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Julia de Burgos: Soul Rebels series

Acrylic on Burlap
84 " x 39 1/2"

Soul Rebels Series

This is my second portrait of Julia de Burgos in the Soul Rebels series. I chose to create this one as part of my second installment of Soul Rebels at El Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, which opened there as part of El Museo's Bienal: The (S) Files in March of 2006. Her portrait may seem unrecognizable to some in that we never see photos of Julia dressed in this way. I painted Julia as she painted herself in her poetry. There she would celebrate the image of el jíbaro and the laborers of Puerto Rico who built and sustained the nation. She would also praise the machete as their tool and as a weapon towards liberation. It made no sense for me to paint her in the pretty clothes and makeup that she criticized in her poem "A Julia de Burgos", but instead to paint her as the dignified revolutionary that she was.

The work is created on burlap as a symbol of the poverty associated with farmers and laborers and whom Julia defended in her poetry. The earth tones of the portrait and the natural fibers of the burlap are a tribute to the land of Puerto Rico whose crops have dried up under u.s. rule as its agricultural economy was turned into an industrial one, robbing Puerto Rico of its self-sustenance and self-sufficiency. Standing in a sugarcane field of which there are few left in Puerto Rico, her image is inspired by her poem "Pentacromía". Below is an excerpt:

Hoy quiero ser hombre
Sería un obrero
Picando la caña
Sudando el jornal
Abrazos arriba
Los puños en alto
Quitándole al mundo
Mi parte de pan

Today I want to be a man
I'd be a laborer
Cutting cane
Sweating the wage
Arms up
Fists high
Taking from the world
My piece of bread

With these words Julia de Burgos is a Soul Rebel who touches upon various forms of injustice in Puerto Rico: sexism, hunger, poverty, classism. She does so however by evoking not a defeated image of the laborer or machetero (cane cutter), but that of an armed hero(ine), empowered, ready to fight and to take what is rightfully hers: bread, freedom and all.

To illustrate the text of her poem, I chose to work in the tradition of calligraphy in the Puerto Rican poster. Graphic work and printmaking was a huge genre in Puerto Rico with masters like Lorenzo Homar and Rafael Tufiño. Although I have been a calligrapher since I was a kid, it wasn't until recently that I began to consider incorporating the art form into my paintings. Master printmaker and painter, Antonio Martorell has been a big inspiration with his incredible use of calligraphy.

Click here to read more on Julia de Burgos and her work.

© Copyright 2006-09, Yasmin Hernandez. Under no circumstances should any of the images or content of this site be downloaded, printed or reproduced without direct permission from the artist.