Works in the Exhibition
Between 1967 and 1973 Luis Camnitzer produced a series of etchings based on language which involved reducing the formal elements of the work to a single word or phrase. Ejercicio Final exemplifies this artistic technique. The print depicts a target with a red spot off the center and the words "Ejercicio Final" in typed print underneath the image. The final exercise, in this work, is equivalent to death. Camnitzer alludes here to the political tortures and assassinations of those thought to be communists in Uruguay during their period of military rule in the 70's. The word "exercise" used here, also refers to training drills carried out in an army. Unlike Frasconi's graphic representations of torture in progress, Camnitzer's simple drawing becomes a map to plot an assassination yet objectifies the idea of homicide by omitting gruesome details.
The absence of tortured victims, mass graves, or political slogans which can desensitize the viewer makes this a powerful, poignant work. By focusing on an anonymous victim with no particular social context, Camnitzer personalizes the act of killing, making anybody a potential target of human evil.
Sobre Arenas Equivocadas
Robert Coane, native of Puerto Rico, uses art as a vehicle to express his political activism. Sobre Arenas Equivocadas is his personal reaction to North American imperial policies in the Persian Gulf, which resulted in the deaths of three Puerto Rican soldiers: Manuel Rivera, Patbouvier Ortíz, and Ismael Cotto. The iconographic detail is described in the artist's words:
Wrapped in body bags they wilt on desert
Although not everyone may agree with Coane's political views, the clarity of his presentation, demonstrated through his painterly, artistic technique, lends integrity to the message and challenges the viewer to reckon with its meaning.
During the years from 1959 until his assassination 1965, Malcolm X was photographed extensively by many photojournalists who responded to his bold and articulate personality. Frank Espada's photograph of Malcolm X was taken during the second public school boycott. When he took this photo, Espada was involved in the Puerto Rican organization East N.Y. Action which also participated in the boycott. Espada's involvement with Malcolm's struggle marks the solidarity between the Puerto Rican and African-American community in their fight against human oppression.
This image depicts Malcolm X's public persona at the height of his popularity. His pursed lips, rigid collar, and sharp hat denote a serious, focused personality. Although his face stands out against a crowd whose eyes are fixed on him, his sunglasses work as a barrier shielding him from the public, preserving his private space. Born Malcolm Little in 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska, Malcolm X underwent many transformations. He began to acquire the qualities of an inspirational leader during his imprisonment for armed robbery at the age of 21. While in prison, he gained a scholarly command of African American history and of the English language. When he was released from prison in 1952, he was a devout disciple of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad's Nation of Islam rising to prominence in the hierarchy of the movement and opening temples in Boston, Philadelphia, and New York. He visited Mecca, made two trips to Africa, and later broke with Elijah Mohammed in 1964 to form the Organization of Afro-American Unity which concentrated on political rights for African-Americans. After this split, Malcolm X presented a less confrontational philosophy that promised accommodation without surrender to the power structure. He was shot and killed on February 21, 1965 during a meeting in the Audubon ballroom in Harlem.
Malcolm X's struggle, in many ways, parallels Pedro Albizu Campos' fight for Puerto Rican independence from the U.S. Although both men carried an empowering vision for their people, their efforts had to contend with a political system that constantly resisted their revolutionary spirit.
Istoria de la Isla
Rafael Ferrer's art is based on confrontation. His fascination with the emotional response to art began his Surrealist training under the instruction of Eugenio Fernández Granell at the College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts, a branch of the University of Puerto Rico. In 1967, Ferrer relocated to New York where, together with Puerto Rican artist Rafael Montañez-Ortiz, he projected an image of the artist as cultural activist and achieved a place for this identity within the artistic mainstream. To transmit his militant statements, Ferrer ironically favored ephemeral, spontaneous and con ceptual art. His style was adverse to the carefully rendered figural compositions inherent in the traditional arts of Puerto Rico and promoted by artists of the Gen eration of 1950 such as Lorenzo Homar and Carlos Raquel Rivera. During the 1960s, Ferrer constructed a series of in stallations which he described as "an assault on the establishment." He "des ecrated" museum walls by smearing grease in his installation at the Whitney Biennial (to caricature the social stereo type of the greasy Latino), and, at the Museum of Modern Art, he constructed a self-destructing sculpture of ice.
The printed series, Island's Tale, represents Ferrer's return to Puerto Rico for his themes and imagery. The artist i tentionally misspells the original Spanish title from "historia" to "istoria", alluding to omissions made in the official history of the island. In the print shown here, Ferrer aggressively splatters yellow, red and black over a topographical map of the island to evoke the explosive insur gency that occurred in the city of Lares. The image relates The Scream of Lares, which the artist inscribes as "mares," alluding to a historic event misrepresented by the island's public education system until its importance was restored by the Nationalist movement of Puerto Rico. The lack of public information available on Lares was acknowledged nearly a century after the event, when in 1968 Argentina the government-sponsored Institute of Puerto Rican Culture declared the city a historical site and allocated a portion of its funds to commission scholars and artists to depict the rebellion. The Scream of Lares occurred on September 23, 1868 when between six hundred and one thousand persons gathered in the city to demand their independence from Spain. They captured the seat of government, deposed the Spanish of officials and incarcerated them along with important local Spanish merchants. During the ten hours the rebels held power, they instituted a republican government, abolished slavery and declared Puerto Rico an independent nation. Although the Lares rebellion was soon suppressed by the Spanish military, it was followed by a series of reforms by the Spanish government in Puerto Rico. These included a declaration of amnesty for the Lares rebels, the abolition of slavery, and the repeal of mandates that had prohibited the formation of political parties. The role of the Lares rebellion in realizing these goals was commemorated by annual pilgrimages to the city, which expanded over time. Widespread nationalism during the l960's and the growing determination of its adherents to honor the Lares rebellion led the island's governor, Luis A. Ferré, to declare September 23 a national holiday, despite his public support for statehood.
