Antonio Martorell reflects on various Puerto Rican artists in “The Window, the Balcony, the Door and the Gate: Glimpses into Puerto Rican Art in the Midst of the Covid-19 Pandemic,” published by ReVista (Harvard Review of Latin America).
In these times of pandemic, it’s necessary to reflect, to look at the past, to glimpse the future, that of the outside and the one on the inside too. For the Puerto Rican artist, that is not easy. Like artists from other latitudes, we have spent centuries trying to strike the balance of breaking down borders and strengthening identities. The political, social, geographic, racial, religious and economic barriers, the obstacles presented by gender, language and ideology are both our natural and constructed enemies. Our generation participated in the fall of the Berlin Wall and the building of a wall that aims to divide the United States from its neighbors to the south.
In the archipiélago boricua, as we so fondly call the residents of the island, the street is usually our claim to freedom, that which is denied to us as a colony of the United States. The sea, our natural border, has not protected us from invasions and domination. Even less so now that we, along with the rest of the planet, share the prison-like margins of our own homes. The window, the balcony, the door and the gate provide glimpses of the outside from within, and from within towards the outside. However, technology has opened a new and comforting perspective, a channel of communication that permits us to come and go from our confinement without a visa or a passport, to outwit our curfew, to practice the art of escape while staying in our own homes. We have the border right under our noses, but we don’t even have to sneeze so that our smartphones, our video cameras and our computers allow us to fly back and forth around the world.
Our Puerto Rican artists have known how to take advantage of this virtual liberty and I’d like to share some of these journeys.
We have witnessed adventures, some of them begun before the pandemic, but that anticipated it; others emerged from the curfew and the necessity to touch each other, even if from afar. The writer who draws and paints water colors, the actress who translates poems into images in movement, the cartoonist who predicts the future with crafty humor, the painter who serves us his art on paper trays, the registrar of art collections who takes photographs of tombs waiting for company, the designer of virtual mini-posters who affirms denying and denies affirming, the solitary portrait painter who looks for a model at a distance, the dancer posing quietly in private: to violate confinement without risking health by leaning out of the window, the balcony, the door and the gate.
Ventana I – Lío Villahermosa
The border begins with a name: Lionel is shortened to Lío which in Spanish invokes the idea of bundle as much as that of commotion, problem or mess. Villahermosa, a last name which after all destines it for the villa, the community made beautiful by their creation. Lío dances the bomba and crosses barriers of sexual identity dressed in a skirt and assuming the role of man right along that of the woman. But Lío not only dances; he sings, writes, paints, appropriating different languages of the arts, African and indigenous Taino heritage in the batey, this transitory space between the house and the street, headquarters of meetings more than of separation.
Now, from their pandemic confinement, Lío embraces the apartment, the room, forced intimacy, the body, the very thin line between what it means to be clothed or naked, to meet with the rest of us who are equally confined. He and we violate the curfew and are fascinated by this magic transgressive moment. Teacher and community activist, from the presences that inhabit the space, Lío takes on their spirits to spirit us into exploring new ways of being.
Ventana II – Roberto (Robin) Alicea
Son of a baker, creator of sweet monsters, rosy octopuses and pastry crowns, Robin is a multidisciplinary artist who moves from the oven to the stage, from the easel to the recording studio, from the artist workshop to the tavern during the long stretched of time that mark our Puerto Rican curfews. Musician, poet and painter, he distributes bread at dawn and at night stays awake making little paper tablecloths with decorative openwork paper in which fantastic plasma and colored Corona virus seduce the eye while guarding the dessert that will never stain its angelical tenderness.
In his hands, the vicious cycle of the viral contagion is transformed into a glowing jewel that lights us up from our telephone screens, invites us to look without touching, awakens our appetite in the face of an eternal dream that threatens us in every step of the way guided by its tempting suns.
Balcón I – Rosa Luisa Márquez
Theatrician trangressive of borders in the checkered territory of the arts, Rosa Luisa transforms texts—theatrical and otherwise—to create magic and seductive worlds. Her fusion of music and movement, image and word has delighted us for years in person and in full color.
The pandemic closed in on her creation and obliged her to move her video camera back and forth between the four walls of her home while she read the poem of Polish writer Wislawa Szymborska Impresiones sobre el teatro: an ode to the art of being born, dying and resuscitated on the stage every night. tailoring of the visual beat of the camera to the evocative image of the poem creates a celebratory elegy to the fragility of both life and art. The white, black and gray blurs the forms and evokes the evanescence of memory, its elusive substance. [. . .]
For full article in English, see https://revista.drclas.harvard.edu/book/window-balcony-door-and-gate?admin_panel=1
For full article in Spanish, see https://revista.drclas.harvard.edu/book/la-ventana-el-balc%C3%B3n-la-puerta-y-el-port%C3%B3n