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Weekly Update – Miguel Luciano at Taller Puertorriqueno


This week’s Weekly has my review of Miguel Luciano’s solo show at Taller Puertorriqueno. Below is the copy with pictures. More photos at flickr. And look for an artblog exclusive — an interview between Curator Anabelle Rodriguez and Miguel Luciano — coming soon.

Miguel Luciano
Miguel Luciano’s interactive piece, Cuando Las Gallinas Mean (When Hens Pee), about speaking up for yourself.

Miguel Luciano’s impulse to educate is as strong as his need to make art. The young artist’s wonderful exhibition at Taller Puertorriqueño is a treatise on Puerto Rican empowerment delivered through paintings, interactive sculptures, prints and drawings that are wry and witty.

The 36-year-old Puerto Rico-born, Brooklyn-based artist has shown all over the world in biennials, museums and galleries. His art uses contemporary and historic pop culture imagery to ask pointed questions about America’s imbalanced colonial relationship with its island territory.

Miguel Luciano
Cracker Juan, with all kinds of references to how the US takes advantage of Puerto Ricans and doesn’t give them citizenship.

For example, the U.S. Navy used Puerto Rico’s Vieques island as an experimental bombing range, turning the island into an ecological wasteland whose inhabitants have abnormally high rates of cancer and respiratory disease. Additionally, the U.S. government won’t give Puerto Rican citizens statehood, the right to vote or their independence, so they’re disenfranchised.

These issues and more are dealt with gracefully and humorously in the 10-year retrospective that expands on a show Luciano had at the Cue Art Foundation in 2007. His dextrous use of pop culture is particularly acute.

Miguel Luciano
Colonel Sanders poster enhanced with Luciano’s painting. Like with Ronald McDonald, Luciano is exposing the negative influence of American pop culture on Puerto Ricans.

When the artist paints Ronald McDonald as a Spanish conquistador slaying island natives, it’s funny and right on target. McDonald’s and KFC (also a Luciano target) do their part to corrupt neighborhoods while fueling an obesity epidemic that preys mostly on the poor.

Miguel Luciano
Nike sneakers in honor of Puerto Rican nationalist Filiberto Ojeda Rios.

The artist also pokes fun at Nike’s product line by creating his own Nike footwear featuring Puerto Rican nationalist hero Filiberto Ojeda Ríos—who some call the Che Guevara of Puerto Rico—a far more worthy candidate for hero worship than sports professionals promoted by Nike.

Miguel Luciano
Pro-plantain piece by Luciano that turns a negative stereotype into a Tiffany-style object of desire.

But exposing the underbelly of commercial products is only part of Luciano’s work. He often organizes communities for activist art projects about important issues. For example, his Vieques Peace Kites project (there’s a kite on view in the show) paired students in Brooklyn and Vieques to increase awareness about the island’s plight.

Luciano's Barack Obama t-shirt
Luciano’s Barack Obama t-shirt

The Boricuas for Obama T-shirt, produced for a recent public art event in Puerto Rico, comments on how Puerto Ricans won’t get to vote in the election. For his two-week Taller residency, Luciano worked with several community groups on a project that used an island saying (roughly, that children should be seen when hens pee—as in never) to talk about speaking up for your rights when you’ve been told all your life to keep quiet.

Miguel Luciano
Photo documentation from the Vieques Peace Kites project.

From the workshops, the artist produced a piece, Cuando Las Gallinas Mean (When Hens Pee), a vending machine that for a quarter will make the hen pee and deliver an egg with a prize in it. The prize is words of endearment and empowerment gathered from the workshops printed on refrigerator magnets and campaign buttons. He’s recycled something negative (the adage to keep your mouth shut), and used it as a tool of empowerment.

Luciano isn’t alone mining these cross-cultural problems, stereotypes and transgressions. In our town, Pepón Osorio and Roxanna Perez-Mendez also find ways to honor their culture and question the U.S./P.R. equation.
Miguel Luciano
Painting that merges Puerto Rican culture with western, Christian culture — the Puerto Rican imagery dominant.

Former Taller curator Anabelle Rodriguez, who organized the show, told me she’d been pursuing a solo exhibit with the busy Luciano since 2001. Now that it’s here, don’t miss it.

Miguel Luciano
Through July 19
Taller Puertorriqueño 

Galeria Lorenzo Homar

2721 N. Fifth St., second fl.