Souvenir Stories: Beyond the Paradise is the title of Karlo Andrei Ibarra’s most recent project featured at Photo Miami 2009 by the gallery RICA. In it, the artist examines the imagined idea of an island paradise against the harsh reality of political and social conflict. The project is comprised of a photograph, two video projections, and two installations.
The photograph titled Flesh Map is an illustration using raw meat that specifically portrays the Americas to describe how the majority of Latin American countries still suffer today from a post-colonial condition in relation to North America, which has contributed to political, social and, above all, economic problems. From the artist’s perspective as a Puerto Rican, the island is still under a colonial political system, and is on one hand a Latin country but on the other inserted into America, meaning to the United States of America. The question is: Do Puerto Ricans live in America? America the country? Or America the continent?
In Model to Assemble, an installation comprised of three photographs and a sculpture, the artist speaks of the violence that reigns in low-income housing projects. The photographs portray children playing with a jump-rope that has two guns instead of handles at each end. An interesting story is that on his way to Miami to transport the sculpture, the artist was arrested by Federal agents at the Luis Muñoz Marín Airport in San Juan. The sculpture was confiscated because, according to the agents, the guns had the mechanisms to fire an 8mm bullet. In an act of protest, the artist decided to frame and display the complaints filed against alongside the photographs.
As part of the project, the artist presents two video projections. One of the videos, titled Aspirations, takes as a point of departure the political and socio-economic repercussions imposed upon Puerto Rico for more than 40 years. The video presents a Puerto Rican citizen vacuum cleaning the entrance stairway of Puerto Rico’s Capitol Building; the place where the laws of this country are revised. Aspiraciones in Spanish is a metaphor for physical cleanliness, but also for the cleansing of unsuccessful political events. A literal English translation of Aspiraciones means Aspirations which refers to the desire and hope of achieving something better.
The video Crossover presents different takes of Puerto Ricans attempting to sing the national anthem of the United States. In the music industry, the term crossover refers to the act in which an artist decides to sing in another language other than their first one. It also refers to success abroad, usually in the English speaking market and particularly in the United States. Also, etymologically, the term can also refer to the burden that an imposed language can have on a country and its people, carrying a linguistic cross over one’s back as a symbol of social and cultural stigma. In Puerto Rico, this practice is quite common and results in a cultural assimilation that is politically driven. Using as reference the reality show American Idol, the video seeks to amplify the sociocultural distance between Puerto Rico and the United States hinting, in turn, at the different generations who long for statehood and who do not even know the language of the country they want to assimilate into.
Souvenir Stories consists of a postcard project based on the documentation of some of Puerto Rico’s most important historical events that have taken place in 2009. From mass manifestations to police altercations and protests, the postcards portray images of politically and socially engaging acts, playing with the idea of a postcard image of an island paradise and its contradictory reality. The set of postcards will be pre-addressed to places such as The Fortaleza, PR’s Capitol Hill, and The White House. These are meant to be sent by the spectator, making him an active participant of an act of solidarity towards the socio-political problems the country is currently facing.
Karlo Andrei Ibarra was born in Puerto Rico. He holds a BFA from Escuela de Artes Plásticas (EAP) in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He has shown his work in Cuba, Washington DC, Santo Domingo, the Tai Pei Fine Arts Museum in Taiwan and in the Bucharest Biennale 3 in Romania.
Images provided by the artist