Interview with Canvas Rebel
Allicette, thanks for joining us; excited to have you contributing your stories and insights. Can you talk to us about a project that’s meant a lot to you?
The most meaningful and complex work I’ve done is my current series, which concerns Puerto Rico. In delving into the intricate tapestry of the island, an acute and complex odyssey unfolds—a narrative that traverses the realms of the political and the deeply personal, converging on a profoundly fused and intimate plane. It’s the story of my people, my family, and my story. It’s a journey that finds its muse in Puerto Rico, the oldest colony on this planet.
As I reflect upon this creative evolution, it was when I reached the midpoint of my artistic journey as an artist that my skill set matured to seamlessly weave together the threads of political discourse and intimate introspection. The impact of this growth has manifested in a visual narrative, an exploration that earnestly grapples with the stark realities plaguing Puerto Rico.
The year 2020 serves as a poignant backdrop, a time when my brother and I engaged in passionate debates while he graciously assisted me in capturing the essence of my work during a visit to the island. Amidst the mountainous terrain of Orocovis, a palpable undercurrent of bitterness, anger, and profound confusion permeated the air, all set against the backdrop of Bad Bunny’s soundtrack as our surroundings blurred with the speed of the journey. My attempts to make plain the significance of documenting our island’s story met resistance, with my brother questioning the necessity of laying bare our collective struggles. In his eyes, it was time to move on, to showcase the best, the most beautiful facets of Puerto Rico.
Yet, the harsh realities unfolded as he grappled with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria—a storm that challenged his resilience and questioned his very sense of manhood. Six months without water, over four months without electricity—the loss of control over the fundamental aspects of life for himself, his wife, and countless others.
The insanity lay not just in the visible byproduct but in the unseen multipliers that compounded the struggles faced by all Puerto Ricans: hunger, the lack of water, and my god! The deaths! It transcended monetary solutions; the collision of Hurricane Maria acted as a catalyst, unveiling the cancerous decay gnawing at the oldest colony on Earth. A downward spiral ensued, propelled by the neglect of essential infrastructures—water, electricity, and other vital services.
To speak of Hurricane Maria is to recognize its inextricable ties to history marred by centuries of colonialism, political corruption, and environmental challenges. Our story undeniably needed an inward expression, transcending the limitations of mere words. The hurricane, the epitome of all storms, unfolded not in a vacuum but against a backdrop of perfect conditions—a cataclysm interwoven with the complex tapestry of Puerto Rico’s past and present.
Awesome – so before we get into the rest of our questions, can you introduce yourself to our readers?
I straddle two worlds, one foot planted firmly in New York City and the other in my beloved Puerto Rico. A Puerto Rican artist, arts writer, and curator-preneur, I navigate the intricate dance of memory and interconnectedness through my work. My canvas is diverse, embracing photography, video, performance art, and mixed media. In my artistic journey, I choreograph moments that resonate with the echoes of history, intermingling with the present and evoking the pain and repercussions of yesteryears. The themes I grapple with are unapologetically charged, delving into repression, history, and the complexities of race. I pose the pivotal question: How does history, shaped by choices and inactions, weave the intricate tapestry of our identity and legacy?
As a young Puerto Rican, my aspirations were ensnared by the pragmatic narratives of my youth. My family revered academic achievements, and the murkier realms of creative expression were viewed with skepticism. Their eyes glistened with visions of “Doctor” or “Lawyer” whenever they looked at me. Even my father, an architect, advised that I appreciate art from a distance, a pursuit reserved for the “lost bourgeoisie.” Inevitably, I found myself sitting before a Law School admissions officer, brandishing two glistening Master’s degrees, being told what I should do. It was a moment of reckoning. Was I going to live a life chosen for me by others, still filled with errors and struggles that I would have to somehow persevere through yet be unsatisfied? I started doing the math; the worst-case scenario regarding employment in the United States of America was what? Scrubbing dirty toilets, I had already done it. Picking fruit? Done it. Cleaned other people’s homes? Done it. I came to a profound recollection – all work is honorable, especially if you do it well and with pride. My grandfather’s wisdom echoed in my mind.
I made my choice and walked away.
As a struggling twenty-year-old, I juggled college with a full-time job at a graphic arts studio, a pivotal time when technology was on the cusp of transforming the industry—a disruptor. Back then, Illustrator and Photoshop were novel tools, uncharted territory for many in the field. The graphic designers and their professors scoffed at the idea of computers revolutionizing design, paving the way for me to absorb priceless skills for free. It wasn’t until I left that fateful law school interview, fraught with anxiety about my student loans and family’s expectations, that reality hit me like a sledgehammer. What now? With no law school on the horizon, the fear and destitution began to loom large. But my then-boss, in her signature cool demeanor, delivered the solution. “Become a graphic designer,” she said, reminding me that it was precisely what I’d been doing all along. And so, I embarked on a journey without looking back.