Rafael Ferrer celebrates The Scream of Lares with the dream of his art. His formal alteration of the map with fiery colors originating in Lares parallels the artist's belief in the rebellion as a national turning point, when Puerto Rico asserted their sovereign identity to alter the political map of their history. As an activist, Ferrer chooses to isolate events remembered through tradition rather than historical documentation raising awareness to the contemporary disparities between the island's popular, oral history and its written, institutional history. These discrepancies, omissions and distortions of the island's past perpetuated a conflictive environment, where Puerto Ricans must take collective responsibility for interpreting their own culture.
Los Desaparecidos (The Disappeared Ones) is the
title and theme of this book which forms part of a 10-year series of work
by Antonio Frasconi. Frasconi began this series in 1981 when he became
aware of the clandestine human rights violations in Uruguay as the military
junta took over the country in 1973. During this time, those who were
considered communists were seized from their homes or off the streets
by the army and forced to undergo excruciating torture. In most cases
loved ones were not informed of the victims' whereabouts who became known
as the "disappeared". Frasconi specifically emphasizes the horrific torture
and victimization that took place in Uruguay and Argentina through visual
images that recreate the torment of the victims: figures with hands on
their heads, scenes of physical torture, hooded heads, bound prisoners,
and portraits of the "disappeared". Throughout the book, Frasconi interjects
typed fragments of testimonies by survivors who watched or were victims
of acts of torture. The visual impressions, however, some magnified to
cover two pages, overpower the written word, allowing the images to tell
the story.The medium used by Frasconi is highly effective in communicating
his message. He incorporates broad areas of wood grain into the depiction
intensifying the explicit suffering of the anonymous victims. The texture,
intricate lines, and strong contrast which run through the bodies of the
figures simulate veins and muscles, allowing the viewer to feel a sense
of empathy with humanity's fragility. Most of the images are in black
ink on beige paper and convey a somber yet direct quality. The concept
of light and dark also parallels the essence of political oppression imposed
by force, leaving no room for dialogue or disagreement encompassed in
the shades between.
La Isla del Encanto
La Isla del Encanto (The Enchanted Island) illustrates two opposing views of Puerto Rican history. In a style recalling popular folk art, Gutiérrez gathers picturesque images of the island in the upper portion of her composition. The tropical fauna, Afro-Caribbean music, a family photo, and the often romanticized jibaro (peasant farmer) are each based on positive aspects of Puerto Rican society which have been commodified for the purpose of United States tourism or agribusiness. The slave ship reaching ground in the upper right corner of the painting reinforces a historical context for the continued exploitation of Puerto Rican natural and human resources.
These images surround a larger, naked Taíno Indian woman who confronts the viewer displaying her womb, which has been pierced by a red arc. The powerful image is a reference to the public family planning policies instituted in Puerto Rico under the leadership of the Popular Democratic Party, which according to government statistics in 1980, sterilized nearly one-third of all Puerto Rican women. As the indigenous woman is incised, her blood trickles downward toward the lower region of the painting where Puerto Rico is plotted in the form of a map that floats in a blood-red sea.
Here, the island's topography includes United States military sea vessels, as well as highlighted areas of modem industry. The artist represents in a border pattern the few, generally absentee, entrepreneurs who control these factories by a row of faceless bodies dressed in business suits who alternate with faceless military uniforms. Gutiérrez's comparison equates the economic exploitation of Puerto Rican labor and resources with the invasive, self-serving concerns of the United States military presence on the island.
The history presented here by Gutiérrez is one of domination, institutionalized on the island through centuries of slavery, colonialism and industrial neo-colonialism. This denial of autonomy to Puerto Ricans extends beyond the national level to affect the individual, which Gutiérrez extends to the degree of control over their own bodies.
Lorenzo Homar is a principal figure in the formation of Puerto Rican national art. Although born in San Juan, Homar spent the larger portion of his youth in the United States. He received his educational training at the Art Students League, at the Pratt Institute, as a jewelry designer for Cartier, and later at the Art School of the Brooklyn Museum.
During this time Homar interacted with an international school of artists includ ing Ben Shahn, with whom he credits his first interests in calligraphy, and the German Expressionist Max Beckman who influenced the development of Homar's bold graphic style.
Homar returned to Puerto Rico in 1950 to become a founding member of the Center of Puerto Rican Art (CAP), and he joined the staff of the Division of Community Education where he was named director the following year. CAP was an operative dedicated to four social principles of art. It sought to produce an exclusively Puerto Rican art and to bring about an identification between art and the Puerto Rican populace. It also shared a commitment to collective labor and a preference for the low cost and accessible style of graphics, to increase the exposure of their art and appeal to a wider audience.
After a brief absence from Puerto Rico when Homar received the Guggenheim Fellowship in 1956, the artist resumed to the island to direct The Workshop of Graphic Art of The Institute of Puerto Rican Culture. In 1969, Homar helped to organize the first Latin American Graph ics Biennial of San Juan, which drew international attention to Puerto Rican art in a Latin American context and continues to the present day. While much of Homar's art has a political content, its significance is not narrowed by specific temporal relevance. Instead, Homar's subjects are bound with national pride as a means to express the strongly felt cultural and historical identity of Puerto Rico.
Pedro Albizu Campos
Pedro Albizu Campos is credited with rescuing the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico from obscurity and with raising public awareness to the cause of political and cultural liberation. Albizu assumed the presidency of the party in 1930 after many years abroad, during which he earned a doctorate degree from Harvard University and traveled throughout Latin America. His leadership revived the independence movement with a cam paign of radical nationalism that preached the importance of Puerto Rican national identity in achieving the island's independence. He strongly believed in the more universal aspects of cultural independence and for this reason did not concern himself with political strategies for altemative forms of government. To build national pride, Albizu Campos instead spoke of the island's topography and folklore and revived national heroes such as Ramón Emeterio Betances (one of the few Puerto Rican separatist leaders to advocate independence from Spain before 1898 and who also inspired nationalism on the level of a distinctly Caribbean movement).
