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Soul Rebels


8 painted panels on masonite, 76" x 19" each
Site-Specific Installation, Heckscher Theater doors, Lobby, El Museo del Barrio, New York City.
El Museo's Bienal: The (S) Files
On view through 2006

Soul Rebels is an idea that I conceived back in 2003, while working with teenagers in an after-school program. I created a series of workshops around songs that speak out against injustice and communicate a sense of empowerment and pride. I realized that with today's corporate music industry, notable artists who communicate a powerful, positive message in their music are too often eclipsed by the pop artists whose record companies push millions of dollars to promote them. Having always been greatly influenced by this uplifting music, I thought it would be a perfect match for me to begin a series that would pay tribute to such artists while also developing a workshop series that would promote awareness about their life and work while teaching audiences about the role of the arts as a means for resistance, protest and social change. Initially I sent out several proposals to find space to create the series, but when no opportunities came through I almost forgot about the project. That was until I was invited to participate in El Museo's Bienal: The (S) Files exhibition opening in the fall of 2005. After considering several project proposals, it occurred to me that this project idea had existed all along and that here was the opportunity to finally get it off the ground. Deborah Cullen, curator at El Museo was interested in hosting a project that would provide for audience interaction. As such she invited me to create the works on-site, solving the space issue. In addition she offered the use of the theater doors in their lobby since they would eventually be replaced by a construction project in 2006. As such the installation would be on view until that project begins, meaning that they will be up well after the (S) Files exhibition closes in January. This opportunity added a new dynamic to the Soul Rebels idea because it made it a public art project providing for more visibility. I hosted a number of open studio sessions at El Museo during the creation of the pieces, over a 10-week period and am now hosting Soul Rebels workshops for groups there.

The title Soul Rebels, comes from a song of one of the featured artists, Bob Marley. Soul, in my interpretation, speaks to the passionate commitment in the work of these artists. It also speaks to the "soul" music that has been of great influence to many people of color. "Rebel" refers to the nature of the featured artists who go against the norm by confronting injustices and battling with their art, music, words, actions and lives. Conforming is often a successful formula in the music business today. Transforming oneself and musical style into a package that the record companies have already identified as "marketable" is one way to help get one's foot in the door. So in this day and age, to not only push an innovative sound but go against the mainstream by providing alternative views in your music and art takes soul, takes guts and is quite an honorable thing. Soul Rebels realize that with or without a recording contract or book deal, they would still be singing, writing about their people's struggle and working to change it. They deserve to be appreciated, celebrated, promoted and followed.

Soul Rebels as it appears at El Museo is the debut of a larger, on-going project. There are many artists that I'd like to include, but for this first installment at El Museo I chose a diversity of artists that represent the community of East Harlem and Harlem, with a specific focus on Puerto Rican artists and artists who have had a direct relationship with East Harlem and/or El Museo. In addition I opened it up to include poets as well as musicians. They include:

Julia de Burgos- nationalist Puerto Rican poet, died steps from el Museo del Barrio
Piri Thomas- Barrio-born, Cuban and Puerto Rican poet, author
Eddie Palmieri- Barrio-born Puerto Rican musician, composer
Pedro Pietri- Nuyorican poet, performance artist, playwright
Fela Kuti- Yoruba Musician from Nigeria, creator of Afrobeat
Bob Marley-Jamaican, world-famous rude-boy, helped in the creation, promotion of reggae
Public Enemy, New York-based African-American/Latino political hip-hop movement
Ricanstruction, Barrio-based, Puerto Rican fusion of all things political and punk

Lastly, my purpose with Soul Rebels was to present a visual alternative for viewers, particularly for the school children that pass through the lobby of El Museo del Barrio. Presenting artists of color, those with positive messages in an honorable light, was my foremost motive with this project.