“Juan / Miguel / Milagros / Olga / Manuel / All died yesterday at this time / and can die once more tomorrow / passing their invoice collectors / on to the following of kin […] / All died / hating the grocery shops / that bought them make-believe steak / and bullet-proof rice and beans / All died ready dreaming and hating” — from “Puerto Rican Obituary” by Pedro Pietri
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Upon getting into Novenario, surrounded by artwork that evokes mourning, and creative transformations of that common expertise, viewers would possibly start to grieve by means of a distinct mild, and even discover a religious refuge to meditate and have a good time regardless of their losses.
The exhibition, on the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico (MAC) by means of April 12, provoked this sense in me, a Puerto Rican residing overseas who has skilled most of Puerto Rico’s current duelos (mourning) from afar. Somewhat than centering on dying, Novenario (Novena, in English) broadens the which means of mourning because it explores how artists rework ache and loss, whether or not private or collective, “right into a state of artistic potential during which ache, anger, and sweetness insist on coexisting,” as curator Lydia Platón-Lázaro expresses in her curatorial essay.
The notion of mourning in Puerto Rico has taken on one other dimension after María, a Class 4 hurricane when it made landfall on the island and ripped by means of this already ailing nation on September 20, 2017. Despite the fact that Novenario isn’t centered completely on María, the exhibition is well timed — 2022 marks the five-year anniversary of the catastrophic hurricane that taught Puerto Ricans new, surprising methods of going through the specter of dying and mourning.
María’s path of destruction left hundreds useless — throughout its highly effective hit and in its aftermath. The hurricane additionally devastated the island’s infrastructure and created a humanitarian disaster that uncovered native and federal authorities’ neglect of Puerto Ricans. Inevitably, Hurricane María is crucial to Novenario.
Bringing collectively 35 works from 28 artists of various generations and various practices, Novenario considers themes that span from private losses to tragedies which have impacted Puerto Rico collectively, such because the devastation of hurricanes Irma and María, earthquakes, and completely different types of violences — from legal to political to gender-based.
“The art work chosen commemorates imaginary novenas, 9 evening ceremonies to call the work of mourning. It marks the 9 months of gestation of latest lives, the 9 days and nights during which completely different religious communities collect in Puerto Rico to say rosaries, play drums, or to attend for the passing of the spirit,” writes Platón-Lázaro in her curatorial essay, which considers the symbolic nature of this exhibition, conveying mourning and its rituals.
The works in Novenario underscore what Platón-Lázaro describes as “the labor of mourning” by frightening dialogues on mourning with viewers. By the “labor of mourning,” the curator refers to one of many core features of her investigation: what she describes because the transformation of mourning by means of the materiality of artwork, manifested right here in varied mediums. “A method of recovering is thru motion: doing,” she informed me.
Strolling by means of the exhibition alongside Platón-Lázaro, the recollections conveyed within the artworks felt virtually as in the event that they had been my very own. I reminisced about my family members who had handed, like my grandparents, by means of Daniel Lind-Ramos’s portray “La abuela de la madre de la hija” (1999-2000), which represents maternal lineage and ancestral knowledge.
Novenario opens with Antonio Martorell’s e-book Los muertos cuentan, Serie: Libros (2018), during which every web page shows a quantity in calligraphy accounting for a life misplaced throughout María. This piece was a part of Martorell’s 2018 exhibition ¿Queslaque? Es que la… on the Taller de Fotoperiodismo in Puerto Pico. The present paid tribute to the victims of the hurricane whereas its title alludes to the Spanish phrase for obituary, “esquela.”
On this work, which resembles a funeral registry, the artist conjures up the collective frustration after the native authorities numbered hurricane-related deaths at 64 regardless of public information that the dying toll was a lot greater. A Harvard College examine later estimated that 4,645 folks had died because of the hurricane and its aftermath. Martorell’s piece urges that the useless are by no means forgetten, and their recollections are revered.
Each art work on show within the present displays a private connection. In Jotham Malavé’s portray “Viento Cegador” (2019), a blue tarp floating over a rural panorama refers back to the roofs hundreds of individuals misplaced after María, depicting a panorama intertwined with painful recollections for a lot of Puerto Ricans.
Within the first gallery, Frances Gallardo and Elsa María Meléndez enact the “labor of mourning” by means of textiles and materials. Gallardo’s items hint in embroidery and openwork paper the acquainted but terrifying picture of a hurricane, whereas Meléndez displays on the hurricane and accumulation by means of works composed of textiles and embroideries from a cloth retailer destroyed by María.
