Latino(a) Research Review, 2009-10

Yasmin Hernandez:
“Soul Rebel” for Boricua Art

By Solmerina Aponte

CELAC Center for Latino, Latin American , And Caribbean Studies,
University at Albany, SUNY
Latino(a) Research Review
Volume 7 Number 3 2009-2010
Pages 145-146

Channeling various global traditions in creativity and resistance, I invoke art to reclaim histories
that have been suppressed

-Yasmin Hernandez, “Artist’s Statement”

New York’s Puerto Rican artists/ activists’ long history of denouncing the injustices perpetrated against Latinas(os) in US society found a perfect showground in the works of visual and installation artist Yasmin Hernandez. A prolific painter and educator in New York City, Hernandez, is an untiring supporter of the struggles of the disempowered. Her paintings offer cultural and political signifiers with which she conveys the struggles of the Puerto Rican people for cultural recognition, equality and national liberation. With a style that is reminiscent of both Puerto Rico’s 1950’s social realist art and New York’s 1970’s Boricua art, she recreates images of the island’s historical revolutionary figures that display a fusion of political commentary with feminist and social issues. A prime example of this is her 2006 “ Soul Rebels” series of paintings. One of these is a rendering of Puerto Rico’s most recognized Nationalist and feminist poet, Julia de Burgos (1914-1953). Every nuance and detail within the painting “Jíbara Julia” deplores injustices from sexism and classism, to poverty and oppression. The literary luminary’s image is a symbol of the revolutionary fighter for Puerto Rican independence and, simultaneously, for the women’s liberation struggle.

Hernandez redresses the bard’s role, bestowing her with the stance and attitude of a powerful warrior and a “dignified revolutionary.” (1) Her rendering of the poet is not that of feminine or delicate figure, but rather a visual interpretation of how Julia de Burgos portrayed herself in her verses. Displaying “jíbaro” or fieldworker’s attire, the poet appears strong and defiant, wielding a machete that is both the peasant’s main tool for making a daily living and the weapon of a freedom fighter. The burlap on which the image is captured is a nostalgic reminder of an almost extinct island peasant class; the poet is engulfed by decaying sugar cane, a remembrance of the poverty that engulfed Puerto Rico as a neglected colony of the Unites States, during a period also characterized by intense political repression against Nationalists. While the art piece praises the fortitude of the laborer, it also denounces the decline of Puerto Rico’s agricultural economy with the advent of US-controlled industrialization, a process that also provoked a mass exodus of Puerto Rican workers to the United States.

The imposing image of Julia de Burgos embodies female empowerment. By including the poet’s verses, “Today I want to be a man/ I’d be a laborer/ Cutting cane/ Sweating the wage/ Arms up/ Fists high/ Taking from the worlds/ My piece of bread,” from the poem “Pentacromia” (Pentachrome), (2) Hernandez offers the viewer the image of a free woman who can be any man’s equal, free of the social female trappings of make-up, perfect hair, or confining clothes, ready to take on the world. De Burgos’ image exhibits a large, strong mannish hand, wielding a machete. She is dressed in masculine attire, donning a wild mane of hair, almost indistinguishable from the tangle of sugar canes behind her, while her clear eyes are locked into a steady, self-assured gaze contemplating the horizon, as if peering into the future of Puerto Rico and its women, fearless and determined.

1 See
2 Verses translated by the artist. See

Puerto Rican painter and installation artist, Yasmín Hernández, was born in 1975 in Brooklyn, NY. She received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Cornell University. Numerous exhibitions of her work have been held throughout the United States and Puerto Rico.

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