The Mayor's Office of Arts + Culture for Boston. We foster the growth of the cultural community in Boston and promote participation in the arts.
The mural on Perkins Street facing the MSPCA, on the back of the Whole Foods Market (at 413 Center St.) was painted by Puerto Rican artist Rafael Rivera Garcia in 1984 and restored by the Mayor’s Mural Crew in 2003. Near Hyde Square, sometimes called JP's "Latin Quarter," it depicts figures from the mythology of the Taino, the indigenous people of much of the Caribbean including Puerto Rico.
The central figure is Guabancex, a goddess associated with wind who becomes destructive when she does not receive the proper worship. She is flanked by her helpers Guatauba and Coatrisque, who stir up lightning and water respectively. The deadly force created by this trio is known as “Juracàn”, the source of the word “hurricane.”
Though few if any of the Taino people survived colonization, many contemporary Puerto Ricans identify with the Taino as ancestors. Taino were also among the people enslaved by Christopher Columbus in what is now the Dominican Republic.
When Garcia painted the mural, this building was home to the Hi-Lo, an international grocery store that was a visible symbol of the neighborhood’s Latin American community. In 2011, when the Hi-Lo’s owners decided to sell the business, it was purchased by Whole Foods, drawing protest from some in the neighborhood who believed the chain’s presence would accelerate gentrification. Whole Foods’ efforts to make itself welcome have included jobs prioritized for locals and tropical-themed murals on the front of the building.
Artist and art professor Rafael Rivera Garcia grew up in New York but spent most of his life in Puerto Rico, where he started a program responsible for hundreds of murals and also worked as an industrial designer. His style has been called “neo-figurative, ” and many of his murals depict Taino mythology, while his canvasses are more abstract. The neo-figurative movement came out of Spain and Mexico in the 1960s as a modern revival of figurative art. In contrast to abstract art, figurative pieces retain elements of the real objects that inspire them.
In the 1980s Garcia lived in the Throgs Neck neighborhood of New York while working as an art professor at Hunter College. In 1990, he was charged with attempted murder for shooting a white neighbor who had been harassing and threatening his family for years because of their ethnicity. After receiving very limited help from the authorities, Garcia had eventually obtained a restraining order, but nonetheless encountered the neighbor near their homes, leading to the shooting. Garcia was acquitted on the grounds of self-defense after a strong show of support in court from the local Puerto Rican community. After the acquittal, he returned to Puerto Rico.
The Mayor’s Mural Crew is a group of teenage Bostonians employed by the city to create or sometimes restore murals all over town under the guidance of artist Heidi Schork. Schork, who has led the Crew since its creation under Mayor Tom Menino over 20 years ago, is a Jamaica Plain resident who has also lived and studied in Mexico and was inspired by the Mexican mural tradition. When Garcia's vision wore down after time, she and her team were tasked with restoring it.
There are two other recent murals by Schork and the Crew. The first can be seen nearby at the corner of Boylston and Center Streets, on the exterior of Zesto’s Pizzeria. The second is in Hyde Square on the side of the Beauty Master store at 395 Center St. This one is signed with the artists’ Instagram handles, @marka27, @donrimx, and @problak.
Cover photo credit: Josh Kastorf