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Pa’ Mi Gente: an Embassy of Boricua Culture on North Avenue

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BmoreArt’s Picks: December 5-11

Curator Christina Delgado’s Pa’ Mi Gente, on view through December 5th at Motor House, is an immersive cultural showcase of Baltimore-based Puerto Rican artists. The exhibition is as engaging as it is educational, providing an experience that truly encapsulates the richness of the Island of Enchantment’s culture and what it means to be Boricua.

Front and center in the exhibition stands an information station dedicated to the Cemi, a fundamental symbol in indigenous Taíno culture. Cemis are sculptural objects, usually made of stone and other materials, believed to house nature and ancestral spirits pertinent to Taíno mythology.

One of the spirits discussedand also one of the most notable onesis Atabey, the feminine principle of the world and primordial mother of all Taíno deities. The designated Cemi area is equipped with educational information on this ancestral spiritual practice, as well as an interactive activity. Stamps carved with different Cemi symbols and dye ink are available for visitors to participate in the creation of their own personal Cemis.

 

Installation view, all images courtesy of the curator
Installation view, all images courtesy of the curator

Another interactive installation features the most notable music genre originating from Puerto Rico: reggaeton, born from the island’s underground youth culture in the 90’s. Musicians are one of Puerto Rico’s largest cultural exports, with reggaeton artists such as Daddy Yankee, Bad Bunny, and Rauw Alejandro being some of the most influential figures in the international music sphere.

The installation’s graffitied table is equipped with a vintage radio clock, Daddy Yankee’s final studio album Legendaddy, Petra Rivera-Rideau’s book titled Remixing Reggaeton: The cultural politics of race in Puerto Rico, and other music memorabilia. In addition, the table is equipped with QR codes with links to the Pa’ Mi Gente Reggaeton Playlist and Code Switch Podcast’s 418th episode titled Bad Bunny, Reggaeton, & Resistance. I was encouraged to browse the installation’s music library to learn about the genre’s history and cultural relevance. 

Christina Delgado’s altar-like installation consists of a low table filled with culturally meaningful itemsFlorida water, Vicks VapoRub, cluttered tray dishes, family photos, religious candles, and flower bouquetsarranged ceremonially.

Displayed in the left corner of the installation is a copy of Pedro Pietri’s Puerto Rican Obituary, a poem that speaks about the struggles of Puerto Rican immigrants in New York City in the 1970s and how they reconciled with the death of the American Dream.

Juxtaposed with this poem is a copy of Alyssa Reynoso-Morris’s Plátanos Are Love, an illustrated children’s book about Latinx culture’s relationship with food as an expression of love. These two pieces of literature stand as a representation of the hardships and sacrifices endured by past generations in order to provide their kin a better life. 

 

Ana Paula Teixeira, "Abanico Boricua"
Ariana Vilchis, "Invitation"
Pa’ Mi Gente is a love letter to the Puerto Rican diaspora in Baltimore and beyond. It is an oasis in which we can rest and reconnect with our culture, engage with new artists and fellow Puerto Ricans we weren’t familiar with, and tap back into our roots.
Adriana Vélez

Various pieces in the exhibition touch on Puerto Ricans’ innate love of community bonding, family parties, and get-togethers. Ariana Vilchis’ “Invitation,” a brightly illustrated postcard, reads: ‘You’re invited to come to the Parranda dinner,’ in reference to the Christmas tradition of impromptu going from house to house to visit your neighbors, sing, dance, and eat together.

Ana Maria Economou Rodriguez’s “Torres” illustrates the aftermath of these celebrations. The ceramic sculpture depicts towers of stacked Medalla—a popular Puerto Rican beer—cans that, according to Rodriguez, ‘can measure the memories made, laughs shared, the stories told’ after a family gathering.

Christina Delgado’s “La Sala” is an immersive installation curated to resemble the nostalgic, quintessential Puerto Rican living room. The installation is equipped with antique wooden furniture, potted plants, an area rug, and a dresser-turned-mantelpiece decorated with an amalgamation of family pictures and knickknacks. Nestled in the intimate space behind the gallery’s stairs, stepping into “La Sala” feels like traveling through time and space to my grandmother’s house, inexplicably cozy and familiar.

Delgado’s “Nuyorican,” the term used for the Puerto Rican diaspora in New York, is an equally sentimental and emotive installation. It consists of a wall shelf with delicately arranged feminine objects, including perfume, lip balm, a jar filled with bobby pins, a glass vase with a rose bouquet, a rosary, and a small picture frame. Above the shelf, a pair of gold square bamboo hoops and a gold name plate engraved with ‘Fuerte,’ the Spanish word for strong.

These jewelry pieces are emblematic of Nuyorican women’s aesthetics, which evolved from fashion trends set by women of color in the 80’s. “Nuyorican” is evocative of that one last stop women make before going out, that corner of the bedroom where they put on their jewelry, spray perfume, and do a quick prayer before leaving their home.

 

Christina Delgado, “Nuyorican”
Ana Paula Teixeira, "Bembé"

Another piece that honors Puerto Rican womanhood is Vik Lizardo’s “El Tesoro de Victoria,” which translates into Victoria’s treasure. The mixed media collage is composed of keepsakes that once belonged to Lizardo’s Abuelita, who passed away in 2018.

The individual elements come together to illustrate what Victoria’s life was like, from her measuring tape and spare buttons, her graduation and business certificates, to the many pictures of her at work, on her wedding day, with loved ones, and more. Lizardo paints a moving image of her grandmother, who so clearly lived a fruitful and beautiful life, in “El Tesoro de Victoria” and honors her legacy in a meaningful way. 

Puerto Rican LGBTQ+ artists are an integral part of the exhibition and their artwork shows us, as Santana Sankofa mentions in her artist statement, ‘the inherent queerness present in our island’s past, present, and future.’

Sankofa’s “Trans People Belong” is a self portrait photography series in which the artist wears a t-shirt sporting the same message as the piece’s title. Ana Paula Teixeira’s “Teresa” is a large portrait photograph of the multidisciplinary artist Teresa Karolina, who combines elements of queer and afro latine culture. Teixeira’s photograph “Bembé ” and Delgado’s “PRide” installation come together to spotlight the queer club scene on the island.

Pa’ Mi Gente is a love letter to the Puerto Rican diaspora in Baltimore and beyond. It is an oasis in which we can rest and reconnect with our culture, engage with new artists and fellow Puerto Ricans we weren’t familiar with, and tap back into our roots. It provides a space for our diverse communities and cultural hallmarks, from the urban music subculture all the way to historical Cemis.

Christina Delgado captivated the charm and familiarity that is always present whenever Puerto Ricans come together, and turned into an exhibit that is bound to capture the minds and hearts of anyone who sees it. 

 

Upcoming: December 5 Closing Reception and Artist Talk at 8 pm

 

Ana María Economou Rodriguez, "Torres"
Pa' Mi Gente afterparty at Royal Blue, all photos courtesy of the curator

Header Image: Christina Delgado, “La Sala”

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