16 August 2014


Hola Readers!

As you may have guessed by the lack of new articles, Antillando has been put to rest.

No catastrophe, nor any type of boredom - ¡nada del estilo! I have some exciting new projects to develop and these will of course continue my exploration of Puerto Rican cultural production, both high and "low." And there is the small detail of my final year of MA studies at the University of Puerto Rico, already demanding quite a bit of my time (when I'm not trawling art collections and folding t-shirts, that is).
No se desesperen, however, as Antillando will live on in some form through my Tumblr blog, SubTropicalia, where I'll be covering some of the more interesting works, places, music, and vistas that this self-designated island of enchantment has to offer.

At any rate, it has been fun "antillando" with you and hopefully you will have been marvelled, impressed, piqued and, well, enchanted by the content of this collection of articles.

Gracias mil.

27 April 2014

The Cost of Space

© Agustina Ferreyra
If ever there was a perfect illustration of how galleries really are white cubes, Galería Agustina Ferreyra is it. "Intimate" would be an understatement when describing the gallery's ambiance, as the whole thing can scarcely be more than a few meters squared.

That said, the work inside for the exhibit Donde Hay Protesta Hay Negocio (Where There Is Protest, There Is Business) offers itself up for much closer (and, incidentally, briefer) scrutiny. Interestingly, the entire exhibition can be seen on the gallery's website here; this will allow you to be the judge of the work. Based solely upon consideration of the pieces' subject-matter and the title of the exhibit it's easy to deduce that these works are critical analyses of capitalism and activism. The titles and artist attributions are only available on the gallery's website, so the works have to be considered on purely visual terms.

Frankly, I have to admit I was only really taken with the installation Luto e Luta by Brazilian artist Marcelo Cidade. Admittedly cheating by using Portuguese's similarity to Spanish, I have inferred that the best translation would be  Mourning and Struggle, which in the original Portuguese is a very clever play on words for their striking similarity - language rears its head nonetheless! The striking image that results from the Brazilian flag underneath a neatly stacked pile of cement blocks could speak to a variety of issues and also refers back to the piece's title: a burden on the nation and its ideals, a weight that leads to hardship. One can only wonder if the mourning aspect is symbolised by the funerary aura the installation gives off, austere in its magnitude.

Whatever the case, Galería Agustina Ferreyra is at least taking chances on new artists who have something to say. Also, while most galleries of its calibre are located in posher areas, it's taken the pioneering decision to ply its trade in Santurce, the bohemian darling of San Juan's neighbourhoods. While the venue is well-appointed, perhaps it would be a good idea to break out some of the money in the frames and rent more space for future shows.

Galería Agustina Ferreyra is at 750 Avenida Fernández Juncos - just ring the bell.

The exhibition continues until 3 May.

10 February 2014

Holy Craft!

© Brandon Queen, 2014
One of the most disjunctive aspects of life in the Americas is the strange concept of time that comes from the combination of cultural and artistic currents from the Old World and the New. At least this was the epiphany I had visiting the exhibit Miniatures and Saints :A Selection of Works from the Teodoro Vidal Collection at the Ramón Power y Giralt House in Old San Juan. On show until 29 June, this small exhibition of miniatures (most portraits, some icons) and votive statues is the perfect introduction to Puerto Rico's traditional crafts.

Where the historical currents cross is in the iconography chosen as the vehicle of expression for these statues and statuettes. In addition to representations of the Three Wise Men (traditionally very important in Puerto Rican culture) and various saints, there were many madonnas, the most ubiquitous being Our Lady of Monserrat. A cult that originated in Alicante, Spain, the most important site for its devotees in Puerto Rico is theVatican-deisgnated Basilica Our Lady of Monserrat in Hormigueros that was constructed over the course of a year in 1775-1776. Deovtion to this manifestation of the Virgin Mary took hold on the island at the end of the 16th century, when a farmer named Gerardo González was injured by a bull and called on her to heal him. Indeed, this madonna makes up the bulk of statues in the exhibit and although each one is distinct, they are all informed by medieval Catholic iconography.

The seated Virgin holding the Christ-child is a sculptural genre known as the throne of wisdom. Of possibly very ancient roots in Mediterranean paganism, the Catholic version really took root in the Romanesque Period, just at the end of Classical Antiquity and the beginning of the Middle Ages. The iconography is meant to recall Mary's role as Queen of Heaven and teacher of Christ and these statues were ritually consecrated to imbue them with mystical power; thus it's no surprise that in colonial Puerto Rico it was a popular choice for domestic shrines.

Another connection to medieval iconography are the many black madonnas in the exhibit. Like the one pictured above, they are throne of wisdom madonnas whose skin has been darkened. The reasons and meanings for this tradition of black madonnas remain unsettled, and many of the proposed theories rely on apocryphal information. Possibilities range from a simple case of statues darkened by the smoke and ash of incense and candles to connections with pagan African religions. Whatever the case, it appears that it was a popular choice for portrayals of Our Lady of Monserrat in Puerto Rico.

The craft of devotional statues was one bound to family heritage and many of the artisans were trained by the previous generation. In this exhibition alone there are three different families highlighted, one of which are the Riveras. Responsible for the statue pictured above, the family tradition is practiced to this day by their descendants. The whole thing started with a man called Pancho el Santero (Pancho the Saint-Maker) in the 19th century and the rest is history, as it were.

Along with the miniatures by José Campeche, this collection of scultpures provides great insight into a traditional art form that flourished in Puerto Rico and shows how this particular aspect of craft connects centuries of Western art history in one manifestation.

The Ramón Power y Giralt House is at 155 Calle Tetuán, Old San Juan.