“It’s a shame this wall may be on its way to being demolished once building is bought and redeveloped like much of the surrounding areas. And that always seems to be the case … our work is disposable instead of being cherished,” Ricardo “Deme5” Gomez told me in 2016 about the iconic “Mandela (Roxbury Love)” mural that he and Thomas “Kwest” Burns spraypainted at Warren Street at Clifford Street in Boston in 2014.
Videos and a photo I’ve seen posted to Facebook today show the mural being knocked down by an excavator:
“I’m saddened by the news,” Gomez emails me today. “This piece meant a lot to me. I’m a working artist. My work can be found on storefronts and in commercial properties and are products of my clients’ vision that I’ve brought to life. However, this mural was mine. I’d originally envisioned it for Grove Hall and when the Warren Street opportunity came, it was a chance to give a piece of myself to a community that has embraced my family for years. It gave me a chance to collaborate with artists I love and respect. And I hope it gave the Roxbury community a beautiful reminder of its place in the history of Boston.”
“The demolition is part of Cruz Development Corp.’s start of a project to put up a two-building, 99-unit apartment complex that will also include enough space for the company, now based in John Eliot Square, to move into,” Adam Gaffin reports at Universal Hub. “The mural went up in 2014. Its fate was actually sealed in 2016, when the BPDA [Boston Planning & Development Agency] approved Cruz’s plans for the Dr. Michael E. Haynes Arms, named after Roxbury state representative and minister, for land that had been occupied by a church and several vacant buildings.”
The 100-foot-long mural was a statement of pride by and for Roxbury’s African-American community with its black and white portrait of Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s anti-segregation and anti-apartheid leader who died in 2013, flanked by the slogan “Roxbury Love.”
“The ‘Mandela (Roxbury Love)’ wall was a message to the community to think before they act. To love instead of hate,” Gomez told me by email in 2016. “At the same time reaching a world audience and complementing Gary Rickson’s ‘Africa is the Beginning’ mural two blocks away on the left side of the Roxbury YMCA. The hand to the temple is a gesture to think but also a homage to Malcom-X as he was a Roxbury native that once lived at the other end of the street that meets with the mural.”
“This mural was a way to give back to the community, one that I live in and one that also inspires my creativity,” Gomez wrote in 2016. “This mural means a great deal. It was a project I believed in and one that allowed me to work alongside a trusted friend and talented artist (Thomas Burns), who helped me knock out that massive wall. Also of note, is the way it was received by the community – to not be defaced or damaged shows that it is respected and how much love truly exists in Roxbury.”
The two artists have said that, in part, the mural commemorates the visit Mandela made to Boston on June 23, 1990, just months after he was released after 27 years in prison. The international civil rights icon had come for a one-day stop to thank Boston for its support (Massachusetts was the first state to withdraw its pension funds from companies doing business in South Africa; the city of Boston soon followed) and as part of an eight-city U.S. tour to gather backing and raise money for a political campaign that would ultimately get him elected president of South Africa in 1994.
The mural also brought to mind the 1986 Boston ballot referendum question (ultimately defeated) that proposed that Roxbury secede from the city to become an independent, 12-square-mile, African-American majority city called Mandela.
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