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Murals brighten Grove Hall with sunflowers

Artist, photographer team up to beautify vacant lot

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the Banner’s senior editor. VIEW BIO
Murals brighten Grove Hall with sunflowers
Photographer London Parker-McWhorter and artist Ekua Holmes at 345 Blue Hill Avenue. BANNER PHOTO

In 2018, an idea went from seed to blossom for artist Ekua Holmes. The Roxbury resident began planting sunflowers in vacant lots around the neighborhood and distributing seeds to local residents.

By the end of that first season, as towering plants bore flowers in varying shades of yellow, orange and red, the Roxbury Sunflower Project took root. After five years, Holmes had distributed more than 10,000 sunflower seeds throughout the neighborhood.

One of the sunflower murals. COURTESY PHOTO

Like many Roxbury residents, Holmes came of age when artists such as Gary Rickson and Dana Chandler were painting murals on buildings throughout the Black community in Roxbury and the South End.

While she has never painted a mural, this summer, she collaborated with photographer London Parker-McWhorter on three printed murals that are now on display in a lot at 345 Blue Hill Ave., at the intersection with Gaston Street. The murals continue the sunflower theme, with large blossoms interspersed with the faces of Roxbury residents and historical figures printed on mesh screens.

Two smaller murals are mounted on large storage containers.  One 13-by-60-foot mural is mounted on the brick wall of an adjacent laundromat. On one mural, a trail of sunflower seeds moves across the faces of local children and elders. Others feature similar mixes of sunflowers and faces.

The murals were funded by the nonprofit Now + There through its Mentoring Murals program in partnership with the Greater Grove Hall Main Streets organization. The Mentoring Murals program is aimed at bringing public art projects to every neighborhood of Boston.

Greater Grove Hall Main Streets Director Ed Gaskin said he reached out to Now + There after noticing that Grove Hall had just one public art project, while other neighborhood commercial districts had multiple projects.

Ekua Holmes and London Parker McWhorter discuss their murals. COURTESY PHOTO

“When I spoke to Black artists, they said there was a real need for Black artists to display their work,” he said.

Within a few years, major projects such as the “Love Thyself” mural by Victor “Marka27” Quiñonez and the “Breathe Life” mural by Rob “ProBlak” Gibbs graced the walls of buildings in the area.

Now + There Director Kate Gilbert said the screen-printed murals at 345 Blue Hill Ave. are part of an effort to give an expanded roster of artists the exposure that murals bring.

“They’re a tool to give non-muralists a shot at creating large format works,” she said.

Like murals, the sunflowers Holmes has propagated throughout the neighborhood have accentuated the beauty of the neighborhood, Parker-McWhorter said.

“Sunflowers can transform a space,” he said. “An unexpected bloom can transform your daily walk. It can give us a little peace along our journey.”

Holmes sees in sunflowers the beauty of the people in the neighborhood.

“I think sunflowers reflect back to me what I see in the Roxbury community — elegance, beauty, resilience, transformation and radiance.”

The murals and the sunflowers are temporary additions to the neighborhood, but, as Holmes points out, aren’t we all?

“It’s part of the beauty of how nature works,” she says. “We’re feeding the next generation. Our life is a seed we plant in the community. Somebody else’s life is fed by that.”

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