Central Florida galleries celebrate Puerto Rican heritage

A report by Trevor Fraser for the Orlando Sentinel.

The painting is a close-up portrait of a face, but it’s impossible not to see the islands in it.

“My pieces express the different dimensions and techniques that Caribbean women use to look amazing,” said Howard Orsini. “This mixed with exaggerated tones, colorful flowers, voluptuous bodies, beautiful faces, brilliant colors. All of this comes from the characteristics of the mixtures of races … deeply rooted in our Caribbean heritage.”

Orisini, who splits his time between Orlando and Puerto Rico, will be the featured artist in an upcoming exhibit at downtown Orlando’s CityArts Factory. His is one of several art shows in Central Florida celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month.

“We truly believe that art is part of our Latino culture,” said Luis Martinez, director of multicultural affairs for Orlando. He helped curate an exhibit at City Hall’s Terrace Gallery of 19 local artists from seven Latin American countries. In selecting pieces for the show, he looked for imagery that reflected Hispanic heritage: “historic places and traditional food, folk dances and customs, iconic celebrities, cultural landscapes from our countries.”

The celebration of Hispanic heritage began with a week starting in 1968 and then expanded to 30 days, Sept. 15-Oct. 15, in 1988. The dates encompass the anniversaries of independence for many Latin American countries, including Mexico, Costa Rica and El Salvador, as well as Columbus Day, which a number of Latin countries observe.

Orange, Seminole, Lake and Osceola counties are home to more than 700,000 Hispanic residents, according to the latest estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. Orsini views art as a tool to bind and grow their community. “It can connect us globally, and it shows our roots to others, so that we can tie relations with different countries, forming a bond that brings us together,” he said.

Michelle Irizarry-Ortiz agrees. “Art is a way of connecting with our roots and each other,” said the Puerto Rico native whose work is part of an exhibit of 49 Hispanic artists at Osceola Arts in Kissimmee. “For me, it is a way to transport myself mentally to my island that I miss so much.”

Osceola Arts is also hosting a solo exhibit by Pedro Brull (see painting above), a founder of The Puerto Rican Arts Diaspora of Orlando, or La Diaspora. “Puerto Rican artists have a long heritage as painters,” says Brull. “I consider myself as a graphic reporter, telling stories of my people, culture and what happens around me.”

Brull, 78, describes his style as “surreal — abstract.” From Salvador Dali to Frida Kahlo, surrealism has a deep tradition in Hispanic art. Other artists being exhibited around Central Florida tap into other customs when expressing their heritage.

For Denisse Berlingeri, the connection to her Puerto Rican legacy is more about representing cultural values than style. The Windemere resident has two sculptures in Orlando’s Terrace Gallery. She describes the way her piece “From the Heart of My Home” reflects her views of Hispanic convention. “It evokes great memories of my childhood in the mountains of the center of my island, Puerto Rico,” she said. “At the same time, it’s on the top of a big heart that has a window where another heart in red mosaic can be seen, representing the love and generosity that characterizes my people.”

Berlingeri, 51, always uses a heart to symbolize her hometown of Orocovis, known colloquially as “The Heart of Puerto Rico” because of its central location.

“I hope people get a taste for the great diversity of styles and mediums employed by Hispanic artists and how their heritage is expressed through their artwork,” said Irizarry-Ortiz, 40.

“Hispanic art in Florida has always been well quoted and is considered such an strategic point for artists due to its location and international exposure,” said Orsini, whose exhibit was delayed by Hurricane Irma. “Exhibiting is a great advantage, and Florida offers a high growth to our creativity, and it does help when there are many important collectors and admirers of fine art.”

Exhibits around Central Florida

All have free admission.

•“Hispanic Heritage Art Exhibit,” through Oct 13: Terrace Gallery at Orlando City Hall, 400 S. Orange Ave., Orlando. Details: cityoforlando.net

“Pedro Brull: Surreal & Abstract Manifestations,” through Oct. 13 and “Celebrating Hispanic Artists & Culture,” through Nov. 5: Osceola Arts, 2411 E. U.S. Highway 192 (Irlo Bronson Highway), Kissimmee. Details: osceolaarts.org

•“Hispanic Heritage Exhibit,” through Oct. 31: Kissimmee City Hall, 101 Church St., Kissimmee. Details: 407-847-2821

•“Hispanic Heritage,” through Oct. 14 and “Howard Orsini,” Oct. 19 through Nov. 11: CityArts Factory, 29 S. Orange Ave., Orlando. Details: orangeslice.com

•“Artista Siempre Latin Art Exhibit,” through Nov. 30: Casselberry City Hall, 95 Triplet Lake Drive, Casselberry. Details: casselberry.org

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