CURRENT WORK: 2000
"The Puerto Rican Recital" is John Rivera-Resto second semester student art project for the MFA in Visual Arts Program in Vermont College, VT. In the Puerto Rican Recital John broke away from painting as a working medium and worked exclusively with floral foam (urethane foam). In carving this very inexpensive but fragile material, he produced a sculptural piece modelled after 'Santeria carvings' - small populist wood-carvings used to represent religious figures, especially those of Saints (hence the name Santeria). The changes in medium and style were carefully planned and design to create a piece of 'propaganda art' which serves to help the propagandist influence public opinion.
As with his installation Political Terror in Latin America (see current work 1999), the Puerto Rican Recital is a piece of political commentary. But this time, humour and satire are used to deliver the message. What originated the idea for this art work was John's essay, titled: American Propaganda: Controlling Public Opinion in Puerto Rico (this essay is included in the 'writings' page section of this website). In this 30 page illustrated essay, John (very convincingly) demonstrates how the United States has, for over one hundred years, used propaganda as a tool of political control in his native island of Puerto Rico .
The piece consists of five figures set on a stage - a recital stage. Three of the figures, standing on high platforms, are dressed as surgeons. They are busy operating on a patient; they are the ones with the instruments. What distinguish them is that each wears a gown of a particular color: one red; one blue; one green.
Directing the "recital" is a figured clearly identifiable as "Uncle Sam". His stars and stripes hat rests by his feet. One hand rests on a stand; the other holds a baton. What is different about this Uncle Sam is that he is wearing camouflage pants and combat boots.
But, who is doing the singing in this recital? The figure in the center, seated (strapped) onto a metal chair. This figure is dress in a T-shirt with a printed symbol: the flag of Puerto Rico. An operation is being performed on this figure - an operation to control his brain.
This art work is full of symbols that are instantly recognizable to its target audience: the people of Puerto Rico. It is they, the one represented by the figure with the Puerto Rican flag. They are the ones doing the singing in this recital - El Lamento Borincano (the Puerto Rican Lament - a popular patriotic song of hardship and lamentation.) His song is one of agony. The three surgeons are also instantly recognizable by their colors: Red represents the political party that favours Commonwealth; Blue the party for Statehood with the United States; Green, the party for Independence.
The message becomes clear: the three dominant political forces in Puerto Rico are all working to influence public opinion in their favour, while at the same time becoming weaker as they wrestle one another. The one who has been orchestrating this all along: the United States. A significant force driving this neo-version of Imperialism: the US army. The ones getting the deep end: the people of Puerto Rico.
Other significant symbols: Why does the piece imitate the style of Santeria art? Because this type of populist art is accepted by all levels of Puerto Rican society (it is an accepted symbol of national pride), because of its religious significance (instant significance and credibility); its artistic value (highly prized and collectible); its attractive colors (draws people to it, especially the young). Why use 'floral foam' and not wood? Because floral foam is inexpensive and imitates well the look of carved wood. But the symbolic aspect is its irony: a situation that stinks is represented by a material used to hold flowers.
This art piece was shown at Vermont College during the month of August 2000. It is the sincere hope of the artist to one day show it in its proper setting, such as in the University of Puerto Rico, where it can do the most damage - that is, create controversy and stimulate dialogue on this political isue.
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