After its poor electoral showing in the election of 1932, the Nationalist Party embarked on a new campaign of armed struggle. Despite the militant nature of this ideology, Albizu's Nationalist Party would not align itself with political factions. It continued to denounce the rule of the United States based on abstract principles of international law and the natural right of a unified people to claim their own sovereignty. In 1936, Albizu Campos was arrested by United States authorities on charges of advocating the overthrow of American rule by means of violence. He was later convicted of conspiracy and during the following twenty-five years conducted the greater part of his activism from a prison cell in a federal penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia. In July, 1943 United States authorities transferred Albizu from Atlanta toe New York hospital, where he arrived near death. His severe physical deterioration and eventual death by cancer was a direct result of the intolerable conditions he experienced in prison. The physical suffering that Albizu endured for the independence cause became transformed over time to a martyrdom of mythic proportions, raising his status of political heroism to sainthood. Albizu's personage remains a recognizable icon, inspiring Puerto Rican nationalism and the adherence to humanist values.
El Maestro (The Master)
In his art, Lorenzo Homar celebrates Puerto Rican national
heroes for their contemporary ability to inspire social causes rather
than for nostalgic idealization of the past. His historical portraits
speak directly to the public, often through the inclusion of declarative
texts which manifest a continuing struggle for communal ideals. Here,
the words of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party leader, Pedro Albizu Campos
(1893-1965), and a portrait of the activist are interwoven with equal
attention given to their visual qualities. The elegant script lettering
is gracefully animated and mirrors the dignified image of Albizu Campos,
who is presented in the form of a noble classical bust.
Both quotations are excerpts from speeches given by Albizu Campos in 1930, the year in which he returned to Puerto Rico, after many years abroad, to assume the presidency of the Nationalist Party. Cited together, the texts show the parallel drawn by Albizu between "personality", the human qualities of Puerto Ricans, and the island's political situation. The strength of his words lies in such a personal interpretation of conflict. Albizu equates political liberation with a psychological one, the need to destroy a colonial mentality and to rebuild cultural pride.
Albizu Campos' struggle to raise cultural awareness has made the leader an icon for socially committed Puerto Rican artists. Lorenzo Homar has special cause to identify with this iconography based on the similarly public mission of his art. As a founding member of the nationalistic print cooperative, Centro de Arte Puertorriqueño (CAP), a member and one time director of the Division of Community Education, and the organizer of the first Latin American Graphics Biennial of San Juan, Homar assumed the role of an artistic mentor for several generations of Puerto Rican artists. He guided the production of an art versed in humanistic philosophy and the achievements of Puerto Rico as a national culture.
Not unlike the teachings of Albizu Campos, Homar's art simultaneously illustrates the island's past while making an appeal to the public spirit needed to reclaim that history. Through works such as El Maestro, where the artist presents history within his own perspective, Homar inspires a critical interpretation of Puerto Rico's past in preparation for its future.
Lorenzo Homar's Turistas (Tourists), is a biting
commentary on American tourism in Puerto Rico. The Center for Puerto Rican
Art (CAP), founded in 1950 by Homar, Rafael Tufiño, and Jose A.
Torres Martinó, was part of a movement among Puerto Rican artists
to create a national art accessible to a wide public and reflecting the
island's contemporary situation. The silkscreen medium employed by the
CAP collective was chosen for its ease of dissemination and formal qualities,
which lend themselves to conveying a clear message.
The work of Puerto Rican artist Carlos Irizarry is often
grouped into three periods: a figurative stage (1961-63), a period of
geometric abstraction (1964-68) and a third period culminating in an emphasis
on social and political comment in his art from 1969 to the present. Irizarry's
career places his artistic activity in both Puerto Rico and New York,
where he lived as a youth and received his initial training at the School
of Art and Design. The artist's prior employment as a commercial designer
and his contact with both Pop art and the Photo realist movements are
essential to his stylistic development. After serving in the United States
army, Irizarry moved back to Puerto Rico in 1966. During the 1970s he
participated in the National Center for the Arts, an organization located
in Puerto Rico with the mission of promoting national art. The increasing
radicalism of his political activities led to a jail sentence in 1976
for what the artist considers "a political-artistic act." Irizarry continued
painting in prison and critical socio-political commentary remains a vital
component in his art, which today more often utilizes photography and
Irizarry presents an enlarged photographic image of the starving children of Biafra, the eastern region of Nigeria which suffered from famine during its secession from the republic in the years between 1967 and 1970. The rectilinear grid superimposed on the surface of the work creates a spatial rift suggesting the distance of the experience of widespread hunger from the surveillance of the western viewer. Irizarry emphasizes our technological observation of the famine through differences in visual clarity which change in focus according to the depth of field, as well as the repetition of contours in red and green which simulate the reflection of light signals indicated on a radarscope.
The effect of Irizarry's removed, analytical presentation of an issue with highly emotional impact alerts the viewer to the distance between the reality of current events and their media representations in affluent Western countries. Alternatively, the disparity may allude to the artist's recognition of the frequent separation of political and military logistical objectives, such as Biafra's motive for secession, from human repercussions. The immediacy of the latter is communicated through the grief of a child, a universal symbol of our vulnerability and also of our posterity.
1969, the year in which Irizarry executed this work, marked the escalation of the United States involvement in Vietnam, heightened activity by the civil rights movement and a growing political awareness in both of the artist's environments, Puerto Rico and New York. In the work, Irizarry gathers images reflecting the new social instability, and superimposes upon them his own rectilinear grid. The work includes Jasper John's Moratorium print, a reference to the national campus boycott to protest the war in Vietnam which took place in the fall of 1969. Reproductions of anti-war propaganda in the Pop art style, Picasso's Guernica (his famous statement on the atrocities of war) and an aerial photograph of a public protest of massive dimensions are all images relating the intense social, political and moral conflicts of the era whose immediacy was mediated through the mass media. The grid, a device traditionally used by artists to structure their compositions, is placed purposely askew. Irizarry arranges the surface network of lines slightly upward and to the right to divide rather than frame the images, creating the distancing effect of a window pane which inhibits rather than delineates our view.
