The Smithsonian American Art Museum and its Renwick Gallery are now open, with timed-entry passes required for the main building. All public programs are online only, on-site public tours and events are currently suspended.
ADAL: Since we’re talking about “El Puerto Rican Passport” itself, I initially was thinking about how el puertorriqueño (the Puerto Rican) reaffirms his identity outside of Puerto Rico, so we felt that as part of that process we could invent a new ritual, a ritual that could substitute the old rituals and traditions like La Promesa de Reyes and things of that sort on the island but for nuyoricans, for the Puerto Ricans in the Diaspora that could be a sort of ritual and have an object of art that could be emitted that people would take home that would reaffirm their identity and through which they could self-realize themselves as well. What’s interesting about “El Puerto Rican Passport” besides being a process of self-affirmation is that it also subverts with some sort of humor the documents that are normally used for control by the state, so that was the intention behind that particular piece.
This conceptual passport was used by Pedro Pietri, my collaborator in the Puerto Rican Embassy Project as well as by Ricardo León Peña Villa, who was our ambassador de la Palabra Without Borders and Pedro used it in entering into Paris and Milano and Cuba. Ricardo was able to use an inhabit stamp going into Curaçao, Venezuela, and Colombia, and you have to think that there must have been some sort of co-conspiracy going on between the artists that presented the passport and the agent that was stamping it. The images are out of focus on the passport, and then I went on to develop it into an actual series of images of my friends and my Puerto Rican colleagues as well as just people that lived in New York like my super and the domino champion from down the corner. The idea being that through some sort of trauma – psychological, emotional – the assemblage point of the individual had been shifted, causing them to be rendered out of focus as the process of the mental colonization.
Curious enough regarding the passport is an interesting story I want to share. This professor from University of Hawaii gives me a call and says to me, “I don’t know if you’re aware that they are exterminating all of the coquíes here in Hawaii.” Somehow with the farmers and the migration, they arrived. Now, we thought for the longest time that the coquí was natural to Puerto Rico and could not survive anywhere else, but the conditions in Hawaii seem to be very similar for some reason y acogió, meaning that that it was able to survive. She says, “We started a campaign to stop the extermination of these coquíes, for you and in Puerto Rico the coquí makes a sound that’s a symphony, but for us it’s very difficult because it’s a very high pitch.” When you get hundreds and thousands of these little animals making the sound, it’s excruciatingly painful, that’s a decibel level extremely high and very difficult for the ears, so they had no choice, they thought, but to exterminate it. So, she says, “We thought it would be a wonderful thing if you emitted a passport to the coquí and make it the national symbol of your country and a mascot, and we will use it to create a video around it,” which they did. They ended up creating a video around the campaign to stop the extermination of the coquíes. They use the passport right up front to introduce the video, and somehow, they were able to at least stop for a while until they went into some legislation to try to stop this. I felt actually very proud that I had a little to do with that campaign and that process.
Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art presents the rich and varied contributions of Latino artists in the United States since the mid-twentieth century, when the concept of a collective Latino identity began to emerge.