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‘Breathe Life 3″ — Rob Gibbs returns to Lower Roxbury with a new mural

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
‘Breathe Life 3″ — Rob Gibbs returns to Lower Roxbury with a new mural
“Breathe Life 3” by Rob Gibbs. PHOTO: CELINA COLBY

Roxbury native Rob Gibbs, also known as Problak, returned to his childhood neighborhood bearing 500 cans of spray paint, 20 gallons of primer and a whole lot of love for the black community. The result is “Breathe Life 3,” a spectacular 1,700-square-foot mural celebrating black joy that formally debuted last week. Even crazier? Gibbs did it all himself, with no assistants.

Kate Gilbert, executive director of public art organization Now + There has been following Gibbs’ career for decades. She had begun searching for an artist for the 808 Tremont Street wall last year. “I really wanted to feature an artist of color because this is a community of color that’s under threat of gentrification,” she says. When she ran into Gibbs at BAMS Fest in 2018, she offered him the job on the spot.

Asnake Zewdu and daughter pose in front of the mural. PHOTO: CELINA COLBY

Asnake Zewdu and daughter pose in front of the mural. PHOTO: CELINA COLBY

The mural depicts the same little boy from Gibbs’ “Breathe Life” mural in Grove Hall, but he’s a few years older and is carrying his younger sister on his shoulders. Both kids are beaming, bursting with joy and seeming to vibrate with life. Though the characters of the story remain the same, this mural has received a technological upgrade. Visitors can use the app Artivive to animate the mural. When the app is held up to the painted wall the children’s hands move to sign “Breathe Life” in sign language.

Gibbs says he has plans in motion for “Breathe Life 2,” which will be painted in Cambridge and will focus on the little girl. “I think the sibling relationship between the two is positive to promote as well,” says Gibbs. “Kinship and brothers and sisters and cousins, anyone who can consider themselves blood, that’s another positive reaction to highlight.”

The mural turned into a series by popular demand from the community. After the initial “Breathe Life,” Gibbs kept getting requests for others around the city. What started as one commission has blossomed into a movement.

“Breathe Life 3” kicks off Now + There’s “New Codes” season. “We’re really looking at breaking down codes of who gets to exhibit and where,” says Gilbert. The season is slated to feature a number of other artists of color throughout the city.

Gibbs hopes to spread delight through the neighborhood that turned him into one of Boston’s most prolific street artists. He says, “What’s the worst that can happen, you end up smiling? I wanted it to be something that’s as infectious as a yawn, something that was positively contagious.”

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