How is historical and social memory preserved, transformed, restricted and obliterated by photographs? —Allan Sekula
Photography has been, and is, central to that aspect of decolonization that calls us back to the past and offers a way to reclaim and renew life-affirming bonds. Using images, we connect ourselves to a recuperative, redemptive memory that enables us to construct radical identities, images of ourselves that transcend the limits of the colonizing eye—bell hooks
My current work (in progress) responds to the visual histories of Puerto Rico. In an act of reclamation, I have constructed an anarchive of found, contested and reimagined photographs to serve as a site for understanding issues surrounding the political status and identity of Boricuas.
The most popular depictions of the island and its residents were published as advertisements encouraging tourism and enterprise or have been commissioned by federal agencies in the form of documentary photographs. In contrast to the ways advertising photography has been used to harken tourists to visit and consume, I have recreated studio still lifes that serve to critique, questioning the cultural signifiers of “Puerto Ricanness” partially shaped by colonizing forces. Along with advertisements, I have applied this critical approach to the documentary images which circulated since the invasion in 1898 to the dawn of the American Century. From 2015-2018, I revisited the original sites of historical photographs, seeing how the passage of time changed the landscape, recording the surrounding conditions in direct conversation with the Underwood brothers, Jack Delano, The Rosskams and others.
The history of my people is one of being placed in front of the camera rather than behind it. As an artist, I was interested in shifting this perspective. I am not a commercial photographer, photojournalist or anthropologist. I was not commissioned to take these photographs. I have no special authority to make these images and I follow no special criteria established by these fields. By subverting the vestiges of photographic genres like advertising, fine art, documentary and editorial forms, a larger discussion on photographic representation surfaces. How do a colonized people construct their identity in and against the legacies of depiction?
Through counter-archiving, images and words are woven together to fill in what captions leave out. Recounting the stories of my family's migration to the states and their lives living in between Puerto Rico and the mainland, reflect the scattering of millions in the diaspora. Revealing the current struggles of residents on the island in the midst of a failing economy and hurricane recovery, lays bare a defining moment in the history of those who remain. Melting into the pot of America did not erase the histories that brought us here. It does not erase what holds us together as a people.
For the scattered, for those who remember when they are taught to forget, for those whose homecoming is an impossible struggle against force winds.
Para aquellos que han sido dispersado, para aquellos que recuerdan cuando se les enseña a olvidar, para aquellos cuyo regreso a casa es una lucha imposible contra la fuerza del viento.