RICANSTRUCTIONS, an exhibition of works by Juan Sánchez, will be on view at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center through February 13, 2000. RICANSTRUCTIONS was curated by students from The Robert F. Wagner Jr. Secondary School for Arts and Technology, as a part of P.S.1’s “Teen Curator Series.” Over the past 2 years, Sánchez has been working with this group of teen curators at P.S.1 in a dialogue exploring his work. These discussions spurred personal reactions to the paintings in the form of written and visual responses from the students on P.S.1’s website, culminating in RICANSTRUCTIONS.
Salsa jazz musician Ray Barretto first coined the term “ricanstructions” in reference to his social commitment as an artist. Here the term refers to Sánchez’s reconstructed history and the history of other Puerto Rican people, each of whom confronts a layered experience of identity with personal and political implications. Sánchez’s work pulls its vocabulary of symbols from a multitude of cultural sources. As Marysol Nieves of the Bronx Museum of the Arts observed, these influences include “Taino symbols, Afro-Caribbean religious practices, Catholicism, Puerto Rican popular culture and folk art traditions, and American and European painting, all of which reflect the complexities of Puerto Rican culture and its colonial identity.”
Sánchez’s paintings are often arched in the form of shrines paying homage to the people and the symbols of Puerto Rico’s past. These paintings point toward a future devoid of cultural marginalization as they construct a new identity for the artist and the viewer. They revere Puerto Rico’s historical identity while making room for new interpretations of old symbols. Frenetic overall patterns spliced with poignant documentary images and poetry convey generous revelry: a celebration of future possibilities.
Sánchez found that the students provided insight into his work not picked up by critics and historians. “The students for the most part are African-American and Latino,” he states. “Issues they are confronting in their lives are often subjects in the work. Grafitti art and culture are designs of symbols and identity on streets. Religious iconography is similar to imagery found in their homes. One student in particular didn’t realize how much he had learned from his father until seeing my work. This is the inspiration behind making the work: to connect with people in a very direct and personal way, transcending formal barriers to find the emotive experience.”
This unique opportunity was created by Teacher Michelle Kim, Technical Advisor Paul Johnson, P.S.1 Education Director Bill Beirne, Juan Sánchez and student curators: Delroy Binger, Tricia McCall, Ismaris Molina, Hasir Gonzalez, Perrin Wright, Anthony Vellos, and Liang Yang. Timeline and Out-Of-Site student curatorial projects are funded in part by the NEA through an Education and Access Grant with additional support for Out-Of-Site from Bell Atlantic’s Community/Technology Grant program, Citibank, and Con Edison.