Utilizing an vintage rug as his canvas, Martorell’s “Consuelo (Las manos de Andrea)” (2019) honors the artist’s sister, Consuelo, remembering her as an expectant mom. Including one other layer of mourning and remembrance, Consuelo’s arms had been modeled by Andrea Ruiz-Costas, who would turn out to be a sufferer of gender violence and a failed system. The 35-year-old was murdered in 2021 by her former accomplice after she appeared in court docket greater than as soon as looking for safety.
The dying of Ruiz-Costas, who was was mourned by Puerto Ricans, is a logo of the island’s state of emergency over gender violence. Seeing her arms as Consuelo’s is emblematic of artwork’s energy of freezing in time a reminiscence of somebody or one thing.
The lack of relations and tributes to family members recur throughout Novenario’s seven galleries. Nayda Collazo-Llorens’s poignant “Evidencia” (1999) consists of discovered gadgets collected in small plastic baggage, every bag serving as a document of a second in time. Quite a lot of works are devoted to the lack of fathers, together with the stirring photographic documentations in Marisol Plard’s “Me fui. Cuídate.” (2021), Gabi Pérez-Silver’s “Our Thoughts; A Weapon” (2018), and Gabriella Báez’s “Ojalá nos encontremos en el mar” (2018).
For her deeply contemplative work “Un minuto de silencio” (2005), Carola Cintrón-Moscoso requested a second of silence from strangers in a park. Dhara Rivera’s “Minuflí ahora” (2021), an eerie gallery-wide set up, commissioned by the MAC en el Barrio program, was impressed by her grandmother’s tales of the 1899 hurricane San Ciriaco. On this piece, a rocking chair that swings from side to side ominously, like a pendulum, and a size of cloth with crochet patterns are juxtaposed with a video projecting the calming picture and sound of water. As she invokes her grandmother and her household’s stitching historical past, Rivera transports viewers to a bodily and emotional area during which, because the curator displays, solace lastly comes.
A number of the artists discover violent chapters in Puerto Rican historical past. As an illustration, Rafael Trelles’s mesmerizing 2011 portray “Camisa Negra” memorializes the 1937 Ponce Bloodbath, and the equally hanging woodblock print “La muerte lo sorprendió en el campo” (1979) by Rafael Rivera-Rosa and drawing “Tríptico de Maravilla” (1986) by Nelson Sambolín deal with the 1978 homicide of independentistas Carlos Enrique Soto Arriví and Arnaldo Darío Rosado Torres at Cerro Maravilla.
Together with mourning, transformation is a key idea within the exhibition. Yolanda Velázquez’s set up Terrario (2021), outdoors the galleries, gives a possibility to meditate on change and continuity. On this terrarium, crops develop in cans on a wood bench; above them, hanging blue tarps echo the pure disasters the island has confronted and the resilience of its inhabitants.
Different artworks invoke mourning in relation to colonialism, AIDS, and migration. The exhibition additionally touches on anger; circling again to Hurricane María, Rosaura Rodríguez-Muñoz’s watercolors, resembling “La gente está muriendo y nos tiran papel toalla” (2018), articulate the anger many Puerto Ricans felt towards the native and federal governments for his or her failed response to the hurricane. On this piece, the artist alludes to the island’s blackout following María’s destruction by means of photographs of fallen electrical energy poles and the general public outcry that ensued when Donald Trump threw paper towels at a crowd whereas surveying the storm’s aftermath.
Because the exhibition opened, the MAC has hosted a number of occasions impressed by Novenario together with Réquiem, a remembrance led by voice performer Ivette Román and Todos mis muertos, a efficiency by dancer Merián Soto, devoted to the reminiscence of her brother, that includes an altar made in collaboration with artist Awilda Sterling. These occasions are a part of the museum’s socially engaged function in its group but in addition of Novenario’s function in familiarizing and educating folks in regards to the histories the artworks deal with.
The solemn complexity of Novenario evokes Puerto Rico’s novenas, processes, and rituals to deal with private and collective losses. As curator and professor Nelson Rivera stated to me, the exhibition “acknowledges our useless who in any other case would stay ignored, as the federal government would like, and it gives an area to deal with ache and rework loss to a spot of gathering, therapeutic, and collective creativity.”
Novenario continues on the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico (Ave. Juan Ponce de León, esquina Ave. Roberto H. Todd, Parada 18, San Juan, Puerto Rico) by means of April 12. The exhibition was curated by Lydia Platón-Lázaro, supported by the MAC and a Warhol Basis Curatorial Fellowship.