Connected \\ March 15, 2022
Artist creates commissioned mural at PEM to raise awareness about climate change
If you’re familiar with the neighborhoods of Boston, chances are you’ve encountered the bold and colorful art of Silvia López Chavez. From the Ruggles MBTA station in Roxbury to the waterfront in East Boston to the Charles River Esplanade and the campus of Harvard University, her brilliantly colored murals have transformed architecture and beloved urban spaces. Closer to PEM, she created a joy-inducing, four-story-high mural of a young girl on a swing for Salem’s Punto Urban Art Museum, and also completed commissions at the Google headquarters in California and at the US Embassy in Beijing.
Silvia López Chavez’s mural inside Google headquarters, outside the Ruggles MBTA station in Boston, and at the Punto Urban Art Museum in Salem. Photos by Dominic Chavez and Bob Packert/PEM.
For the past two weeks, López Chavez has been set up in PEM’s Main Atrium to complete a commission for the upcoming Climate Action: Inspiring Change exhibition, which opens April 16 in The Dotty Brown Art & Nature Center. Visitors are enjoying the opportunity to watch her in action, as she creates a mural designed to both celebrate the resiliency of people and the planet and serve as an urgent invitation to act. She has titled the work Undercurrent, a recognition of how art has the capacity to subtly influence how people feel about an issue.
Jane Winchell, The Sarah Fraser Robbins Director of The Dotty Brown Art & Nature Center, said she reached out to the artist about creating a mural as the entry experience for Climate Action after seeing her amazing work on East Boston's waterfront. "I wanted to welcome people into our climate exhibition with the vibrancy and energizing spirit that Silvia's artworks express."
Addressing the global climate crisis is daunting work, and she acknowledged that the collected scientific data grows more alarming with each released report. One can quickly feel defeated. “As an artist, I go to the personal, the individual, that’s my approach. It makes me feel a little more hopeful and less overwhelmed. I want people to say, ‘It does start with me.”’
Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.
Her 5-by-10-foot vertical mural at PEM is centered around an oversized hand cradling ocean animals and plant life with visible signs of pollution in the composition, including a discarded — and now ubiquitous — face mask. “The visual story is presenting a message of caring and doing something about it, this idea of protecting rather than simply caring without action, by the inclusion of this healing hand.” She deliberately selected a color palette of bright oranges and blues, opposites on the color wheel, to account for the two extremes of the climate.
Born in the Dominican Republic, López Chavez came to Boston to continue her studies at MassArt and settled in the area to build her career as an artist. Her work, she says, is shaped by her identities as an Afro-Caribbean woman living in the diaspora, and intends to celebrate, inform and inspire connection on multiple levels: personally, culturally and with the environment. She said she sees art making as a tool for community building and is motivated by the power of the creative process as an agent for positive change.
A previous public art project Fresh Air: Portrait of Chelsea explored the environmental and political causes and ramifications of air quality issues in the city of Chelsea, such as a higher incidence of asthma in its residents. López Chavez invited community members to share their own stories and serve as models for portraits in which she asked individuals to hold their breaths. Last year she joined other artists to create large-scale murals in East Boston for a project initiated by the Boston-based nonprofit Bow Seat to raise awareness about rising sea levels. (Student artworks recognized as part of a competition organized by Bow Seat Ocean Awareness Programs are included in PEM’s Climate Action exhibition.)
Rise, a mural by Silvia López Chavez, in the Boston Harbor Shipyard & Marina. Photo © Dominic Chavez.
Silvia López Chavez. Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.
Since she first began her career as an artist, López Chavez said she has adopted changes to embrace more sustainable practices, including her use of strictly water-based paints. She jokes that she is a “collector of containers” and recycles milk jugs and used yogurt containers and nearly anything used in everyday household life to mix her paints. She recently learned about a new paint product developed in Italy that also acts as an air purifier and she reached out to the company for samples to try on a future mural.
Artist Silvia López Chavez discusses her artwork, Undercurrent.