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Arts

Victor Kakulu | 10/15/2008, 5:23 a.m.

As part of its celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, Roxbury Community College (RCC) last week welcomed community residents, students and administrators for the opening of “Artistas Latinos,” an art exhibit featuring select pieces from four locally based Latino artists.

Hosted at the RCC Library, the exhibit spotlights four artists — Silvina Mizrahi, Juan Pérez, and father-and-son duo Roberto and Pablo Chao — who have all received international recognition for their mixed media collages, canvas paintings and community murals. Their work has been shown throughout South America, the Caribbean, the Middle East and China.

 “Celebración 2008,” presented by the college’s Hispanic Heritage Planning Committee, stressed the importance of establishing a strong local foundation for appreciating Latino art here in Boston.

A native of Queens, N.Y., Pérez first came to Boston in the 1970s. With the help of two colleagues, he said, he founded the Prison Arts Program for the Massachusetts Department of Correction, helping inmates employ and develop their creativity as a means of “reestablishing … a connection to the outside world.”

“We all make mistakes, and as human beings we’re going to continue to make mistakes,” said Pérez. “But serving your debt to society shouldn’t mean having your humanity stripped from you.”

Pérez cited his heritage as his artistic muse. But, he noted, knowing where you come from and taking inventory of the small things in life are the keys to more than just his art.

“As a child, I would help my family plant coconut trees,” he said. “It takes 20 years to bear fruit. I believe in taking this same approach to building the community.”

As an institution rooted in the Roxbury community, RCC was proud to play host to the exhibition, according to Library Director Mark Lawrence.

“It’s just real nice to have a selection of this kind of thing displayed at the library, which grows out of this community,” said Lawrence. “It is really an appropriate place for this event to be.”

A native of Uruguay, Roberto Chao studied mural painting in Mexico and came to the South End’s illustrious Gallery at the Piano Factory in 1984. There, he would meet more than 100 artists, many of whom became good friends. One was acclaimed Boston-based artist Paul Goodnight, whom the elder Chao credits with helping him find work painting murals in Salem, Mass., and eventually teaching at Roxbury Community College.

“I studied mural painting in Mexico and painted my first mural at the Alexander Bell House in Salem by way of a state grant,” said Roberto Chao. “Today, I have [painted] 46 murals in Boston over the last five years.”

Community empowerment has long been a topic Roberto Chao feels strongly about, and that passion finds voice in his mural projects. In recent years, he has worked with local youth to paint murals at the MBTA’s Roxbury Crossing and Jackson Square train stations.

“I’ve worked with the MBTA as well as Sociedad Latina and others to empower the kids, embellish the community and bring dialogue and work to the community,” he said.

Working with his father since he was a child, 19-year-old Pablo Chao is fast becoming a favorite of Boston-area art patrons. His work has been featured at the Hynes Convention Center and the Cloud Foundation’s exhibition space, located across from the Copley Square branch of the Boston Public Library.

Pablo Chao describes his craft as a means of bettering himself, likening the benefits of creating art to those gained through exercise. While continuing to assist his father’s projects, he is also beginning the process of finding the right place to pursue a college education.

“I hope to branch out of Boston and see what the outside world has to offer,” said the young artist. “I feel like through art, I can bring myself to a whole other level.”

“Artistas Latinos” runs through Oct. 31 at the Roxbury Community College Library, 1234 Columbus Avenue, Roxbury. For more information, contact Veronica McCormack at 617-427-0060 x5127 or via e-mail at vmccormack@rcc.mass.edu.