Ricanstruction: how Puerto Rico’s artists responded to the storm

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A report by Amanda Holpuch for London’s Guardian.

Hurricane Maria shattered normal life in Puerto Rico, but the island’s thriving art community was ready to respond.

Musicians, visual artists, comedians and artistic collectives orchestrated fundraisers, relief brigades and grant programs to assist people affected by the hurricane – while sharing stories and creating works inspired by the storm.

A look at some of the artists responding to the hurricane:

La Borinqueña

La Borinqueña and Supergirl fly over in the comic written by Will Rosado. Artwork by Will Rosado, Gabo, & Wilson Ramos, Jr.
 La Borinqueña and Supergirl fly over in the comic written by Will Rosado. Artwork by Will Rosado, Gabo, & Wilson Ramos Jr. Photograph: Somos Arte, LLC

Comic creator Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez was at New York Comic Con promoting his Puerto Rican superhero La Borinqueña a few weeks after Maria struck when his table suddenly became a home for people grappling with the hurricane’s destruction.

“They were crying and talking about how they hadn’t heard from their families,” Miranda-Rodriguez told Entertainment Weekly. “I became emotional as well, since I hadn’t heard from my own family either. It became more than just an opportunity to promote my own book, it became a safe space.”

The artist suggested a collaboration with DC co-publisher Dan Didio, who had stopped by the table. From there, the anthology comic Ricanstruction: Reminiscing & Rebuilding Puerto Rico was born, featuring La Borinqueña alongside Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. Actor Rosario Dawson wrote an original story for the anthology and 100% of the proceeds will go to organizations helping rebuild Puerto Rico.

Teatro Breve

The real housewives of Miramar managed to find champagne amid the destruction of Maria.

This comedy troupe seized on Puerto Rico’s new normal and poked fun at things like the new hairstyles bred from the lack of consistent electricity and clean water including the “messy bun” and “dirty braid” in the After Maria show. Their existing characters from a Housewives spinoff were also brought to the post-hurricane world, including two wealthy women struggling with the shortage of luxuries after Maria.

Lucienne Hernández, a member of the group, told WNYC the entire group was depressed after the hurricane. “So I think that we as performers used this, I think, as a therapy, and people also,” Hernández said. “And that’s the relationship that we have with our audience, trying to laugh about the situation, you know, that’s part of our culture, that’s just how we are.”

Buscabulla

The Puerto Rican band Buscabulla perform in October 2017.

Puerto Ricans Raquel Berríos and her partner, Luis Alfredo Del Valle, were movers and shakers on the New York City music scene when Maria hit. The overwhelming scale of destruction drew them back home two months later. “For about a month and a half we were in a daze,” Berríos told Flaunt. “You were here surviving and we were over there thinking, ‘what can we do?’”

On the island, they started the Prima fund with musician Ani Cordero, who grew up between San Juan and Atlanta. The fund gives $500 grants to help artists who like so many others faced hardship from losing their jobs – or were challenged by things specific to their industry: like having their equipment damaged in the storm or losing money from cancelled shows.

Beta-Local

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San Juan art space Beta-Local was one of several artistic groups to use its network to channel relief efforts such as food distributions and workshops for children while schools were closed. Director Michael Linares told Frieze in April: “If the space needed to become a provisional hospital, so be it.” Because the group has ties to arts groups in the US, it received donations from the Warhol Foundation, the Rauschenberg Foundation, the Hispanic Federation and Lin Manuel-Miranda, that were then funneled to nearly 100 artists across Puerto Rico.

Luis Fonsi

Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee perform Despacito in Puerto Rico in June.

The singer-songwriter Luis Fonsi was responsible for 2017’s song of the summer, Despacito, and was Puerto Rico’s official spokesman for tourism when the hurricane hit. In the wake of Maria, he became a worldwide ambassador for the island, where devastation included the site of his viral Despacito video, the San Juan barrio La Perla.

In March, Fonsi welcomed people back to the island in a set of fresh tourism videos and in June, his world tour stopped in Puerto Rico for two nights. He told the crowd: “There is nothing like returning home. I have been counting the days for the last few months for tonight to get here and step on that Puerto Rican soil and receive that warmth that is only felt in this beautiful land.”

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