Friday, October 22, 2021

Back in Puerto Rico, Martorell's Exhibit Grounds Me

Last week I had the opportunity to take a short trip to Puerto Rico with my friend, Marie. It was the first time I had been to the island since my trip with Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute (CCCADI) to participate in the Community Arts University Without Walls (CAUWW) program in 2015. That's when I started this blog, Travesia Artistica, initially to document my amazing experiences in the two-week program that took us from the campus is InterAmerican University, to arts and cultural sites all over Puerto Rico. Now as the blog lives on six years later, it is only fitting that I write about my brief return to the island I love so much. 

CAUWW was a totally unique program which is no longer offered, so I was extremely lucky to have participated when I did, lead by the indomitable Dr.  Marta Moreno Vega, who has since retired. One of the incredible things my cohort experienced was a day trip to Ponce, in which we managed to do many things, including taking a private tour of renowned Puerto Rican artist Antonio Martorell's studio. It was a pleasure to meet him and have the opportunity to experience the work of a prolific multidisciplinary artist first hand. 

Coincidentally, upon my 2021 visit to Puerto Rico, I noticed that Museo de las Américas was about to open a new show: Entretelas - Antonio Martorell y sus amigos. In fact, Marie and I were able to go on opening day! I thought this was the perfect thing to post about here, as a full-circle moment, especially because so many events have taken place worldwide and particularly in Puerto Rico since the last time I was there. Martorell's work touches on it all, poetically.

While lovely to behold, Martorell's masterful body of work in Entretelas... reaches for a "state of grace" and recovery after four years of  tragedies caused by "misgovernment, seasonal hurricanes on the Atlantic... the multiplication and mutation of the pandemic virus, the tremors and the earthquakes [which have forced] changes in Puerto Rican daily life." 

The exhibit, starting with portraits painted onto heavy tapestries explores subject matter from family portraits, to those of historical figures, and those who were wrongfully reincarcerated throughout history. Although there are many paintings in the first salon, in typical Martorell style. he takes a left in the second salon presenting a variety of styles and materials, from colorful fibers to wood and even found fallen tree branches from Hurricane Maria's fallout, reminding us of the devastation experienced, and the friends and family members who have been lost.

I was lucky to be able to see Entretelas... first hand and even take some photos which I share with you here. 

Courtyard inside of Museo de las Americas 

On the second floor, facing into the courtyard

Didactic wall panel for Enretelas...

First room of the exhibition. Portraits painted on upholstery fabrics 

Self-portrait of Martorell 

The Mortal Wall

First photo credit by Marie, remainder by Lorie - you can find more photos of this and more exhibits on my IG @lorie.caval

Museo de las Américas is located at Cuartel de Ballajá, Second floor, Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Latinx Art curing my pandemic brain-fog

Moving through this pandemic period has been weirder than I originally thought. Not that I knew what to expect. I was going to grad school during the brunt in early 2020 and frankly, staying home alone, writing my MA thesis, attending classes on Zoom, and working remotely was not that hard for me. Graduating on Zoom was not ideal. And of course, I am not even touching on the overall dangers and consequences of the Coronavirus pervading our city, and the world. But for me (and yes, I am an introvert), staying home, watching TV, cooking, painting, meditating, taking long neighborhood walks, and wearing a mask, was absolutely fine. Enjoyable, even. I was actually very productive throughout the entire year of 2020.

And let’s not forget the multitude of BLM-related marches and protests, of which I made it to quite a few in NYC. I even made it to Washington, DC for the historic Commitment March in commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech, which was tremendous. Yes, 2020 was a tough year, but some diamonds were made under the pressure, too.

However, 2021 has been much more challenging for me. I’m no longer a grad student, which is bittersweet. I've been job-searching, but that has been challenging, as cultural organizations have been heavily affected by the pandemic. I moved into a new apartment in early-2021 which was an improvement in many ways. But still a big change; my routine has changed - and coupled with the fact Covid restrictions abound, going to places and doing things I usually like to do has been curbed. I’ve felt a general malaise, I think, because of how long this “reopening of NYC” has been taking. We are still in the midst of a pandemic almost two years later. Life has changed.