The independence of the architectural grid and its actual intrusion on the compositional order reflect Irizarry's belief that war is chaos and therefore incapable of being justified by rational means. The artist clarifies his sentiment by including a lengthy text that quotes the presidential candidate of 1968, Eugene McCarthy. Here, Irizarry juxtaposes his montage of war and civil disobedience with a poetic statement on the irrational mathematics of a strategic arms race, which according to McCarthy, based power on the premise that, We can kill all of you three times, and you kill all of us but once and a half.
While Irizarry's anti-war statement has a universal significance, it also has special relevance for the people of Puerto Rico. In a war such as Vietnam, Puerto Ricans were obligated to serve and possibly die in the United States army without having the electoral opportunity to influence its policy. The draft in Puerto Rico is based on the legal criteria of citizenship granted to the island with out its prior consultation by the Jones Act of 1917, a measure passed by the United States Congress during the outbreak of World War I. Despite this legality and the later commonwealth status instituted by Puerto Rico in 1953, islanders are restricted from voting in United States presidential elections and have no direct representation in Congress.
As a Puerto Rican without legal recourse for political expression, Irizarry uses art to voice his discontent. He distorts the landmark sculpture portraying the invasion of Iwo Jima, a battle crucial to the United States victory in World War n, by replacing the flag held by marines with an oversize flower both typical of the island's flora and symbolic of the international movement for peace. Nearby, a larger American flag is colored with the bright green and yellow of tropical vegetation. Through such pictorial devices, Irizarry makes an appeal for world peace while superimposing his Puerto Rican identity onto traditional representations of United States heritage, whose history has denied Puerto Rico's own.
Terra Non Descoperta
Entry, December 21, 1492 from the Diario of Christopher Columbus' First Voyage to America. Abstracted by Fray Bartolomé de las Casas.
A message of greed and exploitation across the centuries is conveyed in skillful visual and conceptual shorthand in Terra Non Descoperta (Undiscovered Land). The work overlays a fragmented image of a Brazilian miner's hundred-pound load with a text from Columbus' diary. The text describes the generosity of the indigenous Caribbean peoples, who gave away gold as freely as water from their gourds. The piece's thought-provoking title is a wistful lament for a world the Spaniards could not or would not understand. It also poses each viewer a difficult question: Is the "Third World" an "undiscovered" land to you? Do you ignore it? Misunderstand it? Exploit it?
500 Años... is a subtle and surprising commentary on the Quincentenary depicting the double invasion of Puerto Rico, by Spain in 1493 and by the U.S. in 1898.The work depicts three sea vessels; a canoe in the foreground with two Taíno women and a young child, (Pre-Columbian natives of Puerto Rico), a caravel with a red cross, and a U.S. destroyer in the distance. The contrasts between the Spanish caravel and the Taíno canoe describe the differences between the two cultures and the values they represent. The Spanish cross on the sail of the caravel is red, symbolic of the blood spilled in missionary endeavors, and advances forward exhibiting an imposing, conquering quality. This aggressiveness suggests the religious aggressiveness opression of the indigenous people by the Westerners. The open canoe suggests the Taíno's state of vulnerability to this invasion as opposed to the Spaniards who are shielded by their billowing sail. The brown color of the canoe and figures and the natives' beads and arm bracelets, made from natural elements, allude to the Taíno's reverence and worship of nature. This idea is opposed by the turbulent swirls resembling smoke, which originate from the U.S. destroyer and refer to the pollution of the land by the Europeans and later by the United States. The nudity of the Taíno conveys their sense of integrity and their humanity in all its innocence.
The title, 500 Años... does not allude merely to the first encounter but implies that we are continuously vulnerable to external forces which distort our history. The ellipsis in the title, which suggests repetitive cycles and the recurrence of the swirls on the face of the water emphasize continuity. The narrow, cropped format of the image, on the other hand, offers a fragmented view. Perhaps it alludes to the way history is usually taught and the threat of colonial mentalities that type of education might create.
Although Lizette Lugo was born in Puerto Rico, this theme speaks to all Latin American countries. The exclusion of land in the work testifies to the fact that culture is not bound to geography and can survive away from its origins in the face of adversity.
"He who wants to look far ahead should learn to look far behind. A people with character and personality is a people that knows its 'nexo vital' between the past and the present t, and this helps to understand the course of the future. This is how we always want the Puerto Rican people to be!"
*Note - 'nexo vital' - the link between a group of people essential to its existence.This quote was delivered by Doctor Arturo Morales Carrión during a speech given to commemorate the centenary of the abolition of slavery in Puerto Rico. It was delivered before the Legislative Assembly of Puerto Rico on March 29, 1973. In many ways, this portfolio serves as a reminder of Puerto Rico's struggle in history, a struggle which motivates the Puerto Rican people to continue to fight until all shackles of racial prejudice are broken. The images in the portfolio address various issues which deal with the political, emotional and psychological aspects of slavery and the fight for abolition. Each artist's particular style and technique contributes to the specific aspect which they chose to depict.
A Short History of Slavery
The trafficking of slaves in America began when King Ferdinand
gave permission to the commander of Lares, Fray Nicolás de Ovando,
to bring slaves into the custody of Christians on September 16,1501. Slavery
extended itself to the Indies as an institution which, in that period,
had already existed in Castilla, Spain and in other parts of Europe, where
there were white slaves as well as black slaves. The system of slavery
made its way into Puerto Rico on April 10,151 when permission was granted
to Jerónimo of Brussels to bring two slaves to San Juan. San Juan
had a population of three hundred whites until this time.
There were three types of slaves in Puerto Rico: domestic slaves, plantation
slaves, and slaves which worked for a small wage (esclavos jornaleros).
