Saturday, May 07, 2022

Somerville's Rajiv Raman: Transit Maps as a means to teach equality to children


I had the pleasure to speak with Rajiv Raman about his work, and his new children's book " Last Stop: A Story of Transit Equality."

As a sculptor and a digital artist-- how has the Somerville experience been for you?

I used to do more sculpture, mainly in wood and metal, but that's been a bit rough recently with the space constraints of living in Somerville (and having kids!). I still dabble in 3D occasionally, but my main artistic pursuits are in digital art now. Somerville has been a great place to grow as an artist. There's a vibrant artist community, as exhibited by the successful Open Studios event we just had! Almost 300 artists were showing! I've been a proud Open Studios volunteer for many years now. Unfortunately, our community is under threat primarily due to gentrification. Today's Somerville is very different from the one I first moved to in the '90s. Many artists have been able to adapt and I hope that this city can continue to be an interesting place for the arts.

You describe your work as a kind of narrative that has a universal quality. Explain.

My digital work which I call “Mapuccino's,” resemble subway maps. They fall into two categories: edition prints and commissions. My edition prints cover a variety of topics from local cities and town to politics to the environment. My commissions tell a story about a particular person (or couple). Why subway maps? I've always been fascinated by them. The way that they distill complexity down to a simple bold geometry is mesmerizing. The story told through each map isn't immediately obvious at first glance. There's an element of surprise in my pieces that captivates viewers when they realize they aren't just looking at an “ordinary” subway map.

Recently, I've been doing a lot of “subway-style sketches” and posting them on Instagram ( My sketches are usually narratives about current events. Trying to translate something as complex as the Ukraine conflict, for example, into the language of subway maps is an immersive challenge for me.

You have an interest in subways, particularly subway maps. And in fact you make personal subway maps for people. How do you determine what a person's map will look like? Has the new Union Square line inspired you?

I call my commissions “interactive art” because the customer provides me with a list of places that are special to them. I'm just the composer! I take what they give me and build a beautiful subway map out of them. In that way, I'm more like a city planner! Every single commission is different and unique. They make great gifts for birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, graduations... you name it. I use basic tools of the trade like Adobe Illustrator. The final result is a signed digital print. They're easy to order and you can find out more about them at

Before the Assembly stop was built, there hadn't been a new stop in Somerville in decades. Now Union Square is open and we have many more coming soon. These are exciting times! There's been a renewed interest in my work due to these popular transit projects. The downside of these projects is that they also spark gentrification and income inequality, which happen to be topics I cover in my work. Public transit has always had the power to be equalizer. People of all walks of life use it. But it has to be done right and that starts with making sure new projects don't push longtime residents out.

You have written a children's book-- " The Last Stop" that allows parents to explore with their children prejudice --through the 'lens of transit and equality.' You use subway maps here as well. How do you make the connection with transit maps to the issues with equality and equity?

My book, available at, is illustrated in the style of subway maps. The story is about a neighborhood called Colorville that has been ignored for too long by city planners. The proud People of Colorville (pun intended) make a lot of noise and finally get the subway stop they've long desired. Only then do all of the other neighborhoods take notice in the beauty that Colorville has to offer. My book is meant to instill in children the idea that public transit is an equalizer that is meant for everyone. It provides the means to explore new places, meet new people, and build connections. Some adults who've read my book have commented that it ends on a positive note and does not address the gentrification that often arises from a new subway stop. That's for a follow-up discussion between a parent and their child, or maybe a second book about gentrification! People sometimes get jaded about public transit planning because it's not always done right. In my opinion, there should've been massive affordable housing initiatives surrounding every new GLX stop. But that's a bigger discussion for another day.

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