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.

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