Americana: Puerto Rico
Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts - 2012
In 1961, John F. Kennedy visited Puerto Rico’s first democratically elected Governor, Luis Muñoz Marín at La Fortaleza, his official residence. The newly elected Kennedy met the governor to discuss the future of Puerto Rico. Their meeting sparked a friendship, which resulted in an exchange of letters that would last until Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. The letters shared hopes, demands, and resolutions to perfect the relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States. Muñoz Marín and Kennedy’s sincere, yet politically based friendship represents the unresolved relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States.
Since the United States’ control of Puerto Rico in the end of the 19th century, the island has been fighting to obtain greater rights and freedoms. In 1952, as a commonwealth of the United States, Puerto Rico made advances within its own social system, ratifying a constitution, which afforded the island greater privileges in self-determination and civil liberty. The relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States, however, has been largely neglected. Much is unchanged since the fifties, as contradicting notions of statehood and citizenship persist. For example, while the United States Government controls Puerto Rican imports and exports, the island’s peoples do not vote in presidential elections. In addition, native Puerto Rican’s are considered naturalized U.S. citizens, receiving social security yet pay no federal tax. To this day, Puerto Rico remains politically divided as to its status as a commonwealth; the United States Government persists in convenient ambivalence.
The exhibition, La Borinqueña, is titled after the anthem of Puerto Rico. The lyrics were changed after the song was deemed too subversive, however the more prideful anthem still plays in parts of the island. La Borinqueña addresses the psychological and physical divide between Puerto Rico and the United States. With the inclusion of a vitrine of Puerto Rico within the vitrine of the U.S., borders become blurred. The video, Following Our Conversation (2012) by Bean Gilsdorf uses the juxtaposition of written language and song as metaphor for the confusing notions of identity that Puerto Rico and her people confront in both political and civilian life. Through the un-synced isolation and pairing of phrases from Muñoz and Kennedy’s letters and the overlapping of two anthems, Following Our Conversation highlights the often misleading and inadequate nature of language.
This Exhibition was a collaboration between A. Will Brown and Bean Gilsdorf