Adál’s latest exhibition, Please Touch y otras ideas, is on view at the historical Casa Aboy in Puerto Rico, showing a mixture of earlier photographic work with new multi-media pieces, giving us an opportunity to look at the broad scope of this artist’s vision. The bodies of work in this show include Out of Focus Nuyoricans, Please Touch, The Censored Curtain, Anti-Dote Traffik Signs and Video Word Art.
Adal’s artistic expression often plays with contradictory and conceptual states of being, hybridity, satire and politics – ranging from early post-surrealist works, collages and foto-novelas, to interdisciplinary practices, multi-media performances, cultural resistance, political and social affirmation.
While the full 30 print photographic portfolio Out of Focus Nuyoricans has been widely exhibited stateside, this is the first time it is being viewed in Puerto Rico. Published as a book by the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard University Press with a Prologue/Poem by Rev. Pedro Pietri, it speaks to the trivialization of an immigrant group rendered “out of focus” due to marginalization.
While the series is inspired by passport photos created for his El Puerto Rican Passport series, these large headshots imply, or rather, bring into focus the cultural politics imposed on Puerto Ricans – a psychological trauma “caused by the colonial mentality imposed by the dominant group.” Legally, Puerto Ricans are citizens of the US, but they are denied the same first-class citizenship rights as other citizens.
Adál’s ever-present satirical twist takes a government-approved symbol of identity and nationalism (the passport photo) – and subverts its purpose by calling attention to what is overlooked. Disorienting the viewer by blurring the photographic plane, one may begin to ponder what other assumptions are made based on the way one ‘looks’… and what happens now that you can’t see clearly? Fátima Bercht, a former curator at El Museo del Barrio points out that the series also playfully “undermines the negative stereotypes of Puerto Ricans prevalent in the media, which have practically rendered their social contributions to North American culture unrecognizable.”
Yet not being ‘seen’ can have its strengths, and as the lyrics of El Spanglish National Anthem (written by Adál’s collaborator in El Puerto Rican Embassy project, Reverend Pedro Pietri) say,
But the soul nunca dyyyyyed
And junto we survived
And danced after we cried
Defending nuestro pride.”
Out of Focus Nuyoricans include portraits of well-known cultural figures such as the actor Raul Júlia, the musician Tito Puente; the artists Sophie Rivera, Antonio Martorell and Pepón Osorio; the founder of the Nuyorican Poets Café Miguel Algarín, alongside Adál’s superintendent and an older man who plays dominoes on his block.
Adál’s constant play with words, puns and wit is clear as he combines his life experience, with tall or satirical tales he heard as a boy growing up in Puerto Rico.
His ideas are wide-ranging, yet his work are always a response to present circumstances. Please Touch, for example, is an object d’art based on Puerto Rican novelist Edgardo Rodriguez Julia’s seminal work, “El Entierro de Cortijo” (Cortijo’s Wake), on the wake and burial of Puerto Rican musician and bandleader Rafael Cortijo. The book was censored along with three other books this past fall [including Aura by Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes], causing thousands of people to take to the streets in Puerto Rico in protest against censorship laws on the island.
The Censored Curtain reproduces of a page from Rodriguez Julia’s censored novel, with words blacked out to simulate the idea of the Iron Curtain and the Bamboo Curtain in totalitarian regimes, but now dedicated to censorship in the arts in Puerto Rico.
Adál’s newest body of work, Anti-Dote Traffik Signs, is a series of works on paper that change the text of the traffic stop sign, to BLISS, FAITH, or LOVE. It reflects a positive reinforcement in the urban environment, and serve as models for the real signs to be printed on metal and placed at on-site locations around the island. It is eerily hopeful that people may obey these signs.
Lastly, his Video Word Art project scrolls existential verses across a black screen. This series was created for posting on-line, as a type of Internet Graffiti.
Please Touch y otras ideas is on view through February 5, 2010 at Galería Fotográfica PL 900 at Casa Aboy, Avenida Ponce de León, Mirarmar, Puerto Rico
Adál was born in Utuado, Puerto Rico and moved to California in 1968 where he started his formal art studies at The Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles, and at the San Francisco Art Institute. In 1975 he moved to New York where he co-founded Foto Gallery with Alex Coleman in Soho, NY. A founding member of En Foco, Adál has also been exhibited (Island Journey) and published in Nueva Luz photographic journal (volumes 9#2, 7#2 and 5#2).
His work has been In addition to his many performances and collaborations with other artists, these are some of his published texts: The Evidence of Things not Seen, DaCapo Press, NY 1975, Falling Eyelids, Foto-Graphic Editions, NY 1980, Mango Mambo, Galeria Luiggi Marrozzinni, San Juan, Puerto Rico, 1987. Works related to the Blueprints for a Nation project include, Jibaro/Blueprints for a Nation, Lehigh University Galleries, 2002 and Out of Focus Nuyoricans, Harvard University Press, 2004. In 2002 Adál completed a year long playwright-in-residency at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center in New York where he wrote La Mambopera (www.mambopera.com), a musical that fuses elements of mambo and opera. La Mambopera was performed at the Hostos Center for Arts & Culture, NY. Adál currently lives in Loisaida, NuYol, where he is developing his first full- length creature feature film entitled, Nuyorican Zombies Ate My Baby.
Read more about Adál’s work:
Blurriness In Focus, Adapted text by Jose Luis Falconi, from “Out of Focus Nuyoricans” published by DRCLAS to accompany its 2004 exhibition.
Showcase: New Faces in an Old Gallery, by David Gonzalez, The New York Times, Lens Blog