Colectivo Moriviví, Puerto Rico: “Art Is a Way to Fight Back”

In “Conversation with the Colectivo Moriviví, Puerto Rico: ‘Art Is a Way to Fight Back’” Wana Udobang (C& América Latina) explores the Puerto Rican artist collective—led by artists Sharon González Colón, Raysa Raquel Rodríguez García, and Salomé Cortés—in an interview. [It is interesting to note that the collective adopted its name in reference to the Mimosa pudica plant, known in Puerto Rico as moriviví (“I died and lived again”), whose foliage closes when touched and opens after any “danger” has moved away. It also closes at night and reopens in the morning, thus appearing to die and relive. In the group’s context, it can be seen as a symbol of resistance.] Here are excerpts from the interview:

The Puerto Rican artist collective Colectivo Moriviví fights historical erasure and reclaims narratives by painting the walls of local communities. Led by artists Sharon “Chachi” González Colón, Raysa Raquel Rodríguez García and Salomé Cortés, the Colectivo understands the power of muralism as a voice in public discourse. Wana Udobang spoke with the leaders of the collective about collaboration, community and censorship.

C&AL: What was the intent behind creating Colectivo Moriviví and why was it important that it was led by women?

Colectivo Moriviví: “Intent” would be a strong word to use. Colectivo Moriviví started out as a group of students from Puerto Rico’s Central High School of Visual Arts (Escuela Especializada Central de Artes Visuales) that wanted to participate in the local urban art festival, Santurce es Ley. As it turns out the ones that ended up doing the arrangements and finishing the mural were all young women. In that space, we chose our name and quickly realized the potential that muralism had in engaging with the community. Now we have been a collective for more than seven years.

Even though we weren’t intentionally founded as an all women collective, we believe that it was a natural result of our reality as women. It’s important to underline the fact that we were still very young, growing as individuals, and it became part of our process of finding and practicing our feminism. We learned that as women we treasured and needed a space for and by us. Now, we want to expose women’s issues and perspectives in order to contribute to our social collective memory. We also believe that art is a powerful activism tool, and we support other feminist groups either by collaborating with them or using them as subject of our pieces in a way that we contribute to visibilize their efforts.

C&AL: You collaborate with communities, their voices are present in the murals. Can you talk about some of these communities and the impact if this interaction upon the final piece of work?

CM: There’s art for the community and with the community. Making public art and participating in Urban Art festivals made us conscious that we wanted to strengthen our communities and evade putting them at risk by facilitating gentrification. When doing community projects, it is key to contribute to the work that is already being done. This is why we collaborate with community leaders and/or local organizations to channel the projects. We’ve been honoured to always be invited to these spaces and we facilitate the representations of their narratives into art. This can be workshops, community meetings, and of course, the community mural painting sessions.

In Puerto Rico, we’ve worked with different communities and organizations. Most of our work has been done with children, teenagers and all women groups. Some of our first projects with community members were collaborations with boys and girls clubs of Carolina and Loíza. Both predominantly black local communities, especially the latter. There we worked with black representation and our roots. Also, the women’s rights organization Coordinadora Paz para la Mujer is one of our closest collaborators to this day.

Involving the local community in the process of the creation of the mural has many meaningful aspects. Firstly, the community has a sense of belonging towards the artwork. On another note, the painting sessions serve as art as therapy, where all folks can enjoy painting and playing with paint to clear their minds. Those sessions also help everybody to be closer to each other and work together. Lastly, when we conceptualize together it’s a space that can be very powerful. On some occasions people can learn from each other their own history, they can also find that they feel a certain way about aspects of their community, it becomes a space of freedom of expression and creative expression. We all find what is most meaningful for us to exalt, represent, denounce or expose. [. . .]

C&AL: A lot of your work is fighting erasure in Puerto Rico through visual narratives and collective imagination. What inspired these themes?

CM: Our reality as a colony is that our history has been abruptly shaken, our social discourse transmuted to fit and work towards the interests of our colonizers. There is so much that has been chosen to not be treated as historically important or not openly recognized as part of our culture. School doesn’t give us access to that history, so art is a way to fight back. Art helps us to put the pieces together, to find the narratives in our lives that reflect the macro-reality that many time circles back to our collective trauma as colonized people. [. . .]

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