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Gamaliel Rodríguez, Figure 1852 (BQN), 2021. graphite on paper; 50 x 38 in. Courtesy of the artist

Gamaliel Rodríguez, Figure 1852 (BQN), 2021. graphite on paper; 50 x 38 in. Courtesy of the artist

Constant Storm: Art from Puerto Rico and the Diaspora

September 24 – December 4, 2021
USF Contemporary Art Museum + Online

HOURS: Monday-Friday 10am – 5pm; Thursday 10am–8pm; Saturday 1-4pm; Closed Sundays and USF Holidays (November 11, 25, 26, 27). Visitors to the museum are expected to wear masks and practice social distancing.

Constant Storm: Art From Puerto Rico and the Diaspora will gather, display, record, and conceptualize artistic responses to Hurricane Maria by artists from Puerto Rico and the diaspora. Through artworks and their narratives and socially engaged initiatives, voices from the island and Puerto Rican communities in New York and Florida will materialize a synoptic view of Puerto Rico’s fragile recovery as part of an evolving, 121-year-old historical crisis.

Participating artists include: Rogelio Báez Vega, Sofía Gallisá Muriente, Jorge González Santos, Karlo Andrei Ibarra, Ivelisse Jiménez, Natalia Lassalle-Morillo, Miguel Luciano, SkittLeZ-Ortiz, Angel Otero, Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz, Gabriel Ramos, Jezabeth Roca González, Gamaliel Rodríguez, Yiyo Tirado Rivera.

Curated by Christian Viveros-Fauné, CAM Curator at Large, and Noel Smith, Former Deputy Director and Curator of Latin American and Caribbean Art: organized by USF Contemporary Art Museum



Exhibition Home   //   Curatorial Essay | Ensayo Curatorial   //   Acknowledgements and Foreword | Agradecimientos y Prólogo   //   Rogelio Báez Vega (EN) | Rogelio Báez Vega (ES)    //   Jorge González Santos (EN) | Jorge González Santos (ES)    //   Karlo Andrei Ibarra (EN) | Karlo Andrei Ibarra (ES)    //   Ivelisse Jiménez (EN) | Ivelisse Jiménez (ES)    //   Miguel Luciano (EN) | Miguel Luciano (ES)    //   Natalia Lassalle-Morillo & Sofía Gallisá Muriente (EN) | Natalia Lassalle-Morillo & Sofía Gallisá Muriente (ES)    //   Angel Otero (EN) | Angel Otero (ES)    //   Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz (EN) | Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz (ES)    //   Gabriel Ramos (EN) | Gabriel Ramos (ES)    //   Jezabeth Roca González (EN) | Jezabeth Roca González (ES)    //   Gamaliel Rodríguez (EN) | Gamaliel Rodríguez (ES)    //   Yiyo Tirado Rivera (EN) | Yiyo Tirado Rivera (ES)



Constant Storm
Essay by Noel Smith


La tormenta es poderosa, y yo la he desafiado. El abismo es tenebroso, y yo no lo he temido. El mar es peligroso y yo lo he cruzado. (1)
—Luisa Capetillo, Influencias de las ideas modernas: Notas y apuntes, 1916

Constant Storm: Art from Puerto Rico and the Diaspora gathers together recent art by contemporary artists who work on and away from the archipelago. It includes drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, video, installation, and socially engaged practice. The array of works strives for a biennial feel, a snapshot of the artists' current artistic practices as they participate in the international discourse on visual arts.

The hinge upon which this exhibition turns is the passage of Hurricane Maria, which devastated the islands of the northeast Caribbean with Category 5 winds on September 20, 2017. Faced with the greatest natural catastrophe in their history, Puerto Ricans found themselves bregando (dealing) with a host of disasters after the disaster—with scant assistance from the U.S.

In works that range from joyous to somber, these artists celebrate their culture while recognizing the endemic problems that exacerbate the devastation the storm brought. These problems include emigration, the legacy of colonialism, U.S. domination, the archipelago’s emphasis on a service economy, a threatened environment, racism and shifting identities, the loss of traditional ways of life, and more. Pictures of a still fragile recovery, the artworks that animate this exhibition are records of a true constant storm.

Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz's Exodus / Pilgrimage (2019) addresses the violence of Hurricane Maria and the resilience of Puerto Ricans as they fled their homes for safe harbor in Central Florida. Her performance is documented in a video and photographs, and by the spectacular dress she created from blue FEMA tarps collected in Puerto Rico. Her outfit includes a regal headdress, trailed by a debris-studded train patterned after traditional Afro-Puertorican costumes. In the video Cessa and Chuleta Talk Gringo Lingo, Cessa (played by the artist SkittLeZ-Ortiz) and Chuleta (Raimundi-Ortiz) sit in a Bronx diner anticipating the arrival of Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (herself a Puerto Rican). Cessa and Chuleta engage in code-switching. Chuleta's standard American English collides with SkittLeZ's Nuyorican, producing a hilarious and revelatory take on both languages.

