeastern University

Multiple wall murals can also be found in this space. One of them, 1000 Hooves, is painted by textile artist Stephen Hamilton, while “Reflections Eternal” on the opposite wall is painted by Rob Gibbs in collaboration with street artist Victor “MARKA27” Quinonez.

“Reflections Eternal” by Rob Gibbs and Marka27. Photo by Hannah Moore/Northeastern University

Nick Cave: Augment

555 Columbia Road, Dorchester

Illustration by Hannah Moore/Northeastern University

Nick Cave

“Augment” was an artwork and social experience by internationally acclaimed artist Nick Cave, done in collaboration with Now+There. It was a multifaceted project that included a parade celebrating joy and the power of the individual, as well as an installation featuring inflatable sculptures and a building wrap created by the community. The building wrap can still be seen on the exterior walls of a building in Upham’s Corner.

Destiny Palmer: Dreaming Isn’t So Concrete

61 Woodruff Way, Mattapan

Illustration by Hannah Moore/Northeastern University

Destiny Palmer

“Dreaming Isn’t So Concrete,” a piece by Destiny Palmer, artist and associate professor at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design,  and “Birds Eye View” by Cedric Douglas, are among the artworks that have transformed the walls of the Gallivan Community Center. The murals were a part of a local beautification project. Palmer (along with textile artist Stephen Hamilton) is a co-founder of Traditions Remixed, an artist collective whose goal is to create a supportive community for young artists, especially artists of color.

“Dreaming Isn’t So Concrete” by Destiny Palmer. Photo by Ruby Wallau/Northeastern University
“Dreaming Isn’t So Concrete” by Destiny Palmer. Photo by Ruby Wallau/Northeastern University

Jameel Parker: All in the same gang

6 Floyd Street, Dorchester

Illustration by Hannah Moore/Northeastern University

Jameel Parker

This mural by Jameel Parker, a muralist and fine arts teacher who grew up in Roxbury, and died in 2017, was commissioned in 1998 by Gang Peace in response to a rash of gang-related murders. While it was being painted, a young boy was murdered on the same corner where the mural was being created. Parker decided to dedicate the artwork to the boy. The mural originally depicted Fredrick Douglass, W.E.B Dubois, Malcolm X, and Elijah Muhammad, but those faces have mostly faded away, and the mural has been updated to include four other Black historical figures, including Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and Mary McLeod Bethune.

Rob Gibbs: Breathe Life

324 Blue Hill Avenue, Dorchester

Illustration by Hannah Moore/Northeastern University

Rob Gibbs

This mural is the first in Rob “Problak” Gibbs’s “Breathe Life” series. It depicts a boy, the same one in “Breathe Life 3,” blowing sparks into a fantasy world, and is meant to be a joyful reflection of the people who live in the neighborhood.

John Wilson: Sculpture at The Museum of the National Center of Afro American Artists (NCAAA)

300 Walnut Avenue, Roxbury

Illustration by Hannah Moore/Northeastern University

John Wilson

Next on our tour, we point you to The National Center of Afro-American Artists (NCAAA), where you can explore artworks by Black people from all over the world. The bronze head sculpture (Eternal Presence) outside the NCAAA was created by John Wilson, a Roxbury native, sculptor, and lithographer. There are a few other sculptures outside of the museum.

Sculpture outside of the NCAAA, artist unknown. Photo by Hannah Moore/Northeastern University

The museum is currently closed to public visitation to undergo needed repairs.

Various: Faces of Dudley Square

2385 Washington Street, Nubian Square

Illustration by Hannah Moore/Northeastern University

Cedric Douglas

Cedric Douglas painted the portrait of Melnea Cass, one of the Roxbury icons depicted on this mural. The piece includes Malcolm X, as well as people from the Nubian Square neighborhood. The original artist is Mike Womble, who painted it in collaboration with others in 1995. Douglas later restored it in 2015 together with local artists.

“Faces of Dudley Square”. Photo by Hannah Moore/Northeastern University

Jameel Parker: Marcus Garvey mural

116 Malcolm X Boulevard, Roxbury

Illustration by Hannah Moore/Northeastern University

Jameel Parker

This is another mural by Jameel Parker. Parker was dedicated to community art, and created murals in Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts, Montreal, and Haiti. Among these is the mural of Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican nationalist and leader of the Pan-Africanism movement, on the corner of Malcolm X Boulevard and Putnam Place.

Various: Murals at John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics

55 Malcolm X Blvd., Roxbury

Illustration by Hannah Moore/Northeastern University

Curtis Williams

The campus of John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics features an impressive number of murals. A dinosaur trampling through a city is painted by muralist Curtis “Curtistic” Williams. A white tiger representing the school’s mascot is painted by a team of graffiti artists, including Rob “Problak” Gibbs. More murals are hidden in various walkways and courtyards around the campus.

Murals at John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics. Photo by Hannah Moore/Northeastern University
Mural at John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics. Photo by Hannah Moore/Northeastern University
Murals at John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics. Photo by Hannah Moore/Northeastern University

Rob Gibbs: Breathe Life 2

75 Malcolm X Boulevard, Roxbury

Illustration by Hannah Moore/Northeastern University

Rob Gibbs

The second piece in Rob “Problak” Gibbs’s “Breathe Life” series is actually the third to be completed. This piece, featuring the same, if slightly younger, girl from “Breathe Life 3” blowing bubbles, is painted on the exterior wall of Madison Park High School, the high school which Gibbs himself attended in the 1990s. It was commissioned by the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston as part of The Mural Project, in which Gibbs and illustrator Rob Stull highlight intergenerational connections and youth participation in hip-hop culture.

John Wilson: Father and child reading

1234 Columbus Ave

Illustration by Hannah Moore/Northeastern University

John Wilson

This sculpture of a father reading to his son sits in Roxbury Community College’s courtyard. It was created by John Wilson, who was also the driving force behind “Eternal Presence,” the eight-foot-tall bronze head that stands in front of the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists in Roxbury.

“Father and child reading” by John Wilson. Photo by Hannah Moore/Northeastern University

Various: Jazz mural

94 Terrace Street, Roxbury Crossing

Illustration by Hannah Moore/Northeastern University

Rob Gibbs

This jazz mural, painted on a building at 94 Terrace St., was a collaboration between among graffiti artists, including Rob “Problak” Gibbs, Rath, Kwest, Marka27, Deme5, Clark, Wys and others. It depicts jazz legends such as Cruz Celia, Kenny Burrell, and El Rey.

Jazz mural at 94 Terrace Street. Photo by Hannah Moore/Northeastern University

 

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