Join Artblog's weekly newsletter. Subscribe Today!
Roberto Lugo gets crafty in Taller Puertorriqueño homecoming show
Did you know that Kensington-grown art star (and Artblog favorite) Roberto Lugo has been in residence at Taller Puertorriqueño since mid June? Here Carl(os) Roa reports back on what Lugo’s been up to in his hybrid exhibition/studio space and reflects on the strength and creativity that come from embracing what you have and where you come from. Check out this great project before the residency and exhibition close on October 27, 2018.


When I visited the gallery at Taller Puertorriqueño two weeks ago to view Roberto Lugo’s Boricua, Barrio, Barro, I was surprised to find shelves of ceramic materials, a pottery wheel, and a workstation. (I would later learn that the exhibition is part of an ongoing residency during which visitors are encouraged to create their own pottery with Roberto himself showing them how to use the equipment.) As a performance artist who sometimes spends too much time behind the curtain, I’ve grown pretty jaded, and this setup disrupted my expectations of how the visual arts are presented, in a way that I warmly welcomed.

Ghetto is Resourceful

A central theme of Lugo’s work is the resourcefulness in Latinx communities, and in Boricua, Barrio, Barro he does a stellar job of exploring just that. One of the more prominent pieces in the gallery, an 8-minute performance video titled “Ghetto is re•source•ful,” includes scenes of Lugo himself making work in vacant weed-filled lots accompanied by a voiceover describing his artistic trajectory. Other works included an ornate bust of Roberto on a pedestal, and an immaculate digital print of the artist with scenes of police brutality and classical mythology etched onto his clothes and body.

Roberta Lugo, “Ghetto is re•source•ful,” 2018.

In this array of multidisciplinary images and forms, we see the beauty in the dilapidated, and the inventiveness that one can develop in poverty. A digital print in the gallery titled “New Slaves” really embodies these apparent contradictions. It draws a viewer into its seemingly classical aesthetic only to reveal a deeper tableau of the shooting of an unarmed black man. In unearthing these layered meanings, we get a sense of the wit of the disenfranchised.

An Affirmation

“Roberto Lugo epitomizes Taller’s mission — that art can be transformative and that knowledge and respect for one’s heritage is liberating,” explains Rafael Damast, Exhibition Program Manager at Taller Puertorriqueño. “It was through art that Lugo found his voice and it was through the exploration of his culture and the community around him that he found meaning and strength.”

To be honest, I had a visceral and personal reaction to Roberto’s work that is 100% a reflection of my own sensibilities. I felt a euphoric sense of body affirmation in the depiction of a Panda bear (in a digital print entitled “Panda: Eats Shoots And Leaves”) and of Roberto himself (in “New Slaves) with tessellations of iconography covering their bodies. I also felt affirmed by the thesis of most (but not all) of Roberto’s work: that my own mind is valid, that it can do amazing things, and that I am enough and don’t need more.

Roberto Lugo, "New Slaves," 2017, Digital print on paper, 60 × 40 in; 152.4 × 101.6 cm.
Roberto Lugo, “New Slaves,” 2017, Digital print on paper, 60 × 40 in; 152.4 × 101.6 cm.

Even more work has gone up since my visit; I encourage you to make time and go out to Taller Puertorriqueño before Boricua, Barrio, Barro closes on October 27th.

“Boricua, Barrio, Barro” on view at Taller Puetrorriqueño, 2600 North 5th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19133; gallery hours Mon-Sat, 10am-6pm; phone (215) 426-3311

For more on Roberto Lugo, read Kitty Caparella’s 2016 review of his first solo show at the Wexler Gallery or listen to this 2014 Artblog Radio conversation with Libby and Roberta which features the ceramics pioneer in his own words!


Barrio, Barro, Boricua, ceramic art, ceramic surface decoration, digital prints, latinx, latinx communities, philadelphia, resourcefulness, roberto lugo, Taller Puertoriqueño, video art