Kensington native Roberto Lugo to paint three 11-foot sculptures in Kensington this summer

Kensington native and artist Roberto Lugo works on a sculpture in his studio. (Image courtesy of R & Company; photo by Joe Kramm)

Artist and Kensington native Roberto Lugo wants Kensington residents to see themselves in long-lasting ceramic art.

Over the past year, in collaboration with Mural Arts, Lugo collected input from community members to get a sense of the neighborhood’s patterns — patterns that reflect their background, culture, and everyday life. 

Lugo will infuse those ideas with his own designs. He’ll be outside this summer painting three 11-foot outdoor sculptures that will be installed throughout the neighborhood. 

The pieces will be interactive; visitors can walk through their center, take a selfie inside, and become the subject of the vignette. 

In-process photos of the sculptures to be installed and painted in Kensington this summer. (Photo courtesy of Johnson Atelier Digital)

The project, entitled We Here, is led by Mural Arts’ Porch Light program in partnership with the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS). It embraces Lugo’s ethos of reflecting people who wouldn’t usually see themselves in luxury ceramics. 

Lugo’s work uses imagery inspired by his Kensington upbringing and Hip Hop culture. It is displayed in museums across the country, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art

“What I want to do is complicate the narrative of what people think the community and the culture of Kensington is and what we’re capable of,” Lugo said. 

Lugo lived in Kensington for the first 25 years of his life. As a kid, Lugo didn’t have access to art classes but drew graffiti. It wasn’t until he took an art class in college that he realized “graffiti was art this whole time,” he said. 

By making himself visible as an artist from the neighborhood, painting and sometimes throwing pottery in the street, Lugo hopes to show others that that path is possible and that there’s already “ingenuity and artistry and creativity” in Kensington.  

“There’s artists in every community; there’s writers and philosophers and poets. A lot of times people never get the opportunity to see those visions out because they grow up in a place like Kensington,” he said. 

Lugo wants the new installations to represent parts of the community that he feels are not seen as much as the other narratives dominating Kensington — the creatives, the everyday hardworking people, and those working to improve the neighborhood. 

“Our art has the capacity to challenge a lot of these misconceptions,” he said. 

Kensington native and artist Roberto Lugo poses for a portrait in his studio. (Image courtesy of R & Company; photo by Joe Kramm)

Along with the installations, Mural Arts is organizing public programming around the vessels from June to October 2024, including free pottery workshops in Kensington They will also screen a documentary film about the art-making process and Mural Arts will publish a children’s book based on the story of Lugo’s discovery of art. They plan to distribute the book to Kensington families for free.  

“We firmly believe that every community should have beautiful art making in their space. These pieces should not be reserved just for people who have money or just for specific neighborhoods,” said Nadia Malik, Porch Light program director of Mural Arts. 

Malik hopes this project shows the city that this neighborhood is “worth this kind of effort.” 

Over the years, Porch Light has worked with various community groups, including Impact Services and Prevention Point. The ‘We Here’ project was directed by a Community Advisory Committee (CAC) made up of Kensington residents.

“The big thing that we heard from them is they want a long-term commitment to Kensington,” said Malik.” “… That’s something that most residents in Kensington have been saying for a long time. 

Brenda Mosley, founder and executive director of the Kensington non-profit Faith Health and Healing, Inc., is one of the CAC members. She said the project is an attempt to heal the community through art. 

Mosley said Kensington residents face traumatizing scenes every day. 

“We need something to offset this trauma,” she said. “What we’re doing is a form of intervention, to give our children something different than all the trauma that we see — to see beauty, art, people coming together laughing … we’re talking about bringing life to Kensington.” 

This story was originally published by Kensington Voice. Sign up for their newsletters at Kensington Voice is a nonprofit community hub and newsroom serving North Philly’s Fairhill, Harrowgate, Kensington, Norris Square, and Port Richmond neighborhoods, fiscally sponsored by the Federation of Neighborhood Centers (EIN 23-1630073).


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *