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From left to right: Edra Soto, GRAFT, 2022; Samaliel Bedáguez, Collapsed Soul, 2020-21; Gabriella Torres-Ferrer, Untitled (aleca tu mentirg americana) (Untitled [Value Your American Lie]), 2018. Photograph by Ron Amstutz.
From left to right: Gamaliel Bedáguez, Collapsed Soul, 2020-21; Gabriella Torres-Ferrer, Untitled (aleca tu mentirg americana) (Untitled [Value Your American Lie]), 2018. Photos by Ron Amstutz.

There is no post-hurricane World

The Whitney Museum of American Art hosts an exhibition featuring Puerto Rican artists in commemoration of the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Maria.

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Sixteen hours of nature’s fury, with winds of up to 250 kilometers per hour, were enough for Puerto Rico to write one of the most desolate and tragic chapters in its history on Sept. 20, 2017.

On that day, Hurricane Maria touched down on the island and caused the death of 4,600 people. This figure, however, is not officially recognized by the authorities of the U.S. territory.

In addition to the desolation, mourning and helplessness, there was also the destruction of roads, food and fuel rationing. The category four storm had not only radically changed the lives of Puerto Ricans, but also revealed the precariousness of some basic services such as health.

And although solidarity always reigned, after almost six years, María remains indelible in the memories of locals and, especially, in the memories of its artists, who found in the storm a way to reflect on the social aftermath of the hurricane — from the austerity measures implemented by PROMESA, the ‘Summer of 2019’ protests — which led to the dismissal of Governor Ricardo Rosselló — to the earthquakes and COVID-19.

The work of 15 of those artists was brought together in what is already the first academic exhibition focused on Puerto Rican art organized by a major U.S. museum in half a century. It is called "There Is No Post-Hurricane World: Puerto Rican Art in the Wake of Hurricane Maria," and it will be on display at the Whitney Museum of American Art, noted for its spectacular collection of modern and contemporary American art.

Puerto Rican art in NYC

The show, named after a verse by Puerto Rican poet Raquel Salas Rivera has the hurricane as its focal point, although it aspires to offer a look at traumatic situations, the colonial condition and migration.

So believes Edra Soto, one of the participating artists, who presents her piece Graft. The literal meaning is "skin transfer," but it's a way Soto represented migration.

"As a person who continues in a physical back-and-forth, my perspective of the place where I grew up continued to transform over the years. Graft is a representation of Puerto Rican vernacular architecture. This subject is not addressed in schools and is not part of people’s knowledge. I thought my work could be an educational contribution,” she told AL DÍA.

Rogelio Báez, for his part, agrees with Soto and assures that art “allows us to see beyond the senses and notice the absence of many things, especially a social project."

He presents three paintings, and one of them is Paradox of the New Landscape IV.

Rogelio Báez Vega, Paraíso Móvil, 2019. Oil on canvas, 55 × 70 in. (139.7 × 177.8 cm). Private collection.
Rogelio Báez Vega, Paraíso Móvil, 2019. Oil on canvas, 55 × 70 in. (139.7 × 177.8 cm). Private collection.

“With it, I show my frustration about how the Government tries to solve some problems it had caused and the way they close schools and then buy wagons to solve the problems of space. My work looks at many spaces and how we relate to them. In this case, it is a sad thing because I make a premonition that they intend to put students there to study,” he said.

Open through April

"There Is No Post-Hurricane World: Puerto Rican Art in the Wake of Hurricane Maria" was organized by Marcela Guerrero, Jennifer Rubio Associate Curator, along with Angélica Arbelaez, Rubio Butterfield Family Fellow and Sofía Silva, former U.S. Latin Curatorial and Art Education Fellow. It will be open through April 23. For more information, go to https://whitney.org/.

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