While I was unable to go out and visit museums and galleries or the most part, I engaged with art in whatever ways I could. The enormous importance of public art and street art could not have impressed upon me more. Cultural institutions made use of Zoom and other online platforms and I soaked in as much as I could, until I got Zoomed-out. Being interested in Latinx art, I was happy to see that a number of books related to this subject were published recently, and so I’ve been acquiring them one by one. Truth be told, I started reading all, but have not finished any (I’ll blame it on pandemic brain-fog), so I cant review them per se. Nonetheless, I have inadvertently been building a little library of Latinx art and these are all lovely, thoughtful books, I believe will stand the test of time.

Before I go further, I should address the meaning of "Latinx" as it pertains to art, for those who might not be aware of the distinction. According to Aldeide Delgado: 

..."Latinx" is a concept that does not pertain to Latin America, nor does it pretend to define the artistic or social processes in the region. It does however facilitate the inclusion of these debates in the discourse on Latin America and the Latin American diaspora. "Latinx" includes people who have been born, educated or naturalized in the United States... Latinx artists recover shared cultural experiences to reflect on class, migration and identity issues. Latinx art does not define a monolithic identity, nor is it about single story or experience. Rather, this art is marked by various factors of gender, mobility, migratory status, skin color and access to cultural and economic capital. Studying Latinx art involves recognizing the influence of these artists on the history of American art, as well as generating a space for dialogue and discussion about the politics of access and participation of the Latino communities in US society. ("What Is "Latinx"?" Contemporary & AL, 2019.) 

Not so coincidentally, one of the first IRL art exhibits I visited this year was at El Museo del Barrio for Estamos Bien – La Trienal 20/21 – a large-scale survey of Latinx art curated by Rodrigo Moura, Susanna V Temkin, and guest curator Elia Alba. It’s no secret that El Museo is one of my favorite cultural institutions. I even had the opportunity to intern there in 2019. So, returning to the building in person this July felt a bit nostalgic. And I was thrilled to see that they have added on an entirely new, huge gallery to help encompass this expansive exhibition. I don’t fancy myself an art critic, so I’ll save you from my opinions on the particular pieces. But I will instead include some photos I took of the works featured at La Trienal, as well as a few links to articles about the exhibit.* 

I will also post some info about the aforementioned books I’ve acquired about Latinx and BIPOC art, for those who may be interested in bolstering their own libraries: Latinx Art: Artists/Markets/Politics by Arlene DávilaWe Are Here: Visionaries of Color Transforming the Art World, by Jasmin HernandezRaphael Montañez Ortiz; a monograph about founder and first director of El Museo del Barrio; and Estamos Bien: La Trienal 20/21 featuring the work of the 42 participating artists and collectives included in the exhibition. 

Overall if there is one thing I've learned during this pandemic time, it's that is is okay to slow down. I have always been a person who is "overly busy" doing a million things at once, always stacking my time, responsibilities, and appointments. I prided myself on being productive. The pandemic has created space for me to slow down and think, without necessarily fill up every moment with busy-ness. And still somehow certain themes arise - for me, at this time, it's been Latinx art. As a fellow Latinx artist myself, and cultural worker, it sparks joy and inspiration that this category is gaining notability and challenging the traditional art canon. 

 *Articles about Estamos Bien – La Trienal 20/21:

El Museo Looks to Define ‘Latinx Art’ With a Major Survey - NY Times

El Museo’s Triennial Gathers Works That Defy Pervasive Stereotypes Mapped onto Latinx Art - Hyperallergic 

Veering From the Didactic to the Lyrical, El Museo del Barrio’s Worthy New Triennial Defines Latinx Art Through a Common Struggle - ArtNet

All photos by Lorie Caval, taken at El Museo del Barrio, July 2021

Monday, September 7, 2020

Boricua Sankofa - a series of paintings

As a painter I have been working on a few different ongoing bodies of work for a number of years - one of which I began in 2015 after a study-abroad program I attended in Puerto Rico, is called Boricua Sankofa. The word Boricua refers to Borinquen, the indigenous, Taino name for the island of Puerto Rico, and Sankofa is a Twi word, meaning "to go back and get" or in my case, to reflect and bring forward.

