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Essay by Paula Gómez Jorge, Art Historian, Critic and Curator

          The identity and existential questioning that derives from the condition of migrating, of settling in a new territory and entering a new society, of being immigrant subjects—or the children of immigrants—that develop practices of transnational sociability are among the concerns addressed by the Dominican York Proyecto GRAFICA Collective (DYPG) in its newly-presented exhibition “Here & There,” which is being exhibited at the Diana Center at Barnard College in New York City.

          This collective of Dominican artists, who mostly reside in the metropolitan area of New York, have in just two years been able to establish a group synergy that places its stamp, among other places, on the suggestive aesthetic quality of the exhibited work, its conceptual aplomb, the interesting formal experimentation and thematic variety in the context of the graphic arts that, in all its breadth, is the common medium of expression and research par excellence of DYPG.

          Historically the presence of Dominican creators in the North American art scene had privileged the visibility of individual exhibitions. Today the Dominican artistic spectrum has been expanded and this exhibition strengthens it. It is a show that speaks of coexistence and of collaboration among creators who meet routinely to share knowledge, practices and aesthetics, articulating an artistic discourse in each porfolio with the intention of showing originality within the multiple.

          The reflection about national identity that springs in a unique form in the space of diasporas is re-evaluated through the eyes of these artists. The approaches exposed in the Here & There porfolio lead us to recognize one of the most interesting aspects in the daily existence of the immigrant: the revival of the sense of belonging, the duality that comes from living in one geography but feeling a part of another, finally surrendering to the integration of both in a dynamic transcultural dialogue.

          From this perspective the contributions of Carlos Almonte, Pepe Coronado, René de los Santos, iliana emilia García, Reynaldo García Pantaleón, Scherezade García, Alex Guerrero, Luanda Lozano, Miguel Luciano, Yunior Chiqui Mendoza, Moses Ros-Suárez and Rider Ureña enable new readings of the experience of migration based on an evolving and generative vision of sociocultural interconnections and not of a static process of unidirectional cultural assimilation. In this sense, in general, the works included in this exhibition refer to an enriching dialogue between the present and the past, at the same time being rich in semantic and symbolic content alluding to the transnational condition of their creators.

          In the case of Carlos Almonte’s work, the contrast between the traditions belonging to the societies of origin and of destination exerts an important weight. In the screen print Habichuelas con dulce the artist maintains an intense contact with a pop aesthetic, demonstrating in his language his training as a graphic designer. Furthermore, he articulates elements that contradict all illusions of unity, producing a shock among seemingly irreconcilable aspects of culture. Almonte’s work suggests a vindication of aspects of Dominican tradition in the territory of the Diaspora, in the space of memory and remembrance, raising from this dualism a suggestive proposal: the lasting force of the traditional and its permanence vis-à-vis the standards imposed by consumer society.

          The work of Pepe Coronado, U.S./D.R. A Love-Hate Relationship, reveals through an alluring visual iconography the intricate map of inter-territorial relations that have been historically built between the United States and the Dominican Republic. Coronado has translated the complexity of these relations in a screen print where one territory is visually interpenetrated by the other and vice versa. These juxtapositions reflected in the silhouettes of the maps of each nation in positive and negative, along with a circular movement, allude to a relation that is living and in permanent reinvention, where the existential, dissensions and concurrences, and political and social reflection are mixed together.

          Meanwhile, the pieces created by René de los Santos for this porfolio are impregnated with forms and characters belonging to Dominican popular culture. In the series Fiesta de Lechones o Diablos cojuelos de la ciudad, the artist develops a visual narrative in which the Diablo Cojuelo or Lechón allows for his true sad face to be seen, while at the same wearing the mask of the devil, achieving an image of a man with two heads, which accentuates the dual nature of the carnival figure. De Los Santos emphasizes the psychological expressions of his protagonists, turning the mask—a principal object of the carnival aesthetic—into a screen that hides dreams and frustrations, limitations and yearnings.

          Me/me (yo/yo), the visual contribution by iliana emilia, is anchored in the image of a chair built out of toy bricks (Lego) as a metaphor for critically reflecting on aspects of identity, transculturation, memory and the present. The handmade Dominican chair—which finds itself in “danger of extinction” in the face of an uncontrolled “invasion” of the modern industrial and plastic prototype—is a theme that iliana emilia has interpreted many times and in very diverse ways, but always with great eloquence. It can be said that it has become a clear source of inspiration that has led her to develop a body of work around Dominican tradition and visual history. Me/me (yo/yo) shines for its high aesthetic and conceptual quality, appealing to a monochromatic key that is achieved through the use of light and shadow. An optical illusion that repeats and multiplies the image emphasizes its sculptural force. Me/me (yo/yo) is a self-portrait, a toy and an evocation that replaces the original object.

          The piece presented by Reynaldo García Pantaleón inscribes itself within a series of works based on expressionist figuration, in which feelings of drowning and confusion predominate through scenes of burgeoning crowds. Migrants/Settlers marks the overwhelming anxiety that the immigrant experiences in moving to strange lands, the feeling of rootlessness that will be at the forefront of his existential journey and personal and social wandering. García Pantaleón’s expressionist language convincingly addresses the chaotic rhythm of daily life in the metropolis. He has put his sights on intense urban scenes of crowds limited by multiple needs, in search of a new space, a new possession and a new home. The artist reveals the fragility of large masses in a fragmented reality, in perpetual movement, symbolically unified by a strand of hair.

