On the lookout for Philly's 'Boricua' donkey
Delegates, demonstrators and 57 fiberglass donkeys are coming to Philadelphia next month when the Democratic National Convention kicks off July 25. Expect to see the Donkeys Around Town scattered through different parts of the city, each representing a different state or American territory.
Artist Ellen Tiberino recently finished work on her two creations. It took more than a week to complete the pair, which pay homage to Puerto Rico and Democrats Abroad, respectively. She combined the various disciplines of collage, mosaic and acrylic painting to bring the political mascots to life. “It was an intense process but wonderful experience,” she says. “I had to keep remembering that it’s art. It’s supposed to be fun.”
The unique process was somewhat foreign to Tiberino, who is a mosaic artist by trade. The curved and sloping surfaces of the donkeys made it impossible for Tiberino to use traditional mosaic methods of setting small pieces of hard material to create a larger pattern. Instead, the Philadelphia native turned to lessons learned from her famous father, Joseph Tiberino, former owner of bohemian hot spot Bacchanal. He died earlier this year at the age of 77.
“My dad was always working on projects,” Tiberino says. “He had creative ways to finish jobs. I channeled that when things got complicated.”
The elder Tiberino was known for his eclectic fashion sense. He was frequently seen decked out in playful hats and suits, a not-so- subtle nod to his, and his family’s, creative power. His wife, Ellen Powell Tiberino, was a prolific painter whose art can be still seen today at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. She blended African history with the modern African-American experience, frequently depicting violent images in her work. Combined, the Tiberinos have been called the “Wyeths of West Philadelphia” in reference to the famed Wyeth family, whose extensive art collection is on permanent display at the Brandywine River Museum.
A second Tiberino is also contributing two donkeys to the DNC. Raphael Tiberino recently completed work on one donkey for Idaho and another for South Dakota.
Ellen Tiberino says this was the first time she and her brother worked side-by- side outside of the occasional exhibit and their contributions to the Ellen Powell Tiberino
Memorial Museum of Contemporary Art, which is dedicated to their late mother.
“It was therapeutic to work together,” she says. “After dad died earlier this year … this was a really wonderful bonding experience.”
The idea to create the Donkeys Around Town project started with former Gov. Ed Rendell, who chairs the DNC host committee. They will be on display from July 1 through September 5. Each delegation will have the opportunity to bring their donkeys home in the fall. Unclaimed donkeys will go up for auction by ArtJawn.com. All proceeds will be evenly divided between the various artists.
“It did come out of my fertile and overactive mind, but it had some rational basis,” Rendell joked at a press conference in April. We “want this to be a great convention for the Democratic Party and its nominee, but we also want to make it a great convention for the people of Philadelphia.”
Tiberino was inspired by her recent travels to Puerto Rico when she designed that territory’s donkey. It features images of a sunny beach, national flag and traditional vejigante masks that she first encountered while visiting the island two years ago. There, she bonded with local artists and reveled in beachside living. Having recently moved from Jamaica back to the United States, Tiberino soaked up the sun and island lifestyle with gusto.
For the Democrats Abroad donkey, Tiberino picked the ex-patriot capitals of Canada, Paris and Japan. She worked the Eiffel Tower, Japanese mountains and Niagara Falls into that donkey.
Although Tiberino is careful to point out that neither donkey is overtly political, national policies and the upcoming election were never far from her mind. She is a self-described lifelong Democrat who voted twice for President Barack Obama. Still, Tiberino says she is scared for the future of America.
“People talk about Trump, but it’s the subtle things you have to watch,” she says. “Puerto Rico is in debt to Wall Street bankers. These beautiful beaches are being sold off to the highest bidder. No one has a right to buy what was made for me and you. Everything is about money these days.”
Still, Tiberino’s donkeys are more meant to showcase the creative spirit of Philadelphia than make a political statement. For those looking to make an impact, Tiberino encourages young and first time voters to register to vote and to take advantage of the summer’s biggest political event.
“You can so more good from the inside,” she says. “You can make change happen.”
Tiberino’s Puerto Rico donkey will be on display in Passayunk Square and her Democrats Abroad donkey will be outside the Kimmel Center.