The role of domestic slaves was to attend to the affairs of the principal
house of the estate; the plantation slaves cultivated the land; and the
wage earning slaves were those rented by their masters to do work outside
of the plantation for a small wage. They sold candy and manufactured items
in the street and were employed to work on the construction and conservation
of roads and fortifications.
On March 22,1873, the system of slavery was ended, giving African slaves their freedom. Twenty-nine thousand, one hundred and eighty-two slaves were freed as a result. New publications, organizations, and laws arose as a result of abolition. The most important law established was the Bill of Rights for all Puerto Ricans which was made official in September of l873. This gave all Puerto Ricans inalienable rights such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, property and personal rights, and the right to vote. Abolition, however, did not end here. The difficult stage began in erasing the shameful heritage of slavery and destroying the prejudices which infiltrated all aspects of life. Augusto Marín's print, 1873-1973, correlates to the resentment and bitterness which remains from this cruel system of labor, one whose ideas many cultures around the world still struggle to abolish.
22 de Marzo
Antonio Maldonado was born in Manatí, Puerto Rico in 1920. Maldonado studied painting and drawing with Magda López de Victoria, Juan A. Rosado, and Don Cristobal Ruiz. On his return from Mexico, where he studied in the National School of Fine Arts, he began designing books and posters in the División de Educación de la Comunidad (Division of Community Education) in Puerto Rico where for decades he was director of the graphic arts department.
22 de Marzo, depicts the victory celebration of the abolition of slavery in Puerto Rico which took place in March 22,1873. The print portrays a procession of men holding torches which emerges from the distance. Above this procession, a circular form containing the heads of abolitionists emerges. This image commemorates the unity, power, and action that brought this long overdue reform.
The composition and the expression of the figures in the procession convey
the idea of unity. The figures are bound as one in their closeness further
united by the repeating gesture and expressions that each exhibit. This
unity creates one massive, powerful force. The abolitionists above the
figures are enclosed in a circular shape which binds them together. Among
them are Samuel Betances, Segundo Ruiz Belvis, Román Baldorioty
de Castro, and Julián Acosta. The figures below commemorate these
historical heroes who also constituted a powerful force against slavery.
(b. Santurce, 1939)
Deck of Playing Cards, 1968
Fuera la Marina Yanki de Culebra!
Yankee Marines Out of Culebra
Island!, ca. 1969-70
Silkscreen, 34 3/4 x 20 3/4"
Collection of El Museo del Barrio, N.Y.
Juegos de Mano de Antonio Martorell
Ramón Emeterio Betances, 1969
Silkscreen, 24 1/8 x 17 7/8"
Y Tu Abuela, ¿Dónde Está?
From Portafolio Conmemorativo: Primer
Centenario de la Abolición de la Esclavitud
en Puerto Rico 1873-1973
And where is your grandmother?, 1973
The multi-talented artist Antonio Martorell has worked as a book, poster and set designer, book illustrator, caricaturist, paper muralist and as a performance and installation artist. He began his training in the early 1960s, studying drawing and painting in Madrid at the Ferrer Foundation under Julio Martín-Caro and subsequently apprenticed in graphic art under the tutelage of Lorenzo Homar at the Graphic Arts Workshop of the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture. In 1968 he founded the Taller Alacrán (Scorpion Workshop), named for the sting of its political satire. Martorell has also worked as a Professor of Graphic Arts in several institutions in Puerto Rico. Between 1981-83 Martorell lived in Mexico, where he was a Professor of relief engraving and print drawing at the National School of Fine Arts of Mexico in Mexico City.
Martorell has been collaborating with Rosa Luisa Márquez since 1985 as performer and set designer for performance art pieces which have been staged in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and the United States. The artist's work has been included in numerous group and solo exhibitions. Among recent major exhibitions of his work are a retrospective held in conjunction with the Seventh San Juan Biennial of Latin American and Caribbean Graphics arts in 1986 and La Casa de Todos Nosotros /A House for Us All, held at El Museo del Barrio in 1992-3. Martorell currently lives and works in Cayey, Puerto Rico and New York City.
In 1968, the multi-faceted artist Antonio Martorell founded the Taller Alacrán (Scorpion Workshop) in Santurce. This workshop, which operated until 1971, provided free instruction for young people in graphic design. The workshop was supported by commissions for posters, book illustrations, and set designs. Among the artists who taught with Martorell at the workshop were Carmelo Martínez, Ida Nieves, and José Rochet, all of whom had studied with Lorenzo Homar at the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture's Graphic Workshops. The goals of the Taller followed the tradition of workshops established by the artists of the Generation of 1950 to: foster a sense of national identity, to create links between artists and the community, and to produce art as part of a collective workshop.
Baraja "K" ("K" Playing Card)
Martorell created limited editions of silkscreen posters which featured each of the cards in the deck. Produced by the Taller Alacrán, Baraja K depicts Governor Roberto Sánchez Vilella as the King of Hearts, an ironic commentary on his marital troubles at the time. In this poster, Luis Muñoz Marín, his piercing gaze staring straight ahead, is seen just behind Sánchez. Jeannette Ramos de Sánchez, the Governor's former assistant, became his wife two days after his divorce became final in September of 1967. She is shown with her father, House Speaker Ernesto Ramós Antonini in the background. The controversy generated by the Governor's personal life affected the upcoming elections and was one of the circumstances which led to a split in the Popular Democratic Party. Sánchez Vilella went on to found the Partido del Pueblo, or People's Party, whose rising sun logo is seen eclipsing the Popular Democratic Party's pave hat just below the letter "k." The dynamic composition of this card and the others in the set parallel the chaos and interrelated levels of political intrigue involved in the status debate and election controversies.
Deck of Playing Cards 1968
The deck of playing cards created byAntonio Martorell featured satirical depictions of prominent figures in the island's political scene. Although Martorell does not adhere to any political party, he is an advocate of independence. Demagoguery, corruption, economic dependency and colonialism are denounced; no one is spared. The title of the exhibition recalls a popular refrain Juegos de mano, juegos de villano (parlor games, villains' games). The suits of cards were substituted by the artist with emblems of the island's political parties. The hearts for example, were replaced with the pava (straw hat) logo of the pro -commonwealth Partido Popular Democratico (Popular Democratic Party). The cards were printed in an edition of 5,000 sets and were widely distributed for sale in book and department stores. The choice of the English deck points to the island's position as a United States' colony. Despite his criticism and caricature of local leaders and their internal debates, the artist depicts the United States as the agent ultimately in control of decisions affecting the island's future. Martorell portrays then-President Lyndon B. Johnson in the Joker card clad in cowboy attire, wearing a pava and playing a guïro (traditional musical instrument) painted as a Puerto Rican flag, comparing the elections to a game and underlining the United States' power over the island.
¡Fuera la Marina Yanki de Culebra! (Yankee Marines Out of Culebra Island!) is a powerful statement against the presence of United States military installations in Culebra, an island off the east coast of Puerto Rico. A series of posters were produced by the Taller Alacrán (Scorpion Workshop) in Puerto Rico during a period of intensified protests against the United States military in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In the image, a woman pointing a clenched fist in the air holds two infants. Behind her, schematic warships traverse the ocean, creating diagonal and vertical patterns. Martorell's work recalls Soviet Social Realist poster design, a style which the artist chose for its directness of expression. Martorell felt that the heroic and combative tone of social realist art lent itself to portraying the dramatic struggle on Culebra island. The models for the woman and the two infants were Martorell's wife Noris and his children Giovanni and Alexandra.
The United States began to use the Caribbean as a base of operations soon after its 1898 invasion of Puerto Rico during the Spanish American war. Culebra became an important site of naval and communications facilities since the early 1900s; its installations were an integral part of United States actions throughout Central America and the Caribbean. The establishment of military bases in Puerto Rico, the U. S. Virgin Islands, Vieques and Culebra has often had negative economic effects on the islands and displaced local residents. During the 1960s, in response to the Cuban Revolution, the Department of Defense considered appropriating Vieques and Culebra entirely for military purposes, but this plan was rejected by Governor Luis Munoz Marín However, during the late 1 1960s, protests against United States' military presence in Culebra and Vieques intensified. In the summer of 1971 these protests culminated in peaceful civil disobedience by a coalition of religious and political activists and local residents and the imprisonment of some of the participants in the demonstration including the Partido independentista Puertorriqueño's (Puerto Rican Independence Party) President, Rubén Berrios Martínez. During the early 1970s, residents of the island, led by their mayor Ramón Feliciano and assisted by lawyer Richard Copaken, continued to challenge the United States. President Richard Nixon ordered the Navy to withdraw from the island in October of 1975. The United States military continues to maintain bases in Puerto Rico, Vieques and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Juegos de Mano de Antonio Martorell
In October of 1968, an exhibition of juegos de mano (parlor games) which included card games, domino sets, and even pinball machines, was held at the Colibrí Gallery in San Juan. Juegos de Mano de Antonio Martorell, which announced the exhibition, featured a self-portrait by the artist intertwined with illustrations of the deck of cards. Martorell frames the text with two self-portraits which hold drawing instruments. The suit of this card also depicts tools used for drawing and printmaking.
The element of self portraiture recurs in posters announcing exhibitions on the island. The exhibition commented on the bitterly contested elections of 1968. The campaign's debate turned around the issue of Puerto Rico's status. The political parties' struggle focused on the three options still acing the island: state hood, commonwealth or independence. The island, which was invaded by the United States in 1898 (citizenship was imposed on Puerto Ricans in 1917), had been governed by a series of North American military and civilian leaders until the election of Luis Munoz Marín in 1948. In 1952, the Estado libre Asociado (Free Associated State or Common wealth) was established. Although Puerto Ricans on the island could elect their governor and legislative represen tatives, they could not vote in United States' presidential or congressional elec tions and are subject to United States law in several areas such as immigration and currency. In this context, Martorell emphasizes the artist's role as activist and political conscience.
Pedro Albizu Campos, 1969
This poster created at the Taller Alacran (Scorpion Workshop) depicts key events in the Nationalist Party's struggle against United States' domination of Puerto Rico. Albizu Campos is shown in profile, fist thrust into the air, a pose familiar from photographs taken during the charismatic leader's public appearances. The words Para quitarnos la patria primero tienen que quitarnos la vida. (In order to take away our homeland, they will have to take our lives), later a rallying cry of the Nationalist Party, are featured alongside three scenes of resistance against the United States. In the foreground, Albizu's outstretched arm blends with a scene depicting the Nationalist uprising which began in October of 1950 in Jayuya and spread to several cities in the island, lasting approximately 3 days. A second profile of the leader again blends with an image of nationalists in action, this time depicting the March 1st, 1954 assault on the US. House of Representatives led by Lolita Lebrón. Although Lebrón assumed full responsibility for the organization of the action (she was imprisoned until 1979, when her sentence was commuted by President Carter), the artist links such actions of independence activists in the United States with the ideas espoused by Albizu Campos. Receding into the background, Albizu is shown behind bars, his arm still outstretched in a gesture of defiance. He was imprisoned for promoting violence in the fight for independence from 1937 to 1943,1951 to 1953, and 1954 to 1964, when he was released near-death due to mistreatment suffered during his incarceration. Martorell's use of repetition, dark outlines, strong color contrasts and text create a powerful image of Albizu Campos, an icon of Puerto Rican nationalism for many artists.