          Scherezade García, who since residing in New York has herself discovered the world of immigration, introduces us anew to her multifaceted artistic imagination that has been operating for a quarter of a century. On this occasion she mixes reflections about the new social and cultural reality that she lives in the diaspora and that leads her to a constant revision of themes such as identity, memory, utopia, power and fragility. In Piñata de Nueva Yol, her language integrates photography and drawing with a distinctive formal synthesis, in a refined critical attitude charged with irony about aspects of the Dominican social reality that are directly tied to that of Dominican immigrants in the country up north. Throughout her corpus of pictorial, audiovisual and installation work and in this print work, Scherezade constructs allegorical stories by bringing together elements of history, traditions and contemporary Dominican culture that are essential for understanding the interconnections between Dominicans “here” and “there.” The artist elaborates visually hybrid narratives that not only have as protagonists those who leave but also those who stay and the interdependent relations that develop between them.

Alex Guerrero’s graphic work Two in One also presents a strong imaginative and allegorical content that refers to the mythical symbol of the man who is transformed and turns into another being capable of reaching new spaces. Like the artist points out, his work gets close to the aesthetics of animated vignettes. Guerrero gives new meaning to geographic locations from the point of view of man fused with nature. In the pieces included in the exhibit he recreates new imaginations both real and invented, where the fantastic is intermixed with his existential reflections.

          Luanda Lozano also plays with imagination and remembrance. In Memorias de mi Niñez, she embarks on a journey to childhood in which she is trapped between what is real and imaginary, what has stayed in her memory and what is now only forgotten. The past matters as an emotional evocation that recreates her personal reality and experience as an artist. Through the silhouette of heads that are juxtaposed with images of playful things recorded in her memory. An almost pictorial surface reminiscent of the presence of pure pigment unifies the composition, emphasizing the shadows and lights, achieving a hypnotic atmosphere that confronts us with our own memories and thoughts.

          For his part, Miguel Luciano reveals his fascination—that is already a constant in his artistic production—with questioning the diversity of material records that establish the information of identity, the registers of human activity and the sense of its classification. The image of identity documents, passports, mail envelopes, bar codes and stamps are a few of the records appropriated in order to underline the high levels of manipulation and the absence of credibility in the data collected by censuses. For example, looking at migration statistics he highlights the way in which they don’t really take account of the human being that migrates or their story. The subject is simply reduced to a number. In his piece Juan Rodrigues / 400 years, he establishes a suggestive dialogue between the past and present. It consists of an ancient stamp, with a design that recreates the imagery of sixteenth-century European cartography, that is interposed with figures from actual census data of Dominican immigrants to the United States. The figure of the first immigrant to arrive from Hispaniola to “America”— Juan Rodrigues—is the pretext of the artist to bring us closer to one of the fundamental problems of the phenomenon of migration that is everywhere and touches all individuals directly and indirectly.

          A dialogue with elements that refer to identity is a central theme in Moses Ros-Suárez’s universe. In his etching titled Sancochito Sabrosón & Musiquíta por Dentro, by means of a very personal visual iconography he focuses on elements such as music and popular Dominican cuisine, proposing a crossing of dialogue between the cultural and the genetic, the cellular memory and culture. With humor and abandon he creates a playful code of words in his visual discourse, building new semantic relations between the words “gene” and “jean” that detonate multiple sensitive possibilities beyond the visual. With a vibrant and expressive drawing the artist submerges us in the frenzy of the vibrant and rhythmic Caribbean music and in the prototypical corporal movement that is derived from mestizaje.

          In Off Target Rider Ureña orients his critical sense towards the Trujillo Era. In his dialogue with this “dark segment” of Dominican history he creates an acute, compelling and iconic image that reproduces formally and conceptually the fall of that megalomaniacal figure. The artist retakes the images that circulated in the local and international press of the Cadillac luxury car inside which the dictator was mortally shot and achieves through the drawing of an off target rifle scope questions about up to what point was this death real. The artist seems to ask himself and others if traces of Trujillo’s harmful ideology still persist in the Dominican nation historically and in the present. His graphic contribution, realized with a woodcut technique on a car tire, feeds off the aesthetic codes of Pop Art, creating with his personal stamp an acute sense of a scathing and provoking critique directed at a specific target: the collective memory of immigrants.

          Yunior Chiqui Mendoza in his work 2 Cents has preferred to question and enable new readings and feelings in themes that historically have permeated relations between the Dominican Republic and the United States: control and economic power. For that purpose, as a representative mode he has used a playful resource that is apparently inoffensive: popular board games such as Monopoly and Bingo. Two screen prints representing the image of two coins from both nations with loose pieces on their surface, like game boards, reinforce the idea of “playing” under unequal conditions: an opponent with shining coffers filled with the resources of indebted countries versus another who ensures that benefits stay in the hands of a few. Mendoza uses color and shades as his protagonists for generating contrasting and suggestive images, highlighting each nation’s emblems: the palm on the centavo that circulated during the Trujillo Era, the chele de palmita, for the Dominican Republic and the figure of Abraham Lincoln on the North American cent. One bets on safe money and the other on chance.

          Each work in the Here & There exhibition splendidly illustrates at once the artistic formation, the personal identity and subjectivity of each creator. In the same manner it illustrates the diversity of forms of plastic expression chosen and the achieved mastery, whether in photography, illustration, installation, painting and collage, among others. At the same time very sensitive themes—such as hybridity, transculturation and rootlessness—of the globalized yet unequal scene of immigration are restated.

There is no doubt that through collective work the artists of the Dominican York Proyecto GRAFICA have achieved in this show a noteworthy formal and communicative richness. They have placed in a tense and brilliant dialogue all their living and aesthetic experiences, achieving a magnificent chorus in which each one declares her or his own poetics and autonomy.

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