Nobody will tell you this; however, it is indeed a fact that luck favors the prepared. But you must know what to be ready for and when to jump. That’s the rub.
In the heart of the corporate world, I honed my skills at an astonishing pace. I leveraged each job to expand my expertise, inserting fine arts into my toolkit, and consistently demonstrating the value of an expanded skill set. As part of this structure, I had the privilege of having access to luminaries like Chuck Close and the importance of asking your hero any question; without a clock, there is simply no price. Yet, there was another side to me, one hidden from my daytime world, as I became this grunt studio assistant to a semi-famous Fluxus movement artist and gallerist in Brooklyn, New York. In this clandestine existence, my photographs began to see the light of exhibitions, and my skills as a curator were born.
After a tenure as a corporate graphic designer and creative director for prestigious names like The New York Times, Scholastic, Pfizer, and Vogue, I made a life-altering decision in 2007 – I embraced the path of a full-time artist. In 2009, I severed my ties with traditional corporate work, secure in knowing I had acquired the necessary skills to run a business.
Today, I am dedicated to many art-related projects, writing, curating at Revolú Gallery, co-running the artist salon Parlour 153 alongside Noreen Dean Dresser, and mentoring younger artists. Additionally, I serve as the Regional Chair Northeast for the Women’s Caucus for Art.
I find myself fortunate to harness the entirety of my skillset in what I consider meaningful work. The ongoing project, “The Untitled Puerto Rico Project,” which I’ve been tirelessly laboring on since 2020, is a visual dialogue, a symphony of images that speaks to Puerto Rico, Hurricane Maria, the legacy of colonialism, and the unsettling absence of governmental accountability. In tandem, I’m crafting a new video art project that dissects the human condition, exploring the realms of nihilism.
In this dance of dual identities between home and New York City, I have carved my niche and embraced the art of storytelling, painting my narratives with visuals and words. It’s a journey that continues to unfold, a symphony of interconnectedness and memory.
Learning and unlearning are both critical parts of growth – can you share a story of a time when you had to unlearn a lesson?
In my artistic journey, there are both concrete and abstract goals that I strive to achieve. The conceptual aspect of my work is centered on engaging in a dialogue, both with the viewers and with myself, about the broader issues that impact pockets of societies that might go unnoticed. The work might encompass the human condition, our unique place in the universe’s ecosystem, political dynamics, and the interplay of our lives’ external and internal aspects. Through my art, I aim to delve into what makes us human, functioning as a kind of visual historian but one who employs elements of magical realism to unveil the often-overlooked microscopic intricacies that tend to be obscured by the stark light of the visual “sound bite” world we live in.
However, I must strike a balance, as I can quickly become overly theoretical to the point where my ideas become incomprehensible. I vividly remember talking with my grandmother around 2010 when she inquired about my artwork. I passionately described a piece I was working on, laden with thoughts, feelings, and a profound sense of purpose. Yet, she struggled to grasp the deeper meaning of its rationale. She asked, “Why did you embark on this journey? Why did you travel across the United States to capture this image?” It was a challenging moment because explaining the passion and the “why” behind my art proved to be no easy task when looking into my grandmother’s eyes.
She asked, “Why should I care about the people’s suffering in the photographs you are creating?” Given our shared experiences with poverty and oppression in our family, I assumed she would recognize the poverty and pain in these images and empathize with them. However, she didn’t, even though she understood the poverty conveyed by the pictures. It became clear that she didn’t fully grasp my intent with the photographs.
As a result, I needed to reevaluate how I wanted to convey my ideas. I realized my visual approach required it to be redefined so that it wasn’t just a single message but a multi-layered representation that allowed viewers to comprehend different aspects over time. I wanted the viewers to be able to extract various meanings or emotions from my work upon repeated viewings or contemplation, aligning with what I hoped they would take away or understand from it.
Are there any books, videos or other content that you feel have meaningfully impacted your thinking?
If you are an artist, you should be in the business of reading. Here would be some recommendations:
Make yourself a commonplace book. Each artist, even aspiring ones, should have one perpetually going. What is a commonplace book?
It is a personal collection where individuals draw and jot down meaningful quotes, ideas, and notes from their reading, experiences, or studies. It is a repository of everything you might want to go back and source to incorporate into your work. The most famous one you might know is Leonardo Davincis, although my favorites are Frida Kahlos’s The Diary of Frida Kahlo and Jean Michel Basquiat’s The Notebooks.
If you are a young artist trying to find your footing, I would suggest The Artist’s Journey: On Making Art & Being an Artist by Kent Nerburn; he is a seasoned artist writing a letter in response to a younger artist about how to deal with fear and rejection.
Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind by Jocelyn K. Glei is the book I utilized to formulate my schedules and how my days are structured.
To read the interview on Canvas Rebels click here