Accessibility: ADÁL

For the exhibition Musical Thinking

Wall Text


Across decades of multimedia work, ADÁL foregrounded music as exemplary of a “Nuyorican” culture that keeps Puerto Rican roots alive in New York, while reinventing them to powerfully contribute to the fabled melting pot of America.

In El Puerto Rican Passport, ADÁL and collaborators emphasize imagination as key to overcoming the colonizing forces that have blocked self-determination for the island. The central manifesto points to forms of creativity that transcend borders, especially music and dance, as evidence of the independence and resilience of an already existent “sovereign state of mind.”

ADÁL’s video sculpture responds to West Side Story, the 1961 film adaptation of the 1957 Broadway musical. The creative teams of both the show and film had no connection to Puerto Rican communities, yet their recognizable songs and choreography introduced stereotypical Puerto Rican characters, mostly performed by white actors, to U.S. audiences and stubbornly embedded them in pop culture. Manipulating West Side Story film footage as his title suggests, ADÁL adds the historical context Hollywood left out. Documentary clips show the economic and political conditions that pushed Puerto Ricans to migrate to the continental U.S. Performances by talented Nuyoricans are seen and heard, in particular jazz legend Tito Puente’s propulsive percussion that fills the soundtrack. Police radio disrupts the music, underscoring the real dangers of fictional misrepresentation, and the well-worn suitcase suggests the personal costs of these movements of music and people.

Please note, the video-sculpture addresses police and gang violence.

Artwork Label

ADÁL, born Adalberto Maldonado, 1948, Utuado, Puerto Rico, died 2020, San Juan, Puerto Rico

El Puerto Rican Passport, El Spirit Republic de Puerto Rico: Adál Maldonado, 1994

El Puerto Rican Passport, El Spirit Republic de Puerto Rico: Luciana Alexandra del Rio de la Serna, 1994, issued 2012

El Puerto Rican Passport, El Spirit Republic de Puerto Rico: Koki Kiki, 1994, issued 2005

All lithography with photograph in staple-bound booklet

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the artist, 2013.19.1–.3


West Side Story Upside Down, Backwards, Sideways and Out of Focus (La Maleta de Futriaco Martínez), 2002, suitcase, flatscreen LCD monitor, single-channel digital video (color, sound); 12:51 min.

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 2013.20

Visual Description

A rectangular table-height case displays, from left to right, three passport-like booklets and a small suitcase.

The three printed passports are about five inches high and three and a half inches wide. The central booklet is closed, showing a black cover with beige print of capital letters spelling “EL PASSPORT” at the top, a domino symbol in the middle, and “El Spirit Republic de Puerto Rico” below. The leftmost booklet is open to beige identity pages, with a blurry photo of a small brown frog, and black type giving a passport number, the frog’s name as “Kiki, Koki,” nationalidad as “puertorriqueno,” and the issue date of 2005 at the bottom. The rightmost passport is open to central pages with black type. At the top left, the title reads “MANIFESTO: Notes on El Puerto Rican Embassy,” and the subsequent text block starts, “We are a Sovereign State of Mind,” and toward the end notes, “And why shouldn’t we be Independent? We know how to sing And dance And paint And write poetry And educate each other.”

On the far right, a worn brown leather box suitcase is standing on its side. There are metal clasps and a handle at the top, and faded stickers in the top left and bottom right corners. The center of the suitcase is embedded with a screen, about the size of a deck of cards, playing an original video that combines various sources of found footage. The first minute shows people in a 1950s suburban garden, then at a wedding around a bride and groom. A grainy shot of a plane taxiing on a runway is intercut with the artwork’s title and brief credits. Then scenes from the 1961 film West Side Story take over—actors dressed as fifties’ teen gangsters of Puerto Rican or European descent face off in choreographed fights and dances, on city streets and on the basketball court. The footage jarringly switches from black and white to color to inverted values, becomes staticky or blurred, and plays backward and upside down, repeating aggressive cliches within this chaotic, distorted storyline. Interspersed are archival clips, some capturing Nuyorican Tito Rodríguez’s mambo band surrounded by dancers, and others showing Puerto Rican workers traveling and isolated. At the four-and-a-half-minute mark, a Puerto Rican woman in a black dress sings "En Mi Viejo San Juan,” a song about longing for home. Projected behind her is ADÁL’s edit of West Side Story. Around six minutes, during the male voice-over, footage of sick workers dominates, before the singer returns. At the eight-and-a-half-minute mark, edits from West Side Story again fill the screen, now focusing on the dramatic end of the movie. Star-crossed lovers Tony and Maria dance, kill, and cry. At eleven minutes, overlaying actress Rita Moreno’s face, red text reads “Carajo! Vayanse de Vieques ya...and on the way out tell Tony that Maria is dead, Chino la mato for treason...” Tony is then shot dead and mourned as big text reading ADIOS overlays the scenes. At the twelve-minute mark, the screen goes black and reads “El End” before showing longer credits.


Directly behind you is a hallway that showcases the next works. The hallway is straight, with framed works hung in a line on the wall to the left, with a railing of printed pages protruding at an angle below them. The section text with QR code is approximately thirty-five feet away at the very end of the hall, encouraging a visit to the video room before spending time with the hallway works.