Sofia Gallisá Muriente and Natalia Lassalle-Morillo have collaborated in a video installation work, Foreign in a Domestic Sense (2021), that explores the experiences of Puerto Ricans newly displaced in Florida. After Maria, over 200,000 Puerto Ricans moved to Florida. Many have stayed. Today, Florida has the largest concentration of Puerto Ricans on the mainland. For three weeks in June and July 2021, the artists travelled the I-4 interstate corridor that runs through Central Florida, interviewing and filming recent immigrants to Orlando, Kissimmee, Cape Canaveral, and Tampa. Prior to their arrival in Florida, the artists conducted extensive research with relatives, friends, and scholars living in the state to inform themselves about the urgent issues affecting this population. These include health care, political participation, housing, and employment. Through fictional and non-fictional narratives, the artists have arrived at a portrait of how this community is reconfiguring Puerto Rican identity and the culture of the future.

Jorge González Santos is interested in producing new narratives between the indigenous and the modern—between the Pre-Columbian Taino culture of the Boricua and the western culture imposed on the archipelago by European colonization.(2) In his installation Toali (Aiba Buya), González Santos explores how land is acknowledged and commemorated through artistic practice. Two drawings represent Taino images associated with crops, sowed fields, and plant spirits: a zemi, or carved stone head, as well as a pattern for weaving. These drawings are accompanied by agricultural tools the artist himself created from indigenous materials: a garabato (a forked stick used for grasping), an escobilla (a broom for clearing paths) and a coa (a polished wooden stick used to plow and sow). By layering ancient and modern imagery and materials, he brings into focus the simultaneous presence of the past and the present, pivotal to understanding the history and cultural diversity of the Caribbean.

With the sculpture Pimp My Piragua, Miguel Luciano celebrates the piragua, an icy treat sold in Puerto Rico and throughout the diaspora. Luciano’s mobile cart is a travelling party, with video, music, and lights. In performances, he serves piraguas to lucky onlookers, shaving ice from a big block and sweetening it with his own brightly colored syrups. In two large-scale paintings, Luciano also addresses the United States’ colonialist treatment of Puerto Rico and its people. Colorful imagery borrowed from vintage produce labels jostles with cartoon-like birds and bunnies representing the island. In Vulture Brand Yams, an American eagle—a symbol of U.S. dominance—is attacked by birds bearing machetes. In Barceloneta Bunnies, drugged and maimed bunnies cavort among references to the town of Barceloneta, formerly the site of a U.S. population control program. Barceloneta currently boasts the fifth largest pharmaceutical industry in the world, as aided by tax laws skewed towards foreign investment.

Karlo Andrei Ibarra employs a wide variety of media, often with an eye to hijacking contemporary art forms to address Puerto Rico’s subordinate position as an unincorporated territory of the United States. Niebla (Fog), for instance, is composed of 60 modest-sized canvases tiled together to create a large-scale monochrome work. Ibarra painted each canvas separately allowing for surface variations—from pale grays to light pinks to soft browns—but Ibarra's "paint" is made from toxic coal ash collected from the AES power plant incinerator in the town of Peñuelas. Exposure to coal ash has been linked to bladder, stomach, skin, lung and kidney cancers, as well as asthma, emphysema and infertility. Through his minimalist installation, Ibarra joins a growing movement calling attention to the dangers posed by the operations of this global, U.S.-based energy giant.

Yiyo Tirado Rivera scrutinizes the tourist industry in Puerto Rico in two remarkably effective works. The Caribe Hilton Hotel, opened in 1949, is today one of the premier luxury resorts in Puerto Rico; it was promoted, financed, and built by the Puerto Rico Industrial Development Company (PRIDCO), itself created in 1942 to create an inexpensive base for U.S. industry. The neon sculpture Caribe Hostil mirrors and mocks the hotel's original sign, substituting Hostil (hostile) for Hotel in cool blue lettering. Castillo de arena I (Normandie) refers to another iconic hotel, inspired by the transatlantic passenger ship the SS Normandie. A cast-sand mold of the building sits atop another mound of sand that will deteriorate over the course of the exhibition. In a broader sense, the works speak of unwise and short-sighted policies and decisions: creating a service-based economy at the expense of a strong-island based one, and building on the shifting sands of an island in the era of climate change.

In a practice generally concerned with ephemerality and the potential of line and shape, Gabriel Ramos’s untitled installation of wire sculptures carries a heft far beyond its apparent fragility. Inspired by childhood memories, he creates works that recall the decorative and utilitarian ironwork that is a distinct feature of Puerto Rican architecture. The colonial-era buildings of Old San Juan are festooned with lacy balustrades and railings; its humbler residential streets are lined with more abstract designs. As if snatching strains of bomba and plena from the atmosphere, Ramos blends in references to music and to Afro-Caribbean artisanal traditions in the bends and balances of his forms. The sinuous lines of his sculptures are also followed by shadows, like memories after an event, doubling and blurring the meanings of the sculptures.

