This year marks the centennial of Puerto Ricans being awarded American citizenship by way of 1917’s Jones Act. Artist/activist Miguel Luciano marks this anniversary and simultaneously sparks conversation about the island’s current fiscal crisis and other woes through Ride or Die. This exhibit of newly commissioned work at BRIC uses vintage Schwinn bicycles, along with paintings, sculpture and historic ephemera to question the colonial relationship between the United States and Puerto, where Luciano was born.
“The inspiration for this exhibit is Puerto Rican culture in New York, and it’s also looking at the crisis on the island and how that affects the Puerto Rican communities island-side and
stateside,” the San Juan native explained.
The use of classic American bikes paired with paintings and sculptures provides a larger narrative of Puerto Rican history. A black and white Schwinn Hornet sits in front of a large black and white Puerto Rican flag, which signifies protest, in this case, against the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) and the island’s current economic crisis. Adding weight to the symbolism behind this piece called “51′ (se acabaron la promesas) [the promises are over]” is that this particular bicycle dates back to 1951, the year before Puerto Rico became a Commonwealth. Luciano sees these bicycles as a powerful link between American and Puerto Rican culture.
“For me, transforming something that is historically American into very, very Puerto Rican-centric objects is a way of redefining our circumstances and putting ourselves at the center,” he explained. “I love how that operates within the bike clubs already and how this is an homage to Nuyorican bike culture through the spirit of cultural survival and the insistence of being proud, present and represented.”
Ride or Die runs through March 5 at the BRIC House Gallery, 647 Fulton St., Brooklyn. For more information, visit www.BRICartsmedia.org or call 718-855-7882.