Ramón Emeterio Betances
Antonio Martorell's profile depiction of Ramón Emerterio Betances, is more confrontational and truer to his revolutionary spirit than conventional, passive representations of him. Betances was a Puerto Rican separatist and advocated for the abolition of slavery and for Puerto Rican independence from Spain in the 19th Century. In contrast to usual frontal depictions of Betances, with droopy eyes, and a flowing beard, Martorell creates a succession of two profiles, one more exaggerated than the next. The first profile displays a piercing eye, a pronounced nose, and an open mouth while the next portrays the same enlarged expression omitting his eyes. The open mouth describes a screaming gesture, paralleled by the words on the bottom left; Grito de Lares (Scream of Lares). El Grito de Lares refers to the 1868 independence uprising against Spain in the town of Lares, of which Betances was the principal architect.
The double portrait format of this work effectively conveys Betances' vigor in pursuit of independence. The second, expanded contour appears to be the manifestation of an uncontainable rage. One understands the reason for his uneasiness upon reading the quote on the right hand side: No quiero colonia ni con España ni con Estados Unidos. ¿Que hacen los puertorriqueños que no se rebelan? (I don't want colonial status with either Spain or the United States. Why don't Puerto Ricans rebel?). Betances cries out against his people's complacency, their passivity in colonized oppression. The squiggly, crinkled lines that make up Betances' hair, eyebrows, mustache, and beard convey the energy and anxiety of his unsettled state. They flow from one profile to the next conjuring an image of flames referring to his fiery personality and message.
The red, white, and blue employed in this print, as well as the star on the right, are also indicative of Betances' spirit of liberation alluding to the Puerto Rican flag. The color red may also represent blood and is precisely used for the phrase, ¿Que pasa con los Puertorriqueños que no se rebelan? Martorell affirms Betances' revolutionary sentiments implying that rebellion demands bloodshed and that life is worth sacrificing for the future of one's country. The figure on the lower right represents a jibaro (typical Puerto Rican peasant of the 19th century) and also contradicts its conventionally passive depiction. As opposed to the way the jibaro is usually depicted (on the land cutting sugarcane) he is on horseback and raises his sword high in the air, an assertive, powerful image. Perhaps Martorell speaks to the Puerto Rican potential for rebellion which Betances longed for in his lifetime. Ramón Emeterio Betances is meant to stir revolutionary feelings. It also is a personal protest against passive depiction of Puerto Rican heroes and ancestors which do not do justice to their true character.
Y Tu Abuela, ¿Dónde Está?, is a work that speaks to the importance of not denying one's identity as a people and as an individual. The artist reinforces this theme through the title and the lettering in the print, using the image of the family album as a symbol. The title of the print, Y Tu Abuela, ¿Dónde Está?, is a humorous colloquial phrase which translates into And where is your grandmother? It is taken from Fortunato Vizcarrondo whose writings exhibit African influences. This popular saying is used among Puerto Ricans to remind a light-skinned Puerto Rican of his or her African roots. It urges one to be proud and not to deny one's African heritage. The title is echoed by the words in the image of the photograph which say, No me olvides (Don't forget me). The man wears clothes typical of Puerto Rico and is against a tropical setting. This type of photo was usually taken during the patron saint festivals which are very popular in Puerto Rico. This man urges the viewer not to forget one's culture.
Martorell emphasizes the idea of identity and culture through the image of the family album. The family is important as the center where identities are formed and where culture is taught. The man in the photo is a white Puerto Rican grandfather of Spanish descent - a a "criollo." The empty space beside the photo of the grandfather represents the black grandmother whose identity and race is denied. This emptiness alludes to the fact that one's culture and identity are lost if one's family ties are not maintained and are denied. The image of the family album is rendered in simple fashion adding to the message of the work. The print is achieved in simple, straight lines which help the viewer to focus on the message. This echoes its simplicity and the direct punch of the colloquial phrase. The minimal contrast in value and the yellowish color of the photo give the album a faded antique appearance which reinforces its importance as a symbol of traditions and values.
El Embajador Lane Wilson
The Taller de Grafica Popular was a print cooperative founded in 1937 by the Mexican artist Leopoldo Méndez, together with Luis Arenal and the United States - born Pablo O' Higgins. Its stated purpose was to disseminate images of a revolutionary national identity. Not unlike the parallel Muralist Movement that was led at this time by Diego Rivera, the Taller artists shared an ideological commitment to social realism as a direct means of communicating with a large, essentially illiterate public. While the more modern technique of lithography was available to the Taller at this time, its artists preferred the linocut for its facility in supporting larger editions at a low cost, and also for its clarity of expression achieved by sharp contrasts of black and white.
The work exhibited here is a selection from the portfolio, Estampas de la Revolución Mexicana (Prints of the Mexican Revolution), a series of eighty five prints by sixteen different artists published by the cooperative in 1947. The introductory essay accompanying these works addresses the need to reaffirm revolutionary values of social democracy in the face of a new and menacing international situation. Continued adherence to Naziism, fascism and the threat of increasing imperialism by nations such as the adjacent United States, whose atomic weaponry provided unprecedented powers for devastation, were issues that pervaded Mexico's internal politics after the second World War.
The threat of intervention perceived by these artists extended beyond physical boundaries, to include criticism of the N.E. growing economic bureaucracy within Mexico which encouraged foreign investment. The Taller artists worked within a legible, near uniform style to more clearly express their collective message. Images of avarice and foreign tycoons were published along with scenes of national heroic struggles, such as Emiliano Zapata's campaign to restore communal lands to the peasantry. Taller commissions were used for trade union leaflets, political posters, back drops for union meetings or in the case of this porffolio, as didactic materials for classroom use or as broadsheets that could be sold by street vendors. The prints of the Taller were intended as more than a visual expression of the emerging Mexicanidad spirit. Their nationalism was a direct call for political action, an art form whose utility was recognized by many socially concerned artists throughout the Americas. Notable influences of the Taller cooperative include the revival of graphics by the Puerto Rican Generation of 1950, a group which included the artists Carlos Raquel Rivera and Rafael Tufiño. Perhaps the most lasting contribution of the Taller, however, is the workshop system itself. The model where artists met weekly to critically evaluate their work and collaborated to afford equipment and publications has been replicated and expanded in Cuba, Puerto Rico and also among Chicano artists in the United States.
