An Ambitious Whitney Exhibition Charts Puerto Rican Artists’ Resilience Following Hurricane Maria

Maximiliano Durón (ARTnews) reviews “no existe un mundo poshuracán: Puerto Rican Art in the Wake of Hurricane Maria,” which closes at the Whitney Museum this Sunday. [Also see our previous post Closing Celebration: no existe un mundo poshuracan.”] Here are excerpts:

To add the prefix post- to a word typically implies a clear, resolute ending to something that has already occurred. Yet when something like it appears in the title of the Whitney Museum’s landmark exhibition “no existe un mundo poshuracán: Puerto Rican Art in the Wake of Hurricane Maria,” which closes Sunday, it refers to an event that is unfinished and still unfolding.

The exhibition takes its title from a line in the Raquel Salas Rivera’s poetry collection, While They Sleep: Under the Bed Is Another Country (2019), which consists of short, fragmented poems that begin in English and end in Spanish via corresponding footnotes:

Curator Marcela Guerrero read the collection as she was planning the exhibition, as it expressed the framework that she was already conceptualizing for her show. The poem soon became the show’s guiding light—a “conceptual palimpsest,” as Guerrero put it. She invited Salas Rivera to participate in the exhibition’s planning, which ultimately resulted in a catalogue essay and public program, and the poem is republished on the catalogue’s first page.

“[The title] signifies to me this idea of being perpetually caught in the wake,” Guerrero told ARTnews. “There isn’t another world—this is it. Obviously, hurricanes have a beginning and an end, but it’s this aftermath that is keeping people down. In the most direct way, it’s this idea of not being afforded the luxury to think beyond the disaster of the hurricane.”

A short reflection from anthropology professor Yarimar Bonilla, also published in the catalogue, puts it succinctly: “The reckoning did not begin with Maria, but Maria gave it a name.”

“No existe un mundo poshuracán” doesn’t cleanly translate into English. It can either mean “A post-hurricane world doesn’t exist” or “There isn’t a world post-hurricane.” But either version loses the nuance of syntax of the Spanish language that Salas Rivera felt best conveyed his intention.

“The way I wouldn’t want it to be read is that I’m saying that we can never move past Maria,” Salas Rivera said in an interview. “The ways in which I hope it would be read—and how most people have felt it—is that it does feel like there’s a before and after Maria in some senses.” He’s quick to clarify that Hurricane Maria revealed “the worst and most evident aspects of the colonial relationship” between Puerto Rico and the US, and is merely “a continuation of colonial policies” that have impacted the island, often called the world’s oldest colony, for over 500 years.  

He added, “We’re living in the wake of Maria even if it’s stopped being in the news. We come back to it as a place of this unresolved grief and pain.”

Spanning the museum’s entire sixth floor, Guerrero’s exhibition brings together a mixture of artworks in a variety of mediums that all reflect the state of artistic production that is happening at the moment in Puerto Rico, New York, Chicago, Oakland, and elsewhere. Here you will find conceptual, formal, and poetic strategies for filtering the multitude of emotions that Maria elicited, as well as reflections on the confluence of important events that predate Maria, like austerity measures imposed by the debt-restructuring PROMESA act from 2016 and the passing of Laws 20 and 22 that aim to attract non-Puerto Rican investors to the island in 2012, or ones that follow Maria, like mourning the dead and a promised recovery that has never quite come.

Guerrero said it was necessary that an exhibition such as this was “invested in complicating these histories,” which the hurricane had laid bare and exposed—especially at an institution whose full name is technically the Whitney Museum of American Art.

“So why not talk about the colonial history of the US in Puerto Rico?” she asked of herself. “All the events made me realize that this is a kind of window into a very specific timeframe, where we can see how Puerto Rico, in this five-year period, is a vortex of so many different events.”

Divided into five themes, like “Processing, Grieving, and Reflecting” and “Ecology and Landscape,” Guerrero gathered works that primarily eschew a literal or didactic approach to discussing these topics, as she realized early on that “I could only go so far with that.”

That’s to the exhibition’s credit. There’s a lot of Puerto Rican history that many of the works in the exhibition touch on. Rather than spelling out the background to these sociopolitical circumstances for the viewer, Guerrero wanted to “provide just enough context” to that history while still “letting the artwork speak for itself.” [. . .]

For full article, see

[Photos above—First, Sofía Córdova, dawn_chorus ii: el niagara en bicicleta (still), 2018.COURTESY THE ARTIST AND KATE WERBLE GALLERY, NEW YORK; second, Miguel Luciano, Shields/Escudos, 2020, installation view, photo by MAXIMILÍANO DURÓN/ARTNEWS]

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