There is No Such Thing As A Post-Hurricane World

-By Hannah Reimann

No Existe Un Mundo Poshuracan: Puerto Rican Art in the Wake of Hurricane Maria At The Whitney Museum

From November 23, 2022 – April 23, 2023, the walls and walkways of the 6th floor of The Whitney Museum will be covered with colorful paintings, large screen videos, installation art, photographs, sculpture and poetry of 20 multigenerational artists from Puerto Rico and the diaspora. All the works were made between 2017 and 2022, responses to Hurricane Maria, its aftermath, and other natural disasters. More significantly, it traces and artistically expresses the political, socio-economic circumstances and multi-faceted wreckage this colony of the United States faced before, during and after the disasters, plus how the rest of the world responded and did not respond to its losses. I learned more about Puerto Rico and what it has suffered in recent years than I have in any news report or NPR radio hour — and this is not at all a criticism of any respectable NEWS outlet — It’s that the museum and the artists tell the story so well and, in visual and emotional terms, so completely. 

No Existe Un Mundo Poshuracan: Puerto Rican Art in the Wake of Hurricane Maria is an important show that has the potential to enlighten everyone who attends it. If you go to see Edward Hopper’s New York at The Whitney, please head upstairs to experience this enormous accomplishment, the first exhibit of Puerto Rican art in a US museum in nearly fifty years. Or go to see this show alone. You will have plenty of food for thought for the entire day.

Stepping off the elevators, we are welcomed by a huge video screen of a 105-minute movie by Sofía Córdova, dawn_chorus ii: el niágara en bicicleta, that tells an elaborate story about Hurricane Maria – a presence in the show that one can return to experience in several shorter viewings or from beginning to end before or after viewing the other art. There are comfortable couches and pillows, allowing the viewer to take in the images and information gently and with reflection. 

Gamaliel Rodríguez, Collapsed Soul, 2020–21. Ink and acrylic on canvas, 84 × 112 in. (213.3 × 284.5 cm). © 2021 Gamaliel Rodríguez.

Courtesy the artist and Nathalie Karg Gallery NYC. Photograph by Gamaliel Rodríguez 

A group of abstract works including two large two-sided pieces by Candida Alvarez mounted on the floor and a series of dark multi-media works by Frances Gallardo (Aerosols) provide context for the entire show. These are sophisticated, educated artists who have cultivated their worldview and expression from years of study in their country and abroad, elaborating on the overarching story of the exhibit in their own languages of media, a patchwork quilt of personalities united by strife and determination to overcome it.

Divided into five sections, the exhibit addresses 1) Resistance and Protest, 

2) Processing, Grieving and Reflecting, 3) Fractured Infrastructures, 4) Ecology and Landscape and, 5) Critiques of Tourism

The curators share often overlooked facts in its display literature on the walls, online and in the catalogue. For example, in contrast to the reported number of 64 people who died from the consequences due to Hurricane Maria and its aftermath, the more accurate number is 4,645, an embarrassing discrepancy.

The outrage expressed in works like Gamaliel Rodriguez’s painting of an exploding container ship, Collapsed Soul, Gabriella Torres-Ferrer’s sculpture of a broken street light, Untitled (with the quote ”Value your American lies”) and photographs of green leaves embossed with scratched-in drawings and text (“I Don’t Recognize Dead Plants”) from Beintéveo by Javier Orfòn, persuade us to reckon with our consciences as Americans – how can we deal with the illness of ignorance, turning our faces away from our global brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico? Can we agree that Climate Change has created an increasing number of hurricanes and can we agree that some people are treated better than others in the aftermath of a natural disaster? The fact-filled literature weaved into the exhibit implores the viewer to ask more questions. 

Gabriella Torres-Ferrer, Untitled (Valora tu mentira americana) (detail), 2018. Hurricane ravaged wooden electric post with statehood propaganda, 116 × 118 × 122 in. (294.6 × 299.7 × 309.9 cm).

Private collection; courtesy the artist and Embajada, San Juan 

A procession carries a large cross to a graveyard (Armig Santos’s gorgeous Procesión en Vieques III). A series of sheet metal panels from decommissioned school buses (Miguel Luciano’s Shields/Escudos) entices us to know that hundreds of public schools were closed in the last five years. At every corner, we discover another angle of this complex journey of ongoing fate-making decisions by the powers that be, whomever that happens to be for each situation. A wall of striking political posters by Garvin Sierra Vega is captivating, including a face with a closed zipper as its mouth. As we look closely, the disturbing graphic messages ask us to dig deeper and understand.  

I spoke with filmmaker Sofia Gallisá Muriente and installation artist Gabriella N. Báez, both of whose fathers died soon after Hurricane Maria, Báez’s, by his own hand. She created a tender homage to him, photographs of the two of them stitched with red yarn, connecting the various pieces together with more red yarn representing their bloodline, red lines that could never be cut.

Muriente also lost her grandmother and created a rich and poetic piece composed from 16mm and Super 8 film transferred to HD video, Celaje (Cloudscape) dedicated to her. I got completely lost in the dreamy images, the editing choices which felt spontaneous like life is, and the peaceful, healing quality of the piece.

What struck me the most about this exhibit is the unabashed loyalty, deep attachment and love that all the artists and Curator Marcela Guerrero have for their country, its people and their families whether it is expressed in rage, sardonic wit, creative beauty with historical references or sheer affection and poetry. 

Javier Orfón, Bientéveo, 2018-2022. Inkjet print, 97 × 176 in. (246.4 × 447 cm).

Collection of the artist; courtesy Hidrante, San Juan

I first heard about Solutions Journalism on the podcast, Your Undivided Attention, created by Tristan Harris and Aza Raskin, founders of the Center for Humane Technology who made the award-winning film, The Social Dilemma. They interviewed Tina Rosenberg, a New York Times journalist who, with her team, has guided and trained Solutions Journalism writers and assisted publications. The mission of Solutions Journalism is “to transform journalism so that all people have access to news that helps them envision and build a more equitable and sustainable world,” My understanding is that it aspires to make good news out of bad news via specific calls to action, to encourage readers to take a stand in the face of inequity, and to educate, inspire and create change for the better within communities and for the world.

Armig Santos, Procesión en Vieques III, 2022. Acrylic and oil on canvas, 84 × 72 in. (213.4 × 182.9 cm).

Collection of the artist; courtesy the artist 

No Existe Un Mundo Poshuracan: Puerto Rican Art in the Wake of Hurricane Maria is not journalism; it is a museum exhibit. However, it comes as close to being a celebration of and a wake-up call to Solutions Journalism in a museum as I have ever seen. It is a fierce and energetic effort to invite others to do the same. There is much more to learn than can be communicated in one article, so I urge you to attend this groundbreaking show.

Hannah Reimann is a pro musician, author, and educator who has made films as an actor and director. Creator of  strettopianoconcerts.org, she also studied non-fiction writing at Sarah Lawrence College with arts critic Dale Harris (Connoisseur Magazine, Wall Street Journal, Opera News,etc.)  reimann.westview@gmail.com  www.hannahreimann.com



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