Miguel Luciano Cycles through Puerto Rico’s Colonial History in ‘Ride or Die’

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Marlena Fitzpatrick (The Huffington Post) focuses on Miguel Luciano unique exhibition ‘Ride or Die,’ on view at BRIC House (located at 647 Fulton Street in Brooklyn, New York). She interviews the artist, who Luciano speaks about Puerto Rico’s complex political history and its echoes in the diaspora. Here are a few excerpts if this excellent interview:

Renowned Puerto Rican artist, Miguel Luciano works in multiple media to examine issues of cultural identity, politics, and popular culture. BRIC presents Luciano‘s new work – sculptures featuring customized vintage Schwinn bicycles – that commemorate the traditions of Puerto Rican bike clubs in New York. His exhibition features this work along with paintings and historic ephemera that question the colonial relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico, at the centennial mark of U.S. Citizenship for Puerto Ricans (1917-2017). With each bicycle in the show, the year and color of the bicycle are key references to associations with Puerto Rican history and politics, both on the island and in the U.S. This body of work acts as a powerful commentary on the current economic and political crisis in Puerto Rico and examines its impact on the diaspora.

On March 2, 1917, Wilson signed the Jones-Shafroth Act, under which Puerto Rico became a U.S. territory and Puerto Ricans were granted statutory citizenship, meaning that citizenship was granted by an act of Congress and not by the Constitution (thus it was not guaranteed by the Constitution). It also created the Senate of Puerto Rico, established a bill of rights, and authorized the election of a Resident Commissioner. Today, commemorating 100 years of the Jones Act, Miguel Luciano speaks about his work and his take on Puerto Rico’s political history.

Marlena Fitzpatrick: What moved you to use Schwinn bicycles to tell the political history of Puerto Rico?

Miguel Luciano: These are all vintage Schwinn bikes from the 50’s- to the 70’s that are recreated as new sculpture. These bikes have been completely remade, restored, customized and turned into these sculptural objects. I rebuilt them in the tradition of the Puerto Rican Schwinn Clubs. This is something ongoing, a past time, a tradition of the Puerto Rican clubs that have been in New York for 30-plus- years, so there’s maybe three generations of Puerto Rican Schwinn Club riders and members.

[. . .] MF: Why the title ‘Ride or Die’?

ML: Ride or Die is about urgency. It’s about riding on the one hand, which is symbolically about freedom. Especially when you’re a kid riding your bike it’s your first sense of freedom. Your first experience when you get a new bike is to go out on your own. You get to travel in a new way— in a new kind of freedom— when you have wheels underneath.

MF: To me the title also evokes the issue you mentioned: the dying tradition, in this case, of the Schwinn Club.

ML: Yes. The way Puerto Rican culture survives, and the way that it’s celebrated in this bike club tradition, it’s classic vintage Americana that gets reinvented and inscribed with Puerto Rican symbolism. It becomes an emblem of Puerto Rican pride. It’s something classically “American” and transformed into something distinctively Puerto Rican. That process for me has always been important. It’s a process of resistance that insists seeing us within the objects that have been defined classically American. Ride or Die also means “to show up, and to be there.” It means that someone “has your back.” That’s also a vernacular expression that means to be faithful and loyal; to show up when the time is needed. It’s about unity and standing up. Each bike is symbolic of a particular moment in our history that I want to look at critically. [. . .]

For full interview, see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/miguel-luciano-cycles-through-puerto-ricos-colonial_us_58b77a28e4b015675cf65c2d

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