2 — A Political Education
The works exhibited in this gallery make recurring use of iconography based on the political history of Puerto Rico, connecting political struggles on the island with the artistic context of the United States. They also refer to the colonial relations between the two nations and thus provide a political education through images to the population in the diaspora. Printmaking, the main technique utilized by artists in this gallery, plays a fundamental role in this task. It offers direct depictions through the juxtaposition of figures and written messages that emulate slogans. More accessible and less elitist due to its reproducibility, printmaking has the potential to reach broader audiences through large editions. In addition to posters and prints, the gallery also includes paintings, such as Jorge Soto Sánchez’s iconoclastic reinterpretation of Puerto Rican artist José Campeche y Jordán’s (1751–1809) portrait of Governor Don Miguel Antonio de Ustáriz (1789). At the gallery entrance, Carlos Osorio’s explosive language painting announces the political and esthetic spirit of the group: Revolución [Revolution].
Jorge Soto Sánchez and Marcos Dimas at work in Taller Boricua’s third location, Madison Avenue and East 104th Street, c. 1975
Photographer unknown. El Museo del Barrio Archive, New York
OSORIO & TUFIÑO
Rafael Tufiño and Carlos Osorio were the first artists to be invited to join the Taller Boricua. Both belonged to a previous generation and had participated in DivEdCo (Division of Community Education), a government agency created in Puerto Rico in the late 1940s to circulate information on topics such as health, community organizing, literacy, and Puerto Rican culture through posters, pamphlets, and films. Osorio had worked as a graphic artist and illustrator for the agency from 1956 to 1964. Tufiño was DivEdCo’s graphic arts workshop director from 1957 to 1963 and, before that, studied at the Academy of San Carlos in Mexico, where he became familiar with the Taller de Gráfica Popular (Popular Graphic Arts Workshop). Tufiño moved to New York in 1964, followed by Osorio, who moved in 1970. Both artists were fundamental in translating the island’s graphic tradition to El Barrio and also in creating a collective printmaking studio imbued with a spirit of “art at the service of the people.” This wall displays a set of prints by Tufiño created during the early years of Taller Boricua. The prints depict subjects such as the Taíno culture and the struggle for the independence of Puerto Rico. On the opposite walls, Osorio’s paintings mix images and words to convey political messages with energetic brushstrokes and vibrant colors.
Reflecting the politics inherent to the workshop’s mission, portraits and texts related to Puerto Rican national heroes represent a core part of Taller Boricua’s iconography. Effigies of Independence leaders such as Ramón Emeterio Betances and Pedro Albizu Campos were taken up by Taller artists as a means of honoring, preserving, and promoting their legacies to Puerto Ricans living both on and off the island. These images reflect a variety of styles, including a Pop-infused aesthetic reminiscent of Andy Warhol or Cuban Raúl Martínez and adopted by Marcos Dimas for his iconic multiplied portrait of revered heroine, Lolita Lebrón. Significantly, this political production was not limited to Puerto Rico, but also addressed movements and leaders from other parts of the so-called Third World or Global South. Indeed, from nearby Cuba to the continents of Africa and Asia, Taller Boricua artists recognized a shared colonial history of imperial oppression, as seen in this selection of images by Dimas, Manuel “Neco” Otero, René Ojeda and Jorge Soto Sánchez.
The Proletarian Portfolio is a series of 10 serigraph portraits of early twentieth century radical Puerto Rican labor leaders, created as a close collaboration between CENTRO [El Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños (The Center for Puerto Rican Studies)] and artists involved with Taller Boricua. CENTRO was founded in 1973 by a group of scholars, community activists, and students as a research institute based at the City University of New York. The booklet accompanying the portfolio includes illustrations by artist Victor “Vitín” Linares and short biographies written by sociologist Ricardo Campos (1946-2012), who coordinated the project at CENTRO. The portraits in the portfolio demonstrate the artists’ diversity of styles and mastery of multi-color serigraphy. The leaders are portrayed engaging in the organization of strikes and marches, and the images include allusions to their working-class origins, as in the portrait of washer and presser Juana Colón (1875–1967) by Manuel “Neco” Otero. Campos and Otero distributed part of the print run in Puerto Rico among independence groups and labor unions. The project reflects a materialist view, that is, of turning to history to transform reality.
ROSTRO DE MUERTE
The installation of this wall commemorates the work and life of Martín “Tito” Pérez, an early member of Taller Boricua, whose poster for a rally in support of the bilingual public television program “Realidades” is featured here. On December 1, 1974, the young artist and musician was arrested on the 125th Street subway platform on charges of “disorderly conduct” by the New York City Transit Police; he was later found dead in his jail cell. As this protest flier attests, Tito’s death was not “un incidente aislado [an isolated incident],” but rather reflects other instances of police brutality against Puerto Rican, Black, and other marginalized populations; more specifically, it recalls the death of Young Lords member Julio Roldán, who was similarly found hung by a belt while in police custody four years prior (a poster by Adrián García created in reference to this incident is presented elsewhere in the exhibition). Following his murder, Tito was memorialized in a haunting drawing portrait by his friend and Taller Boricua colleague, Jorge Soto Sánchez. Titled Rostro de muerte [Face of Death], this tribute is presented alongside an untitled painting by Tito that was created from a print of his own body, whose crucified posture and red hues seem to eerily predict his untimely fate.