Roxbury Muralist Creates Message of Love

Hannah Edelheit

MA Latino News covers the social determinants of health and democracy. Collaborations like the partnership with Boston University’s Department of Journalism in the College of Communication is integral to the health of news and the health of democracy. 

One of Anna Rodriguez’s murals, “Mind over Matter,’’ adorns Warren Street near Nubian Square. Another that bears her imprint pays homage to Roxbury’s ZIP code 02119. 

The others are in the works, and Rodriguez is just getting started. She creates murals that aim to capture a message of self-love. 

“Being from Roxbury and being an artist…it is really important for me to be connected to my community,” said 27-year-old Rodriguez.

Rodriguez began painting and drawing when she was 13 years old. She enjoyed designing art on the “shoes and clothes” of her friends. 

Three years ago, after the global pandemic upended lives, Rodriguez became serious about her artwork. Instead of putting pen to paper, she is learning to create murals.

Rodriguez began to hone her skills in digital art and “master spray painting,’’ a technique that artists use to finetune their mural styles. She is still learning the skill of angling her wrist and listening to the can to create the right layers and texture in each of her murals.

Rodriguez said she began working on murals after being inspired by other artists. One of them is Rob Gibbs, who goes by the name “ProBlak.” Gibbs is a popular mural designer and community organizer whose mission is to transform the cultural landscape of Boston. 

“He did a mural in my neighborhood — a beautiful, life-changing mural,’’ Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez has started an Instagram account — with her username “_ellainspires” — to showcase her art and murals. This new digital workspace allows her to get feedback from followers and express her art.

View this profile on Instagram

“ELLA” (@_ellainspires) • Instagram photos and videos

Her “Mind over Matter” mural is a permanent fixture in Roxbury. Its big white letters atop a colorful background can be found on the corner of Warren and Taber streets. Rodriguez said she wants to connect her interests — healing and mental health — with her art, and in turn, help to keep Roxbury beautiful. 

“It’s just about creating beautiful things, and beautiful spaces,’’ said Geo Ortega, a Roxbury visual artist — and mentor to Rodriguez — who helped Rodriguez with her work. 

Ortega teaches visual arts at Madison Park Vocational Technical High School, which has helped to increase the art footprints around Nubian Square. Murals — bursts of red, yellow, and blue and images depicting the local people — are displayed throughout the school covering the outside, hallways, and classrooms. 

Ortega first met Rodriguez when he was project manager on a mural Gibbs painted with the Museum of Fine Arts on the back of Madison Park. Rodriguez walked up to Ortega and asked about the project. Soon she was part of the mural community. 

“She did pretty well really fast,’’ Ortega said. 

Ortega said he is trying to change the perception people have about murals, including the words they use to describe them. Many artists have reclaimed the word “graffiti,’’ which for years had a negative connotation. Instead, Ortega has been incorporating graffiti into pieces of his art such as the stripes on a tiger he painted. 

“Graffiti can be beautiful. We can make it so it improves a space,” Ortega said.  

Roxbury’s murals are part of a wider city effort to reflect Boston’s diverse communities. 

The City of Boston, which featured the work of prominent artists in Roxbury on its website, also started a mural tracking map, and Boston’s mural crew, established in 1991, has been painting murals across the city. 

Rodriguez said she is proud that her work is part of Boston’s multi-generational artist community. 

“I’m very grateful for anyone that reacts to it and has any impact. It’s not about quantity for me,” Rodriguez said. “It’s about just having meaningful relationships with the people that I do have.” 

Anna Rodriguez with her mural “Mind Over Matter”. Photo Courtesy of Anna Rodriguez.

This story was published in collaboration with Boston University’s Department of Journalism in the College of Communication. The student journalist is a member of a Reporting in Depth class taught by former Boston Globe reporter Meghan Irons.

Hannah Edelheit is 19 years old and a second year journalism student at Boston University from Denver, Colorado. She enjoys writing and wants to be a journalist in the future.