WE COME IN PEACE
version.2_(raft) | 2013
The calamitous event in French colonial history, spurred by the shipwrecked Méduse, and immortalized by the painter Théodore Géricault, provides one of the most striking icons of survival in Western visual culture. The desperate raft, born out of the Méduse's wreckage, is correlatively symbolic of the balsas and yolas used by modern Caribbean émigrés. These improvised rafts, used commonly by Cubans and Dominicans, are the metaphorical by-products of a festering colonial structure. With the visual language of colonialism having changed in the twentieth century, the once virile symbol of naval power and foreign expansion, the ship, or frigate, has arguably been replaced by the immigrant's raft. As the U.S. empire of intervention grew in the Caribbean and Latin America towards the end of the nineteenth century, the tactics of domination became more subtle than in centuries past, and a new, steely violence emerged in the form of economic dependency. Ironically, U.S. methods of extra territorial control are such that decades of economic, and sometimes violent repression abroad--contributors to the émigré's decision to leave their home land--foster dreams of a prosperous life right in the belly of the beast--whether it be South Florida, or San Juan. The formation of Caribbean and Latin American diaspora is thus, deliberate and crucial to the survival of the U.S. empire, rather than an incidental benevolence. Such awareness of neocolonial methodology is necessary and instrumental for any self-decolonization process.
WE COME IN PEACE takes this language perversion of "freedom" and "democracy" employed by the U.S. and places it in a culturally specific context with other remixed colonial symbols. For this project, the émigré raft is structurally derivative of a colonial sedan chair, or palanquin--transportation of choice for the fastidious and elite. The raft appears white and ghost-like (an allusion to Teddy Roosevelt's naval stunt, the Great White Fleet), covered with bright flowers and carried aloft by four black-clad performers. The ostensible, almost religious, somberness of the performance is suddenly shattered when the raft/palanquin approaches Plaza Betances and is joined by a community musical group playing traditional Afro-Puerto Rican percussive rhythms, while the performers begin distributing globe-sized objects to the assembled crowd. These are Dymaxion globes, and they were designed by R. Buckminster Fuller in an effort to present a less culturally-biased projection of the world. In an interesting juxtaposition to the popularized myth surrounding Columbus' insistence of a spherical Earth, Fuller's egalitarian Dymaxion projection uses a twenty-sided icosahedron, rather than a sphere. Thus, for representational purposes, a flat Earth becomes a fairer, more honest Earth, and one that is less emblematic of the global impacts of colonization. Audience interaction with the globes is key to achieving a child-like sense of wonder that will hopefully result in a liberation of preconceptions regarding accepted social/historical/scientific "facts" and a consideration for the wealth of experience and creativity that an undemarcated world has to offer.
This performance is shared, specifically, with the community of Villa Victoria in Boston's South End, in an effort to re-ignite that neighborhood's sense of its own revolutionary past. Both in terms of the community's struggles against urban development in the 1960s, and Puerto Rico's (Villa Victoria's largest demographic) historic battles against the Spanish, and later, North American colonizers, the goal of the performance is to reawaken these forgotten and suppressed narratives, while demonstrating a highly favorable aspect of immigration and cultural exchange: the alternate world view, here symbolized by Fuller's utopian engineering.
The project occurs in the context of Villa Victoria's annual Festival Betances, celebrating one of Puerto Rico's earliest anti-colonial freedom fighters, as well as a commemoration of the forty-fifth year of IBA (Puerto Rican Tenants in Action), the non-profit organization that oversees several social service programs in the community. One of these programs, LA GALERÍA, at the Jorge Hernandez Cultural Center, will host a concurrent exhibition of these histories entitled: ¡Revolución! (Revolution!).
special thanks to:
My visual art students from IBA's Cacique Youth Program
Jorge Arce and his "Bomba y Plena" music class
& The Boston Foundation for their Expressing Boston Cultural Flash Mob Grant