Painting for Freedom: Artists Host Local Workshops for Oscar Lopez-Rivera
Oscar Lopez Rivera.
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In a filled classroom in Taller Puertorriqueño, Marisol Velez-Aquino asked students to examine their identity. Her mission was to help students not only reclaim their personal stories but also their culture and national identity. She asked them specifically to explore “What defines me, my culture, and what can I do for my community.”
In conjunction with an exhibit, “Una Sola Voz,” Marisol Velez-Aquino and Gustavo Santiago-Jimenez are hosting workshops titled, “Oscar Lopez, the Educator.” The initiative was created to help students understand the impact of Puerto Rican nationalist, Oscar López-Rivera.
Though Puerto Rican nationalist, Oscar Lopez Rivera, remains in prison, his influence can still be felt across the country. Two artists from Lopez-Rivera’s hometown, San Sebastian, are touring the country to keep his work and legacy alive through art.
In 1981, Oscar Lopez-Rivera was sentenced to 55 years in prison for seditious conspiracy and additional charges. He was an active member of Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (FALN) and since has been a part of several education and community initiatives even while in prison. The artists believe that Oscar Lopez-Rivera’s imprisonment is more than political, to them, it’s a human rights issue.
Velez-Aquino stated that it was important for her to tour the art collection within the community in order to keep Oscar Lopez-Rivera known to younger generations.
“If you forget about the grassroots, you forget about the people,” says of the workshop, currently making stops in Puerto Rico, New York, Chicago, Newark, and Philadelphia.
When Marisol Velez-Aquino engaged with the students she noticed they were unenthusiastic at first; they barely participated in the activities. In the end, however, they were excited to share their stories and share with their classmates. The artists hope the students will understand the importance of owning your history outside of history class by drawing in their notebooks and telling their history their way.
“At the end of the project, they realize the history they’ve been taught is not the correct one because he has been incarcerated for the last 35 years and they know nothing about him [...] It creates consciousness about the national identity, what affects us in a negative or positive way and how you view yourself. It’s not until you’ve been asked that question that you make an effort to think about it.”
The student will complete the notebooks and showcase them at the end of September.