Leopoldo Méndez was a politically committed artist, who specialized in producing graphics that recalled the direct style of his national predecessor, the engraver of popular broadsheets and newspaper caricatures, José Guadalupe Posada. The former Director of the Ministry of Education in Mexico, Méndez was also an active member of L.E A.R., the League of Revolutionary Writers and Artists. He contributed caricatures regularly to its periodical, El Machete. After the organization disbanded, Méndez helped to form the Taller de Gráfica Popular. As its principal co-founder, he directed the graphic art workshop until 1952. He withdrew from its membership eight years later, believing that the organization had begun to lose its revolutionary zeal.
El Embajador Lane Wilson "Arregla" el Conflicto
The man depicted here is the former United States Ambassador to Mexico, Henry Lane Wilson. He is remembered in Mexican history for the role he played in the overthrow of the first revolutionary government of Francisco Madero in 1912. Wilson's role was that of arbitrator, bringing together Félix Díaz, the nephew of Mexico's previous dictator Porfirio Díaz, and the revolutionary leader Huerta, who had grievances with Madero. Their collaboration resulted in a successful coup d'état responsible for the murder of President Madero and his Vice-President José María Pino Suárez. The United States, which had sponsored the pact of Díaz and Huerta under the Wilson administration, recognized the new government under the leadership of Huerta.
The Huerta Administration left much of Díaz' army intact. The leader continued to run the country like a general, and he ordered the purge of many liberals and revolutionaries, such as those support ing the economic goals of the peasant leaders Zapata and Villa. By supporting Huerta's presidency, the United States effectively defined itself as an enemy of the Mexican Revolution. Méndez illustrates this complex dimension of Mexican history with simplicity and force. The Ambassador is seated playing chess. Without looking toward the table, he has toppled over game pieces in the shape of a Zapatista peasant revo lutionary and a beggar who holds out his hat for money. An apparition of a man with dollar coins for eyes whispers into Wilson's ear, suggesting the United States' vested interests in land holdings as a motive for the Ambassador's actions.
Political Beggar consists of elements that comprise the corrupt politician. The array of colors and the iconographic symbols are intricately woven to convey a deceitful man in need of votes. The fingers emerging from the top pocket and the arm reaching into the one below it allude to bribery incited by greed. The finger shown in his underwear, an inviting finger replacing his penis, suggests the exchange of sexual favors for political status. The snake posing as the figure's head refers to the sinful state of the politician.
When one thinks of a beggar, an image of a poor person on the street is conjured. Salicrup suggests that one can be a spiritual beggar without justice or morals regardless of one's social, political or economic status.
El Taller Boricua (The Puerto Rican Workshop) was founded in 1969 by a group of young Puerto Rican artists activists who were dissatisfied with the social problems facing the Puerto Rican community. Their goal was to establish a cultural and educational center - "a shelter amidst the reality of American racism," in the words of one of its members, to advocate for housing, health, education, and culture for Puerto to Ricans living in New York City. They also aimed for the exchange of ideas among cultural and political workers. The rediscovery of the Pre-Columbian Taíno ancestry, the Taller's guiding aesthetic principle, provided a rich, historical and iconographic inspiration for the workshop, still active today as a center for community art education and housing.
Fa Brutto Tempo, Si Bruttissimo
This work pays homage to Pedro Albizu Campos and the conflicted
period in which he lived. Albizu's double portrait is surrounded by photographic
scenes of protest and repeated images of the revolutionary hero. The red
blotches splattered throughout the work allude to Albizu's martyrdom and
acknowledge all those who died for the cause of Puerto Rican independence.
The distressed look in the double portrait parallels the artist's dialogue
in the title, Fa Brutto Tempo, Si Bruttisimo (This is a Terrible Climate
Yes, Terrible) suggesting Albizu's concern over the chaotic state
of events surrounding the Nationalist Party at this time. The sign at
the top, advertising the Jayuya Market Provision, may allude to the 1950
national uprisings in various cities of the island which, for Jayuya,
resulted in the burning of a police station and post office. The uprisings
throughout the island lasted seventy-two hours and left thirty-two dead:
they included twenty-one Nationalists, nine policemen, and one National
Guardsman. Amidst tragic death and violence, the desperate question, ¿Y
La Patria? casts doubt on the future of the island.
La Juventud de Emiliano Zapata:
A Chicago-born artist, Yampolsky joined the Taller de Gráfica Popular in 1944. She contributed to its publications until the year 1960 when many original members of the print cooperative including Leopoldo Méndez, one of its three original co-founders, withdrew from the organization due to ideological differences. Yampolsk later abandoned printmaking and is today considered one of Mexico's most prominent photographers.
The scene depicts a young Emiliano Zapata, the peasant revolutionary leader most commonly associated with the socialist ideal of agrarian land reform. The toils of the rural peasantry are juxtaposed against a gentry carriage and modem architecture in the distance. Zapata watches the scene with a militant interest in their struggle. He is characterized by darker and more thickly incised lines which emphasize his tense musculature and his uneasy stance that anticipates action. Yampolsky dramatizes the heroic qualities already apparent in his youth that would secure Zapata a place in Mexican national history.
The entries for the works in this exhibition were researched and written by the following members of the curatorial department of El Museo del Barrio: Miriam Basilio, Curatorial Assistant; Nellie Escalante and Karen Baji, Curatorial Interns. The authors' initials appear after the text.
ABOUT EL MUSEO DEL BARRIO
El Museo del Barrio, founded in 1969, is dedicated to the preservation, dissemination and interpretation of Latino culture in the United States. El Museo's mission is reflected in its permanent collection of 8,000 objects and in its varied programming of contemporary and historical exhibitions, film festivals, lectures, symposia, performances, concerts and specially-designed education programs. El Museo is located in the Heckscher Building, 1230 Fifth Avenue at 104th Street, directly across from the Central Park Conservatory Garden.