Art Matters, July 1998, page 6
Philadelphia, PA

Meditations on Annexation at Taller Puertorriqueño
By Leticia Roa Nixon

Taller Puertorriqueño, located in the heart of the Latino community in North Philadelphia, will present the exhibit “Amer-Rican Borders” to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Unites States invasion and annexation of Puerto Rico, opening on July 24.

“Our intent is not to celebrate this questionable event, but rather to make use of this centennial to examine the impact of the U.S. involvement, and the continuing struggle to preserve the culture of Puerto Rico, in this instance, through the art,” says Taller’s art gallery director and exhibit curator, Doris Nogueira-Rogers. The idea came about two years ago when she had foreseen July 25, 1998, as a major event in Puerto Rican history.

Local and regional Puerto Rican artists, from various disciplines ponder this event. The works presented include paintings, prints, multimedia installations and poetry created specially for the exhibition. “Ame-Rican Borders” serves as a platform for dialogue and testimony of the artists’ feelings about the complex relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States as well as their personal experiences and reactions towards the period.

Among the artists are: Iris Violeta Colon Torres, Elizam Escobar, Elba Jimenez, Yasmin Hernandez, Julia Lopez, Soraya Marcano, Catalina Rios, Iris Rivera, Lucas Rivera, Dennis Mario Rivera, Juan Sanchez and Danny Torres.

“One of the highlights of the exhibit is the blending of poets and storytellers in a visual artist installation,” states curator Nogueira-Rogers. “It also provides an excellent opportunity to see outside Philadelphia artists’ works such as Escobar, Marcano, (Dennis Mario) Rivera and Sanchez’ creations.”

Painter Elizam Escobar, incarcerated since 1980 in the Unites States for his involvement in the clandestine Puerto Rican liberation armed movement, is exhibiting a piece that portrays a birthday cake in the shape of the Puerto Rican flag with the icing: “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.”

A common thread in “Ame-Rican Borders” is the impact of U.S. military presence in Puerto Rico. Poet Catalina Rios says, “I created an artists’ book using poetry, drawings and photographs. The book will feature my own family stories of military service on the island as well as military maps and regalia. I used military themes, discourse and ceremony to create community and family portraits and to critique Puerto Rican notions of masculinity.”

Brooklyn-born Puerto Rican painter, photographer and master printmaker Juan Sanchez, ponders: “Like Caliban I am using everything I learned, know, believe and feel to affirm myself. To find that special angst in art. That angst provokes lucid seeing even when sometimes perceived through tear-soaked eyes. That angst connects with love and freedom. That is why I defected from resigned and colonized assumptions to become an artist. …I hope that my art has always been open for those people who understand that humanity must find the strength to feel what humans feel, to be what humans are, and to believe what humans can become.” His strong prints are depictions of that.

Philadelphia muralist, painter and graphic artist Danny Torres’ themes have been related to Puerto Rico’s strong national identity and firmly rooted culture. Torres’ artwork represents the resistance to assimilation and the awareness of an identity unique in the World.

Yasmin Hernandez, creator of the installation “Independence Day” says, “for this particular exhibit I explore the idea of Uncle Sam and World War II ‘We Want You’ posters in direct criticism of the 1917 Jones Act. This law strategically named us citizens allowing us to be drafted into World War I.”

Ame-Rican Borders also features, from Taller Puertorriqueño’s permanent collection, Dennis Mario Rivera’s acclaimed three-by-four feet woodcut “Prisionero de Guerra” (War prisoner), a great addition to this “Must See” exhibition.

According to Nogueira Rogers, “The focus of this exhibit is to serve as dialogue and testimony of the artists’ experiences, feelings and opinions about the last 100 years since the invasion of 1898. This is a complex subject that needs to be explored. Although it has been a constant discussion the time is very appropriate and we hope that the works created and presented in the exhibit will not only further the discussion but show the power of art.”

Ame-Rican Borders opens July 24 and runs through September 24 at Taller Puertorriqueño, 2721 N. Fifth St., 215-426-3311.

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