Memory also plays a leading role in the making of Angel Otero’s paintings. Otero's unusual technique relies on oil paint applied to a plexiglass surface, dried, peeled off in "skins," and subsequently draped on fabric. Like Arnaldo Roche (1955-2018), the Puerto Rican neo-expressionist painter to whom Dreaming in Blue (To Arnaldo Roche) pays homage, Otero conducts an intense examination of the self within the shifting racial, cultural, and geographic contexts of Caribbean identity. Otero swirls splashes of Roche's azure palette around a central piece of blue fabric—reminiscent of a bedspread or a curtain—while layering meditations on art history, domesticity, and his own childhood into a single work. September Elegy presents a central tombstone-like swath of black paint atop a multicolored surface. As a presence, it resembles the void Hurricane Maria left on the landscape four years ago.

Rogelio Báez Vega's large-scale painting ID. Escuela Tomás Carrión Maduro, Santurce, Puerto Rico - New on the Market, is part of a new series tentatively titled “De memoria” (From Memory). His richly textured canvases often portray iconic modernist buildings dating from Puerto Rico's post war modernization boom. Sometimes shown overgrown by the archipelago's lush vegetation, his images create a narrative that implies a dystopian, failed future. However, with the private sale of the Escuela Tomás Carrión Maduro, a public school, Báez Vega also announces that that future is here. The painting's layers of oil, beeswax, and gold pigment endow the weathered building with a tactile glow, offset by a general air of neglect in addition to the image’s deadpan presentation as real estate. One of many neighborhood public schools closed since Maria, the privatization of the Escuela Tomás Carrión represents the loss of the neighborhood institutions the artist cherishes, while providing a sign of the dystopian future he fears.

Artist Gamaliel Rodríguez is also concerned with apocalyptic visions. His series of mixed media drawings present eerie views of airport control towers from four different airports in Puerto Rico. These control towers were disabled when Maria destroyed Puerto Rico's already fragile power grid. Neglected even before the storm, the airports these towers served constituted entrances and exits for Puerto Ricans. After Maria, flights to the mainland U.S. cost as much as $2,000; during the COVID-19 pandemic they dropped to under $100. Rodríguez recognizes his contemporary moment. These towers are meticulously drafted in otherworldly purples, reds, and grays, and bristle with antennas and tropical plants. Their functions as connections to global infrastructure are lost. They remain defeated dystopian monuments, toppled by the rigors of nature, time, and politics.

Ivelisse Jiménez started working on Gelid Flow #3 and Gelid Flow #4 right after Hurricane Maria altered Puerto Rico's landscape and the lives of its inhabitants. In these pieces she traps enamel paint within sheets of vinyl plastic that she then exposes to the elements to provoke decay and, hopefully, questions about humans’ interactions with nature. She hangs these sheets vertically next to the museum window to allow daylight to reveal additional patterns. The paintings act like a stained-glass window, or a prism, while inviting meditations on the limitations of human understanding. According to the artist her work presents "a way of exploring the complex relations between consciousness and experience, a way to work through the complexities around me and to communicate a sense of fluidity and impermanence."

Jezabeth Roca González hails from Añasco, a small town in rural, western Puerto Rico that they call “an island within an island.” González often uses their grandparents’ domestic space as a center for videos and installations, sometimes employing soil, plants, and agricultural products as part of their artwork. While their family has remained in Puerto Rico, González is part of the diaspora, living between Añasco and the United States. They collaborate with family through stories and actions to explore that duality as well as issues of racism, land migration, the enduring effects of colonialism, and how rapid change threatens family life. The video La fabula de Luisa focuses on González’s grandmother, “Abuela Luisa.” A fabula, or fable, carries a moral lesson or advice, but it can also generate legends that narrate the actions of gods or heroes of antiquity. In the case of Abuela Luisa, her stories elevate the experience of an extraordinary woman as she navigates the twists and turns of her own life.

Noel Smith, CAM Deputy Director and Curator of Latin American and Caribbean Art


1. The storm is powerful, and I have defied it. The abyss is forbidding, and I have not feared it. The sea is dangerous and I have crossed it.
2. Boricua is the Taino name for Puerto Rico and its people. The Taino populated Puerto Rico at the time of Columbus’ arrival in 1492. Although by the mid 1500s the majority would die from diseases and slavery, there remains a sizeable presence of Taino DNA in the population and culture of modern-day Puerto Rico.



Constant Storm: Art from Puerto Rico and the Diaspora is made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, sponsored in part by the State of Florida, Department of State, Division of Arts and Culture and the Florida Council on Arts and Culture, and supported by the Tampa Bay Rays and the Tampa Bay Rowdies. The symposium Bregando with Disasters: Post Hurricane Maria Realities and Resiliencies is supported by a Humanities Centers Grant from Florida Humanities. The USF Contemporary Art Museum is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums.