The Fourth of July dawned in Boston’s Nubian Square with artists shutting down two blocks of Washington Street to paint a monumental mural in the roadway spelling out “Black Lives Matter” in big yellow letters. At the end, they painted the red, black and green stripes of the Pan-African or Black Liberation flag.
“One day I woke up and said we need a mural in Nubian Square as a commitment from the mayor,” says Kai Grant, owner and chief curator at Black Market Nubian, which began as a pop-up marketplace in 2017 and now makes its home at 2136 Washington St. “This is purely symbolic. What we need is economic, we need economic equity.”
“All walks of life are going to see this,” says Lee Beard, who was lead artist on the project with Paul “Mar” Chapman. “It’s going to have a different meaning for everybody that interacts with it.”
“Boston has never done anything like this to my knowledge,” Beard says. The two artists happy to put something in the Roxbury neighborhood where they life. “It’s not hidden.”
“Black Lives Matter … is opening their eyes and looking what’s happening now,” Beard says. “Black Lives Matter means it’s truth, it’s a super truth, it’s a fact. … What it means to me is hard work, what is means is showing that, what it means is proof that we actually do matter, Black Lives Matter, like sincerely. It’s not something that should be up for a debate. It’s not trying to ruffle any feathers. It’s a truth.”
William Gallop, Shaunesse Jacobs, Davo Jefferson, Gary Perry, Chanel Thurville and Charlene Zuill also helped with the painting.
Grant sought the okay from the city government, which helped with closing the Washington Street from Eustis to Palmer streets to traffic for 48 hours spanning July 4 and 5 “to produce an amazing mural that is now making history.”
“For us, it’s a symbol of hope,” Grant says. “It’s a way of expression, but it’s not going to move the needle economically–except for getting foot traffic into Nubian Square, which is great. That’s what art does.”
Grant says she sees “Black Lives Matter” as a call for “reparations for urban renewal, equity. … I want to see real action in terms of equity. We want to see hundreds of millions of dollars of investment in Nubian Square. We need the blighted land that’s been blighted for half a century redeveloped by black developers.”
The mural is one of several “Black Lives Matter” street murals that have sprouted up around the country since artists and activists painted “Black Lives Matter” in massive yellow letters down a street leading to the White House in Washington, D.C., on June 5. That artwork attracted international attention and has inspired similar street murals in San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles, Oakland, Austin, Cincinnati and Brooklyn.
“If multiple states and cities are doing this, they’re saying there might be a little voice to this real quick. I hope it’s just inspiring people for a change,” Chapman says. “2020 is certainly showing itself to be that year to make something different.”
“This is less of a copy and more putting our stamp on the city of Boston and letting people know that we live here,” Grant says. Systemic racism, she says, has often erased Black people from portrayals of Boston–especially in television and movies. “This is a hub and a central point for incubation for Boston’s creative energy.”
Grant says the street mural kicks off of Black Market’s Nubian Square Public Art Initiative, which plans to bring art by Rob “Pro-Blak” Gibbs, Chanel Thervil, Mikey Janey and others to the neighborhood.
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