The series consists of mostly acrylic pieces, many of which are more conceptual in nature than my typical figurative work. I return to add to this series every so often. Recently, I was inspired to create a new piece, Flag Me Down, and I realized that even though I have been working on this series for quite a while, I have not presented the pieces all together. So, I've decided to show photos of all of the Boricua Sankofa paintings together here, with captions to explain the basic ideas behind each one. 

Looking at all of these images together as one body of work presents a narrative around what it means for me to contemplate my own experience as a native New Yorker with Puerto Rican roots, as well as the sociopolitical history of the island. 

"Flag Me Down" 2020, acrylic on canvas, 11x14"
Having been inspired through the years by the work of some incredible contemporary artists using flags to convey multilayered symbolism - I've drawn on these images and ideas to create a painting about the Puerto Rican flag in four manifestations, all coinciding. The painting is called "Flag Me Down." As a daughter of the PR diaspora, I've been presented with the image of the typical red, white and blue flag countless times throughout my life, and at some point, started to consider it's meaning and symbolism. This led me to want to create a painting, presenting this image alongside three alternatively-colored flags, which connote multilayered meanings; from PR's political status as a US colony, the effects of La Promesa, and recent hurricanes, to ideas around being "Ni de aquí, ni de allá," and our intersectional racial identities, among other things.

I was inspired directly by the following works:
  • David Hammons "African American Flag" 1990
  • Grabadores por Grabadores "Flag in Mourning" 2016
  • Tajh Rust "-nation (hyphenation)" 2016
  • Miguel Luciano "Puerto Rican Flag" 2017

"Siete Potencias Africanas" 2018, acrylic on canvas, 11x14"
I was always fascinated by the tall glass-encased candles, readily available in NYC shops. Each color corresponding to a different spiritual symbolism, the rainbow-colored candles represent the Seven African Powers, a pantheon of Orishas. I thought about how the colors could also correspond to other energetic systems, such as the seven Chakras of the body.

"Basquiat's Crown and His Islands" 2015, oil and gold leaf on canvas, 11x14"
While traveling in Puerto Rico, I noticed many of the street artists had incorporated Basquiat's crown in to their pieces. I am a huge fan of Basquiat and it got me to thinking about how his legacy still captures the imagination; how many feel strong affinities towards him, and how often his crown appears in all sorts of art. Being a self-taught artist, a native-New Yorker with parents of Puerto Rican and Haitian descent - I wanted to represent his multi-ethnic background by showing "his islands"- with his ubiquitous gold crown dominating the foreground.

"Princess Charm" 2015, acrylic on canvas, 8x10".
This painting is a depiction of an actual gold charm that I own. When I was in Junior High School my mother gave me this gold charm as a gift - it reads "Puerto Rican Princess." I proudly wore it to school, but didn't know it would attract unwanted attention from schoolmates questioning my cultural authenticity.

"Cowrie Shell" 2015, acrylic on canvas, 8x10"
I've always been drawn to cowrie shells and find them to be beautiful. Cowries have a spiritual significance and are easily found in Puerto Rico and other Caribbean and Latin American countries.

"Puerto Rican Linguistics" 2015, acrylic on canvas, 8x10".
I painted this immediately upon returning from Puerto Rico. These are words and concepts that intrigued me when thinking about the island, it's history and political status. Hand written words float in the background while a blue shadow of a machete crosses the foreground.

"Soñando en Flamboyán Puertorriqueño" 2015, oil on canvas, 18x24"
While traveling in Puerto Rico, the Flamboyan tree's bright red pop can be seen throughout the otherwise green landscape. The Flamboyán is a typical symbol of the island. I created this painting about a girl taking a nap, curled close to a majestic Flamboyán, not just sleeping, but dreaming within it, as it blooms beautiful and bright with her imagination.

My Work in Debtfair at the Whitney Biennial

A few months ago, I responded to an open call from Occupy Museums for their Debtfair project. OM is a movement born out of Occupy Wall S...