“¿Quéslaque?” “Es que la…” Exhibition in memory of Hurricane María’s dead

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The exhibition “¿Quéslaque?” “Es que la…”—by Antonio Martorell (and friends)—opens to the public on August 23, 2018, at 7:00pm, at the headquarters of the Photojournalism Workshop [Taller de Fotoperiodismo] located at 312 Ponce de León Avenue in the Puerta de Tierra neighborhood (in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico). It will be on view until September 24, 2018. “¿Quéslaque?” “Es que la…” is a tribute to the people who died during or in the wake of Hurricane María. In my view, Martorell is a master of the representation of loss, always exploring this concept and its emotional-psychological-aesthetic charge with deep poignancy and a delicate dosage of humor; this exhibition presents further evidence of this. Graciela Rodríguez (80grados) has written a very pertinent article with details on the rationale and inspiration behind this exhibition. As Rodríguez explains, “¿Quéslaque?” “Es que la…” plays with the word “esquela,” meaning obituary. Here is a rough translation of her article:

“Esquela” [obituary] is the key word in the new work of maestro Antonio Martorell that opens in the room of the Taller de Fotoperiodismo [Photojournalism Workshop] in Puerta de Tierra on Thursday, August 23 at 7:00p.m.

In direct allusion to the dead left by Hurricane Maria, Martorell presents twenty art pieces starting with crossed out obituary texts. The exhibition is entitled “¿Quéslaque?” “Es que la…,” as a linguistic mockery of “the stuttering and failed explanation” of the government concerning the concealment of hundreds of deceased victims as a direct result of the hurricane, according to the artist.

“The attempt to deny death as evidence of the government’s inability to handle the crisis cannot be ignored [or denied]. We have “to tell” it [contarlo] as we have to count the dead. [Translator’s note: “contar” means both to narrate and to count.] Because the dead count,” says the artist. “The departed are our memory. If we deny our memory, we accept oblivion,”added Martorell, narrating the creative process of his new work.

Martorell explains that he established the idea of his new project more concretely on a work trip to Paris in June. The artist traveled to Europe after learning about the Harvard University study on the number of deaths by Hurricane Maria, which showed the falsity of government reports that minimized the loss of lives. “I am an artist who responds to multiple stimuli, often different and even contradictory,” he says. These stimuli accumulated in his desire to print his own artistic version of the terrible historical moment of his country. He was determined to propose the concrete project on his arrival from Paris.

From Puerto Rico, he carried fresh impressions of the spontaneous exhibition of hundreds of pairs of empty shoes in front of Puerto Rico’s Capitol building and narrations of individual tragedies—some of them quite grisly—by relatives and mourners of the ignored/denied victims.

He also carried the weight of his own artistic career in which the subject of death has been recurrent. He also faced the realization that “denying María’s deaths would make life impossible for us.”

At the Pompidou Museum, he found the other stimulus in a work that had nothing to do with death. A graphic work printed on paper, based on advertisements from art galleries. They arranged the ads in such a way that they merged into a gray mass that had to be unraveled by fixedly gazing at it.

The idea of the obituaries with crossed out names came to him immediately. From there, the production of “¿Qúeslaque?” “Es que la…” arose.

Prone to word play, Martorell found in the word “esquela” [obituary] the ideal term. “What first came to mind was the coincidence of the government’s vague answers… “es-que-la…” [it’s-that-the…] Then I noticed that I could also play with [Puerto Rico’s political] status … “es-que-ela” [it’s-that-ELA” (meaning Estado Libre Asociado, or Commonwealth)]. Then I discussed it with maestro Humberto Figueroa and his immediate reaction was the phrase of greeting and inquiry on the street: “¿Quéslaque?” [What’s up? What’s happening?]. The rest is history.”

Martorell points out that he also works with the theme of another death: absence. “Not all deaths are death. Emigration is a death. Absence is also a death. A death caused by the same miserable people who denied the existence of the deceased.”

Antonio Martorell took his new exhibition to the Photojournalism Workshop [Taller de Fotoperiodismo] intentionally. He argues that it is the ideal framework to show this work precisely because of the relationship of this subject with the work done by Puerto Rican journalism to disallow the impunity of the government’s deception.

[Translated by Ivette Romero. For the original (in Spanish), see http://www.80grados.net/queslaque-es-que-la-exposicion-de-antonio-martorell-en-memoria-a-los-muertos-de-maria/

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