Gibbs began his Breathe Life series in 2017 with a mural of a young boy located in Dorchester’s Grove Hall neighborhood, where his own artistic journey began in middle school. The second mural, painted in 2019, portrays the boy with his sister and can be found in Lower Roxbury, where the artist grew up. The new Breathe Life mural—the MFA project—centers the sister, depicting the young girl enveloped in a giant bubble and surrounded by ideas and knowledge from artists that came before her, in the form of books emanating from her backpack. Students from Madison Park High School and Artists for Humanity—the arts nonprofit that Gibbs co-founded in 1991—worked with the artist on the earliest stages of the project. Gibbs guided his young collaborators through the artistic process, introducing them to the thought, looking, and research involved in designing a work of art, as well as the practical and technical challenges of creating depth, energy, and meaning on the walls of a building.
“It signals the beginning of a ‘new day’ in the MFA’s 150-year history to welcome these two incredibly talented Black men, both of whom grew up mere miles away, as artists-in-residence and to help shape our thinking around Boston’s first Basquiat exhibition.
The Museum has the ability to shape the cultural sector, but more importantly, we have the opportunity to be shaped by the culture that surrounds us,” said Makeeba McCreary, Patti and Jonathan Kraft Chief of Learning and Community Engagement. “I look forward to welcoming the many young people from our city who will now find themselves here because of Rob and Rob’s generosity to be our thoughtful partners.”
Originally scheduled to open at the MFA in April 2020, Writing the Future: Basquiat and the Hip-Hop Generation is the first major exhibition to chart Basquiat’s relationship to early hip-hop culture and the first exhibition of the artist’s work in Boston. The show eventually opened in October, 2020 and is scheduled to remain up through May 16, 2021.
In the early 1980s, Basquiat and his peers A-One, ERO, Fab 5 Freddy, Futura, Keith Haring, Kool Koor, LA2, Lady Pink, Lee Quiñones, Rammellzee and Toxic were among the prophetic founders of post-graffiti: a transformational and insurgent movement in contemporary American art. The exhibition positions this group of artists—who transitioned their work from New York City’s walls and subway trains onto canvas and into the predominantly white art world—as multidisciplinary pioneers whose subversive abstractions of visual and verbal language fueled new directions in fine art, design and sound. While the MFA was closed, elements of the exhibition—including images of artworks, wall texts, a curated Spotify playlist, video content and more—were added to the museum's website.
The Community Mural Initiative is supported by the Carl and Ruth Shapiro Family Foundation and The Boston Foundation. Sponsored by Converse. Additional support from the Darwin Cordoba Fund, the Museum Council Artist in Residency Fund, the Museum Council Community Mural Fund, and Robert and Pamela Adams. This program is supported in part by the Transformative Public Art grant from the City of Boston Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture.