The Brooklyn Rail recently featured and interview with Puerto Rican artist Miguel Luciano with managing editor Charles Schultz and art writer Media Farzin, who met him at “Uptown,” the Wallach Art Gallery’s first triennial survey of artists living and working north of Manhattan’s 99th street (see The Uptown Triennial, by Magdalyn Asimakis). The interview touches upon Luciano’s long engagement with Puerto Rican politics and history, and how this intersects with his work, including his kite projects, “Ride or Die,” “Pimp My Piragua,” and others. This is a lively and stimulating interview—a must-read; see excerpts below and the full interview at The Brooklyn Rail.
[. . .] Rail: Were there any artists apart from your uncle that you looked up to or admired early on?
Luciano: I remember looking at Basquiat early on, and later came to admire artists like Juan Sánchez and Pepón Osorio. But when I was younger, I was hanging out with a lot of graffiti artists. We were painting murals in downtown Miami—and remember, this is Miami 20 years ago, when there were a lot of empty spaces. Eventually I got really interested in this idea of getting access to spaces that were under-utilized or were abandoned, from boarded-up buildings to empty lots. I started thinking about the potential of those spaces as art spaces. My interest was specifically in relation to the communities that lived around those spaces, and how communities participate directly in that process.
[. . .] Luciano: At the beginning of the year, I had a solo exhibition at BRIC entitled Ride or Die that featured several new sculptures using vintage Schwinn bikes to explore the complicated relationship between Puerto Rico and the U.S. The bikes I used were made between the ’50s and the ’70s, and became a way to look back at some of what was happening in Puerto Rico and here during that period. So, the year of the bike, the color of the bike, all of these things became important touchstones towards a more critical look at the history of that era. [. . .]
Rail: What about the flag attached to the bike?
Luciano: This Run-a-Bout was originally made in 1969, a year of cultural revolution in this country and in Puerto Rico. I’m interested in the associations with the Civil Rights and post-Civil Rights eras of protest. It’s also the year that the Young Lords, a Puerto Rican activist group heavily inspired by the Black Panthers, were founded in New York. Their identity connected Blackness and Puerto Rican-ness together simultaneously without separation. It was about honoring the African presence within our own culture. By emphasizing Blackness, the cultural and racial hierarchy of Puerto Rican-ness, which is typically described as Spanish, Taíno, and African in that order, was inverted. Puerto Rican identity became reasserted as Afro-Taíno. And so the Puerto Rican flag in red, black and green, merges Black and Puerto Rican liberation and honors the African presence within our own culture. Overall, I’m very interested in the space where post-Civil Rights activism of the ’60s meets with the moment we are living in today.
Rail: And the machete that hangs off the back of the bike?
Luciano: The machete symbolizes two things. It’s a symbol of the independence movement, and it goes back to the sugar cane workers that were the first workers to be organized by Pedro Albizu Campos, leader of the Nationalist party, the independence movement on the island. Albizu was an Afro-Puerto Rican political leader who fought against the tyranny of U.S. sugar corporations. In the 1930s, he led an island-wide agricultural strike and successfully increased wages for sugar cane workers. The machete, which was the tool for the laborers, became the symbol of resistance. It is both a tool and potentially, a weapon. [. . .]
[Photo above by Chaz Langley: Miguel Luciano, Run-a-Bout, 2017, Puerto Rican Flag in Red, Black and Green, 2017.]
For full interview, see http://brooklynrail.org/2017/07/art/Miguel-Luciano-with-Media-Farzin-and-Charles-Schultz