Saturday, November 15, 2008

amor a puerto rico

These past couple of months I have been involved in several projects concerning art and exhibitions and each has always been a unique experience. You never know what kind of crowd you are going to get an any given event but most certainly you will get a mix people but almost always, especially with group shows, you will not who the artists are and even the artists themselves will not know one another. Usually the only common point of interaction is through the curator(s) or the organizers. There is no moment in time, as in other forms of art such as poetry, theatre, etc., were the face of the performer is known or is presented to a captivated audience. The actual work usually is the only form of direct communication that the audience will have with the artist. 

Of course, this little fact allows me to have fun with the people looking at my art. Often I will stand behind them and eavesdrop on their conversation or even ask them questions like: what do you think this means? or even make general pointed critical comments about the work and see if people will agree or perhaps even argue that they like the work. This allows me to see how successful I am in conveying the intended message to a particular audience as well as getting a different perspective of certain aspects of the work. On the other hand, listening in on conversations also allows me to overhear people who just don't know what they hell they are talking about as well.

Before going to any museum exhibit, gallery show, etc. is helps to know the theme of the particular show. For example, if you are going to see a show advertising the late works of Picasso don't be surprised if a painting such as Guernica is not displayed. So at the art show Borimix 2008, which commemorated the 100th anniversary of the birth of Juan Antonio Corretjer, is was interesting to receive criticism over the amount of 'nationalist' symbols within my painting (namely flags) and how these symbols drove people apart rather than 'uniting' them. Now it once noted by painter Rafeal Tufiño that some of the most nationalistic painters were French, such as Ingres and Géricault, and Spanish, such as Velásquez and Picasso. In reality, all cultural productions add to the nationalist dialogues in varying degrees. More importantly, Juan Antonio Corretjer was active in the Nationalist Party, a cause that people are still dying for, and being persecuted for, on the island of Puerto Rico as I know on a personal level.

What this individual was touching upon was the lack of social and political capital of the Puerto Rican people and a notion that somehow the right of self-determination does not apply to them. Am sure that the Queen of England thought George Washington to be a terrorist during the late 1700s in the same way that France thought little of Houari Boumédienne in Algeria during the wars for independence in the 1950s. If it were Revolutionary War soldiers carrying the American flag rather than the British Union Jack. Though Puerto Ricans are citizens of this country, this great bastion of democracy, people on the island do not vote in elections and are not represented in Congress. The U.N. still officially considers the island a 'colony' and a ruling by the Supreme Court in 1920 determined that though citizens, Puerto Ricans on the island were not afforded the same rights as mainland citizens. Such much for that whole Bill of Rights 'equality' thing. 

Creating unity amongst people should never come at the subjugation of one group in order not to 'stir trouble'. It's like telling the slaves back in the 1800s, hey "take one for the team", "just do your work and everything will take care of itself". This concept that agency is the exclusive domain of the "Other" springs from doctrines such as "Manifest Destiny", first/third word hierarchies, and colonial legacies. In this age of globalization, people have varying loyalties and varying allegiances and this world is not about making others comfortable or conforming. Normally, having people critic your work without them knowing you are the artist is fun but not when you are battling ignorance. 

I have travelled to places such as Finland, Paris, Egypt, Tokyo, Thailand and everyone in their respective countries has this one thing in common: they are fiercely proud of their culture and their heritage and (surprise) they believe theirs to be the most prominent and superior. And nothing is wrong with that but not at the expense of other cultures...I mean it was only a painting...only colors...representing flags and people who have died in exile or killed by CIA radiation experiments. Perhaps next time, a canvas or papier-mache of dismembered limbs of innocent victims from U.S. Navy bombs in Vieques, P.R. would be more a more unifying and appropriate gesture.

"Patriotism is the virtue of the vicious"

~Oscar Wilde

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