Contemporary art Controversies USA

Street art mural stirs racial row in Boston

Backlash against bigotry after painting of a boy with jacket wrapped around his head is described as depicting a “terrorist”

Terrorist or graffiti tagger? Os Gêmeos's The Giant of Boston

A mural by the Brazilian street artists Os Gêmeos, installed in Boston as part of their first US solo show at the Institute of Contemporary Art, has drawn some divisive comments and stirred up debate about cultural understanding.

The twin brothers painted the 70-foot-tall mural The Giant of Boston depicting a boy wearing a red jacket wrapped around his head in the city’s high-traffic area of Dewey Square (the figure of a shrouded graffiti tagger is a common motif in the artists’ work). But when the local Fox news affiliate posted an image of the mural on its Facebook page and asked its readers, “What does it look like to you?” some responded with bigoted comments: “terrorist”, “towel head”, “Mooselim protected by Obama!” and “a Muslim woman in a head scarf holding an AK-47 in her hands”. The figure isn’t holding anything in its hands, but the image used by Fox features a crane in front of the mural that could look like a gun.

The responses quickly spread on the internet and led to many new comments in support of the mural, calling for more cultural understanding, including from Boston’s mayor Thomas Menino. Jill Medvedow, the ICA’s director, provided a positive take on the work in a press statement: “This work of art is a joyful addition to Boston’s skyline. With tremendous mastery of scale, painterly skill and vibrant patterning, Os Gêmeos brings urban energy and rich tradition of Brazilian creativity to Dewey Square in Boston. Good art gets people talking.” As far as the brothers are concerned, though, it’s all up in the air. “We don’t really want to explain the meaning of this,” Gustavo Pandolfo told the Boston Phoenix. “We let people imagine things.”

More from The Art Newspaper


6 May 13
18:47 CET


This is a painting of a Muslim woman, it is a good thing to do, it helps the Americans to get used to the fast growing Muslim community in this country.

19 Nov 12
14:45 CET


Looks a lot like one of the Occupy Boston folks who were camped out right in front of that mural not so long ago! I took them blankets and pizzas! I thought it was great that somebody was making at least a peep of protest over the fact that plutocrats were devastating the economy of our country!

20 Oct 12
19:14 CET


I'm responding to Richrud of Boston. I understand how you may not like this art piece, many people don't as well. But if "bad artists" stopped then we would still be painting Renaissance pieces. Which can get very boring. Have you ever seen some pieces by Picasso? Some of those are absolutely terrible, but he is called a masterful artist in that his ideas are those that are important. This piece is in no way child's play. Your child would not be able to paint this, sorry. The scale alone takes great talent, not to mention the skill to continue patterns and to understand color. The problem with this piece for you is that you don't like the style, but in implying that the artist is bad you just make yourself come off as close minded. Yes there are a lot of people who call themselves artists, but unless you can paint a 70ft mural, you should try to admire the talent. This piece made you have a comment, positive or negative, and in doing so it is automatically a good piece.

28 Sep 12
18:4 CET


What exactly is the meaning? Its neat to me but its a very controversial peice. Mojority of boston has clearly got the wrong idea. Clear it up at least.

27 Aug 12
15:59 CET


This is hideous and an eyesore it doesn't fit in the environment, anything now a days is art and everyone is an artist (lot of bad ones out there) but this is childs play,bad artists please have the decency to stop, theres a lot of bad amateur art in the Fort Point Channel that we have to put up with.

20 Aug 12
3:46 CET


James, I was largely responding to Adeaner in my comment, not the article. I agree with your statement and if you read my comment again, I think you will notice I in no way described anyone as "bigoted" or anything else distasteful. I was speaking of the comments (not the commenters) and I stand by what I said- their words are inexcusable.

20 Aug 12
3:49 CET


"Mooselim protected by Obama" is not a "day and Age " reaction. It is a person with an "Obama Gun" waiting to shoot it every chance he/she gets, and there are many of them who follow Fox news, Yahoo and so on. They hope to change voters (not artists) minds and there is no event off limits.

20 Aug 12
3:48 CET


I can imagine what will happen in New York City, if those masterpice was install there.

18 Aug 12
1:50 CET


I take issue with Adeaner's and Maya's statements. The author did not refer to the people as bigots, but referred to their statements as "bigoted" and examples of "bigotry". If someone says something terrible, and I tell them that what they said is terrible, I am not calling THEM terrible.

17 Aug 12
19:33 CET


It's shameful that a person would be saddened by the misinterpretation of an artist's work but not by the blatant and rampant discrimination illustrated in this article. "It isn't necessary to call people names (bigots)..."? "Towel head" is a name far worse in it's slanderous nature and intent to alienate a people. Those comments are evidence of a disturbing level of ignorance and should not be acceptable as a valid point of view. It is racist and shallow. The beautiful thing about street art is it's ability to comment on society and make people think. Os Gêmeos has certainly exposed Boston's true colors.

17 Aug 12
18:59 CET


I feel just the slightest bit sad that some would see something threatening in this mural. But I also realize that many people are not familiar with this artist's work, nor do they go sking or cross-country where they would encounter a lot of people wearing ski masks who are not terrorists. No it's not a ski mask. But some people "see" what they see. How many articles have we read about the importance of the viewer bringing his own understanding to the work of art - how we have to accept that no matter what the artist meant to convey, that the viewer will see what he see's based on his own experiences and moment in time. I've said all of that to say this. It really isn't neccesary to call people names (bigots) because they see something that we think is silly. Just maybe the artist should have considered the possibilities of the viewer's reactions - especially in this day and age . . . . .

Submit a comment

All comments are moderated. If you would like your comment to be approved, please use your real name, not a pseudonym. We ask for your email address in case we wish to contact you - it will not be made public and we do not use it for any other purpose.


Want to write a longer comment to this article? Email


Share this