Views From El Barrio: An online exhibition featuring the works of Elsie Deliz and Albert Justiniano

The Contemporary Art Modern Project is pleased to present Views From El Barrio, an exhibition featuring works by NYC Puerto Rican, or Nuyorican, artists Elsie Deliz and Albert Justiniano. Their works chronicle the expression of Puerto Rican culture in NYC specifically, a city that holds the largest population of Boricuas outside of the island itself.

The island of Puerto Rico, or “La Isla del Encanto”, and its people are products of a fusion of 3 distinct cultures: Indigenous Taino, Spanish, and African, resulting in cultural traditions that Puerto Ricans rightfully take pride in preserving.  The Contemporary Art Modern Project is pleased to present Views From El Barrio, an exhibition featuring works by NYC Puerto Rican, or Nuyorican, artists Elsie Deliz and Albert Justiniano. Their works chronicle the expression of Puerto Rican culture in NYC specifically, a city that holds the largest population of Boricuas outside of the island itself.

 

My great grandparents migrated to America from the island in the early 1900’s, and settled in NYC as young adults. This was a common journey made among people of the Caribbean at that time, and with them they brought their music, food, language and religion. Collectively, migrants began to paint the city with colors, sounds and smells that had, up until then, been foreign. Now, these very influences are not only welcome but ubiquitous. Artist Elsie Deliz, who was born in Isabela, Puerto Rico, and moved to NYC when she was nine, has a first hand understanding of what it means to carry her culture with her. In her work, En La Bodega and El Piraguero, the artist presents the viewer with watercolor collages that depict scenes that can be found both in New York and Puerto Rico, with just slight differences. The word bodega is decidedly a New York term, and though the corner stores New Yorkers have come to know and love do not exist in Puerto Rico, small marketplaces selling fresh produce, where neighbors are sure to run into each other, are definitely not unique to the city.  Piragua, however, a shaved ice dessert native to Puerto Rico, can be found being sold on street corners of NYC summers just as they would be sold year round in Puerto Rico. Deliz’s choice to depict “la bodega” and “el piraguero” alone, outside the context of an environment, is an appreciation of the adaptability of Puerto Rican culture; she is deifying the distinctly Puerto Rican features of NYC. 


Albert Justiniano, born and raised in New York City, creates work that engages the senses, honoring the ways in which first, second, third, etc generations of Puerto Ricans stay connected to their culture despite being separated from the island. Influenced by sounds coming from the first floor of a building on East 115th street in El Barrio, Justiniano created El Congero del Barrio. Congeros, or conga players, are musicians who contribute to the layered sounds that comprise Salsa music, a genre defined by the usage of Spanish guitars as well as the call-and-response format of traditional African music. The accompanying dance, also known as Salsa, was birthed in NYC during the mid 1960’s by Puerto Ricans and other Caribbean peoples in dance socials held in ballrooms and nightclubs, gatherings that still happen to this day. El congero is not just a musician, but a symbol of the lifeblood of Puerto Rican life in NYC. Similarly, in his work, Café, Justiniano paints a staple of Puerto Rican households in NYC: Café Bustelo. Just the sight of the iconic yellow packing with bold blue lettering conjures the scent of the rich coffee grounds, a smell that would fill a home in the morning, often accompanied by sounds of mothers, aunts, and grandmothers bochinchando, or gossiping, as they prepared breakfast for the family. 

 

In conversation with each other, Deliz and Justiniano allow viewers access to an all- encompassing experience of life in El Barrio. Translating to “the neighborhood”, El Barrio has become a home away from home for migrants who left their islands in pursuit of a better life.  Whether one claims Puerto Rican culture as their own, or have had the opportunity to witness and participate in it, its influence on NYC is undeniable. Most New Yorkers have bought coffee and a bagel from a bodega, or an icee from a street vendor in the summer, or heard salsa music blasting from someone’s speakers; Puerto Rican culture is integral to the character of the city. For this reason, it is with great affection that Views From El Barrio elevates the passion and resilience of Puerto Rican culture, channeled through two devoted Nuyorican artists, for a well deserved moment in the spotlight.

 

Statement and Curation by Brianna Luz Fernandez