On the second week of December, at the Arsenal de la Puntilla in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the awaited National Art Exhibit opened its doors to the public. Curated by Marilú Purcell, María Arlette de la Serna and Juan Carlos López Quintero, the show included established as well as emerging Puerto Rican artists such as Jorge Díaz and Elsa Meléndez. And although many noteworthy artists were definitely missing, this year the show presented a well organized and carefully chosen body of work that succeeded in displaying the forte of Puerto Rican artists working with contemporary themes.
However, I was not so happy to find in an exhibition setting a vague and failed attempt to protest massive cuts in government funding towards the arts. In an act of ‘solidarity’ with ongoing protesters, a handful of artists decided to cover their work with a black veil, declaring their art in mourning. This didn’t stop me or other viewers from unveiling the works and taking a peek, but it sure made me think about how confused and utterly lost the art world sometimes seems to be here. And to top it off, as if the untidy shrouds were not enough distraction, other protestors, dressed as death angels, smeared the white walls of the space with their painted black hands, leaving the dirty skidmarks of their supposed ideological prowess. Don’t they realize that with their actions they are pushing art further towards the back-burner?
A more sucessful protest came from artist Samuel Toro Rosa. Dressed more like a pimp than a bohemian prankster, the artist brought in a troup of people wearing T-shirts that read A Mediocre Nation Deserves Mediocre Art. In fact, Toro’s proposal was not accepted by the curatorial committee, but more than protesting his exclusion, I found his silent but powerful message very fitting to the current artistic climate. It seems that many artists here confuse political art with activism. Why is this? Shouldn’t artists protest through their art? In the midst of Puerto Rico’s political crisis, this makes me think, is Puerto Rico really a mediocre nation? I hope not. But one thing is certain, if we are to suceed in the art world outside of our comfort zone, we must go back to basics, and art must begin to take a leading role again, leaving everything else aside to emerge once again as a discipline true to itself.
Images by DaWire
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