“The Museum of the Old Colony”—An Installation/Exhibition by Pablo Delano

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“The Museum of the Old Colony,” an installation / exhibition by Puerto Rican artist Pablo Delano will debut on Friday, February 19 at Alice Yard, a space for creative experiment, collaboration and improvisation at 80 Roberts Street, Woodbrook, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. All are invited to a reception at 6:00pm and a public conversation with Pablo Delano and Alice Yard co-curator, writer and editor Nicholas Laughlin at 7:00pm. “The Museum of the Old Colony” will remain on view until February 26. The exhibition is presented in conjunction with the conference, “Turning Tides: Caribbean Intersections in the Americas and Beyond,” which is co-sponsored by the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine and Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut. [See previous post Around the Corner: Turning Tides: Caribbean Intersections in the Americas and Beyond.]

Description: “The Museum of the Old Colony” is an original work of art by Puerto Rican visual artist Pablo Delano.  It takes the form of a gallery installation that appropriates historical imagery and challenges established protocols of museum culture. “The Museum of the Old Colony” derives its name from a U.S. brand of soft drink named Old Colony, popular in Puerto Rico since the 1950s. Old Colony (the beverage) remains available at island groceries and restaurants in two flavors: grape and pineapple. Meanwhile, Puerto Rico endures 523 years of ongoing colonial rule – first under Spain, then the U.S, since 1898. The island, an “unincorporated territory of the United States,” is widely regarded as the world’s oldest colony.

“The Museum of the Old Colony” employs still photographs and moving images of Puerto Rico –along with their original captions or descriptive language– created mostly by U.S. photographers, mostly for the consumption a U.S. general public. The images in Delano’s installation ironically bear witness, some overtly and some in subtle ways, to the colonial oppression imposed by the U.S. institutional and cultural fabric on virtually all aspects of Puerto Rican life. With sardonic humor and wit, the installation references traditional historical or anthropological museums and their use of ethnographic imagery and didactic text panels.

However, “The Museum of the Old Colony” also evokes the tragic injustices and numbing legacy of exploitation suffered by Puerto Rico and its people, who have not held claim to their own land from the arrival of Columbus in 1493 through the occupation of that supposedly benevolent benefactor, Uncle Sam. The installation suggests that a careful examination of the colonizer’s gaze might shed light on the island’s present predicaments: an economy in default with no recourse to bankruptcy laws, exorbitant rates of poverty and unemployment, a mass exodus of population, and an uncertain political status.

“The Museum of the Old Colony” is as much an exploration of history as it is an intensely personal exercise by Delano to understand and come to terms with his own relationship with the island, where he was born in 1954. “This idea has been incubating in my mind for nearly twenty years and Alice Yard seemed like an ideal place to bring it to life,” said Delano, who plans to recreate the installation, in various configurations, at other venues in the U.S., Puerto Rico and other international locations.

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