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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Puerto Rican Pop Art

Published: October 19, 2007
Section: Arts, Etc.

Puerto Rican fine artist Miguel Luciano gave a presentation of his work Wednesday night, in which he discussed the controversial relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States.

Sponsored by the American Studies Department and AHORA! as part of Hispanic Heritage Month, the presentation entitled, Boricua Pop: Puerto Rican Folklore and American Consumer Fantasy, consisted of a slideshow of his work from 1998.

Most of Lucianos work alters popular or consumer culture images to send a message commenting on Puerto Ricos shift from a commonwealth of production to one of consumption.

I like making work that is composed that way, where on the surface its kind of bold and graphic and then there is these nuanced stories within them that you have to look closer at, he said.

Luciano uses his work to analyze the portrayal of the Trix Rabbit, referring to how the rabbit disguises himself as someone else, in order to steal some cereal. To Luciano, this meant that the rabbit was unsatisfied or confused about who he is.

He was a good stand-in for Puerto Ricans who were caught up in the middle and unsure of what they want politically, ideologically and so forth, Luciano said.

Luciano also satirized the figure of Mama Ines, a stereotypical black maternal woman who is the mascot of Puerto Ricos leading coffee brand, to comment on racial progress in Puerto Rico.

One piece, entitled La Ultim Copa , features an altered portrayal of Mama Ines granddaughter, in which the childs face is changed from black to white.

However, Luciano is not only interested in making art to be looked at, but interacted with as well.

The first interactive sculpture he presented was a red Hot Wheels racetrack called La Mano Poderosa Racetrack, which leads from a 10-foot hand representing the All-Powerful Hand of God down to a finish line in the Sacred Heart.

Connecting Puerto Rican folklore to consumerism, the usual sacred family of saints atop the hand is replaced by figures of Ronald McDonald, Mama Ines, Colonel Saunders, and a Powder Puff Girl.

Tapped into local phenomenon of Hot Wheels racing in Puerto Rico, where people would pay a dollar to buy into the race and at the end of the night, if they won, would receive a trophy.

Its one of those things thats kind of sinfully fun because its full of cultural criticism, but really to get into it you have to put yourself in the game. And thats what I like about this, Luciano said. It sort of beckons you to participate, but you realize that something is kind of wrong as youre doing it.”

Luciano said he wanted to use projects such as this to explore the addiction of consumption in Puerto Ricos. According to Luciano, Puerto Rico consumes more per capita than any of the fifty states, yet is twice as poor as Mississippi, the poorest state.

My feeling about that is that consumerism operates basically as an extension of our dependency and an extension of colonialism as it functions today in the world, he said.

Miguel Lucianos work is currently on display at Tufts Universitys Aidekman Arts Center, Slater Concourse Gallery until December 30.