4 — Nuyorican Vanguards

Three artists working in the context of the Taller Boricua at different moments of their trajectories created the works in this section of the exhibition: Marcos Dimas, Jorge Soto Sánchez, and Nitza Tufiño. They are key figures in the “Nuyorican vanguards,” a term art historian Yasmin Ramírez coined to describe a movement that included poetry and visual arts produced by Puerto Rican artists in New York during the 1960s and 1970s. The first child of artist Rafael Tufiño, Nitza Tufiño was involved in the Taller in its initial years, before joining El Museo as one of the first members of the education department. Her painting Pareja Taína [Taíno Couple, 1972] was presented in El Museo’s early displays dedicated to Caribbean indigenous cultural influence. Dimas’ frottages are made directly from rubbings on the petroglyphs of Jayuya, in Puerto Rico. One of them portrays Atabey, the Taíno goddess used in El Museo’s original visual identity. Sánchez’s and Dimas’ assemblages recombine discarded objects found in the streets of East Harlem in a somewhat shamanic way, resembling indigenous spirit traps or offerings. An Afro-Taíno aesthetic appears in these works not only through their iconography, but also in the way they experimentally challenge the Eurocentric concept of the autonomy of the art object.

Artists and friends at Jorge Soto Sánchez’ installation in the exhibition Confrontación: Ambiente y Espacio [Confrontation: Environment and Space], El Museo del Barrio, 1977

Seated, from left to right: Nestor Otero, Jorge Soto Sánchez, Jacqueline Biaggi, unidentifed, Pablo Bengochoa, Felípe Morales. Standing, from left to right: Wanda Quiñones, José Rubén Gaztambide

Photo by Hiram Maristany. Courtesy the photographer


Nitza Tufiño was the first woman to join Taller Boricua, while the printshop was still in its first year. Born in Mexico and the daughter of Puerto Rican artist Rafael Tufiño and dancer and model Luz Maria Aguirre, her multimedia practice often incorporates Taíno iconography and extends from printmaking and painting to ceramics, embroidery and public art. Her canvas Pareja Taína (Taíno Couple, 1972) is an iconic painting from El Museo del Barrio’s Permanent Collection that can be seen hanging on walls in archival photographs from the institution’s early history. Parallel to her artistic practice, Tufiño was involved with El Museo’s Education Department during the 1970s.  In this role, she was instrumental in establishing relationships between the museum and the artist community on the island. She also created pedagogical coloring books about Taíno culture and Puerto Rican crafts, and led a printmaking project to create a 1973 calendar with students from Community School District 4. Her suite of works on paper Máscaras de hilo [Thread Masks] superimposes stitched forms to silkscreened colored papers, referring to Caribbean spirituality (some of these works were made during séances of Espiritismo, to recreate mystical visions). Tufiño also made the decorative façade mural that graced El Museo’s entrance at its Third Avenue location; this project was the first of her many public art commissions, which include her place finding sign for El Museo del Barrio located at the 103rd subway station.

Nitza Tufiño in her studio at 16 Abingdon Square, New York City, July 12, 1978 | Photography: © George Malave 1978 – CCF/CETA – Artist Project


Marcos Dimas moved to New York as a child and grew up in the South Bronx.  He attended the School of Visual Arts on a GI bill.  During the late 1960s and early 1970s, he was active in the Art Workers’ Coalition, alongside fellow future Taller Boricua members as well as artists such as El Museo del Barrio’s founder, Raphael Montañez Ortíz. Dimas is a founding member of Taller Boricua and has been responsible for its printmaking workshop for several decades. As he himself described in the catalogue for his 1981 solo show at El Museo, The Voyager, Dimas ultimately rejected the mainstream artworld in favor of pursuing his own experimental practice, infused by the spiritual, psychological, and iconographic inheritances of Taíno and other so-called “primitive” societies, including Native American and African cultures. In addition to his graphic production created at Taller Boricua, this section of the exhibition includes other works by Dimas that demonstrate the range of his artistic practice. These include his frottage works on paper, created from the rubbings of Taíno petroglyphs in Puerto Rico, a technique he learned while observing gravestone rubbings while stationed in Korea; Pariah, a masterful painting depicting a mixed-ancestry figure, now in the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum; and his sculptural assemblage Spirit Trap.

Marcos Dimas, 1973 | Photograph by Geno Rodríguez from the series Puerto Rican Cultural Documentation Project, Volume 1: New York City Artists | Collection of El Museo del Barrio, New York. Anonymous donation. Ph93.183.6


Jorge Soto Sánchez was a draftsman, painter, engraver, writer, multimedia artist, and activist born in East Harlem and raised in the South Bronx at a time when African American and Puerto Rican populations were moving to these areas of the city. In an autobiographical timeline, Soto Sánchez describes the impact of the urban landscape on his earliest memories: “playing in abandoned lots, rusty cans, broken bricks, dead cats being devoured by hundreds of worms, dead rats, olor de podrido [rotten smell], decaying matter.” In his assemblages, the artist processes the peripheral experience of exclusion, using discarded materials collected on the street. These works are presented here in dialogue with the pseudo-shamanic object created by Marcos Dimas around the same time. Soto Sánchez joined Taller Boricua in 1971, later serving as its director. During his involvement with Taller Boricua, the Afro-Taíno-infused esthetic of the Nuyorican vanguard reached a high point with his language. In addition to Taíno symbols, Soto Sánchez’s drawings are replete of reference to Santeria, the religion of Yoruba origin practiced in the Caribbean. This includes the double ax of Shango (the orisha [deity] of justice and virility) that appears on the heads of many of his figures. Recognized from an early age as a drawing prodigy, Soto Sánchez attended anatomy classes, as visible in his distorted and visceral human figures.

Jorge Soto, 1973 | Photograph by Geno Rodríguez from the series Puerto Rican Cultural Documentation Project, Volume 1: New York City Artists | Collection of El Museo del Barrio, New York. Anonymous donation. Ph93.183.28


TALLER BORICUA — a political printshop in New york

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