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You Want Who?

Oil on Canvas
34" x 26"

This is an obvious example of my tradition of examining American icons. I I created this piece for the centennial of the US invasion of Puerto Rico. Since Uncle Sam is usually the star of all those American pro-expansionist cartoons of the late 19th century, I figured I'd too make him a star of one of my own paintings. So what's being examined here is the World War II, "We want You!" posters. In 1917, the Jones Act made Puerto Ricans citizens of the United States. It wasn't the result of a plebiscite as Puerto Rican patriot, Luis Muñoz Rivera had hoped. The island had mixed sentiments and there was never a vote taken to find out if the majority of Puerto Ricans wanted to be US citizens. What was evident however was that German expansionists had long been afloat in the Caribbean and the First World War was fast approaching. So naturally although Puerto Rico was an "unincorporated territory" to which the US did not have to extend constitutional rights, Puerto Ricans were drafted to fight for the US in WWI. I have taken the World War II poster back into time, relating it to the case of the Puerto Ricans. You Want Who? is a sarcastic commentary on how Puerto Ricans continue to fight in US wars but have no vote in Washington. Many critics like to call this the "Blood Tax." So as for the "white devil" disclaimer you've probably been waiting for...

I hung this piece at the centennial exhibit I participated in and was overwhelmed by emotion. The work of the other artists and the parade I had organized with North Philadelphia teens on the theme all had me feeling very inspired. Studying old political cartoons had really led me to despise this image of the imperial Uncle Sam. One artist was taking a break from installing his exhibit and had left an open can of gesso on the floor with a brush sticking out of it. On impulse, I grabbed the brush and wrote the infamous text on the canvas. Was it stupid? Yes, any painter knows you don't go over oil paint with acrylic, it doesn't bind properly. Should I remove it? No, although very last minute and impulsive, it was part of my creative process.

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