Between Islands

Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico

Guest curated by Natalia Viera Salgado, Assistant Curator at Americas Society, New York

This exhibition highlights the historical, colonial, and cultural relationships between islands in the Caribbean, with works from the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico (MAC) Permanent Collection. Between Islands explores tensions, crisis, migrations, resistance, and forces that connect these experiences in the Caribbean archipelago.

Empty Island (1987) by Arnaldo Roche RabellMuseo de Arte Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico

Introduction by Natalia Viera Salgado [Eng]

Through works in the MAC Permanent Collection by Arnaldo Roche, Jonathan Torres, Joscelyn Gardner, Luis Alonso, Wilfredo Chiesa, Yolanda Fundora, Daniel Lind Ramos, and Silvano Lora, Entre Islas highlights how tropical islands, specially in the Caribbean share histories of colonialism, migration and exploitation. While Islands are often referred to as tropical paradises, sanctuary spaces and places to which to escape, they are also territories targeted and affected by their socio-political conditions, extractivist capitalism, and extreme development for tourism.

Natalia Viera Salgado on Isla Vacía by Arnaldo Roche [Eng]

Arnaldo Roche is one of the most important Puerto Rican painters of the 20th century. He explored figurative expressionism and, throughout his career, demonstrated an interest in collective identities, but also personal experiences, inviting us to question our social environment by referencing moments of conflict or crisis in Puerto Rico. In Isla vacía [Empty Island], Roche painted a version of a vanitas featuring a cow skull amongst an empty dinner table full of plates and utensils, presenting us with a chaotic situation in the work’s foreground.

An empty table, an empty house, perhaps an abandoned city—an Empty Island. In the painting’s background, we can identify a view of the Condado area of San Juan, which appears to be an uninhabited city. In this work Roche presents us a present reality and an apocalyptic future. These two ideas merge while telling the story of an island that is threatened day by day by developers for tourism and investment, but on the other hand, is also an island that is increasingly becoming empty. This painting talks also about migration by presenting us the exodus of an island that is currently in its worst crisis.

Natural Boy Paradise (2011) by Jonathan TorresMuseo de Arte Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico

Natalia Viera Salgado on Natural Boy Paradise by Jonathan Torres [Eng]

Ideas around crisis and anxiety, addressed in different ways, have been some of the recurring themes throughout the work of the painter and sculptor Jonathan Torres. Natural Boy Paradise focuses on themes of survival, decadence, beauty, attraction, and repulsion. His work also shows themes of chaos and tropical decadence. The painting presents us a warrior boy trying to survive in the wilderness and waiting to be devoured. Torres' works oftentimes are inhabited by creatures and monsters that represent human internal conflicts with a sense of intense anxiety and raw and inescapable feelings.

For the artist, there is more to this island beyond palm trees, the colors and the stereotypes of the Caribbean tropics by the western gaze. He illustrates the reality and the burden of everyday life and the frustration and decay of inhabiting this landscape.

This work was produced shortly after the artist moved from the Dominican Republic back to Puerto Rico. It was also the first work in which the artist incorporated the landscape as the main character by displacing the subjects from the central focus.

Estandarte (1980) by Luis AlonsoMuseo de Arte Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico

Natalia Viera Salgado on Estandarte by Luis Alonso [Eng]

Like many artists of his generation, printmaker, graphic designer and painter Luis Alonso was interested in political issues explicitly in favor of pro-independence movements in Puerto Rico. Estandarte [Banner] is a woodcut by Luis Alonso that shows the silhouette of a person's shouting head emerging or being sunk into the ground. Below it, a sign that reads "Un Vieques nada más, color de grito J.A.C.”, a quote by poet Juan Antonio Corretjer that references Vieques, an island municipality in Puerto Rico, and a 'grito', or cry for independence.

For 60 years, the island of Vieques was used by the U.S. Navy as a weapons training range. During 1978 and 1979, there was a strong campaign in opposition to the US military presence and occupation of the island. Vieques fishermen and members of the organization Crusade to Rescue Vieques regularly interrupted naval maneuvers with their small fishing boats. A key incident that caused a turning point in the struggle to demilitarize Vieques was the death of David Sanes in 1999. Sanes was a Vieques native and a civilian employee of the U.S. Navy working as a security guard at the Atlantic Fleet Weapons Training facility. He was killed when bombs were dropped next to where he was working.

The years 1999 through 2003 saw an increase in activism, civil disobedience and popular support to oust the Navy from the island. This was transformative, not only for Vieques, but the entire island of Puerto Rico. Vieques also represents the duality of the coexistence of a toxic landscape, along with the imaginary of a tropical paradise.

Creole Portraits II A Collection of Singular & Scarce Creole Portrait Heads to Perpetuate the Memory of the WOMEN of EGYPT ESTATE in JAMAICA Creole Portraits II A Collection of Singular & Scarce Creole Portrait Heads to Perpetuate the Memory of the WOMEN of EGYPT ESTATE in JAMAICA (2007) by Joscelyn GardnerMuseo de Arte Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico

Natalia Viera Salgado on Creole Portraits II by Joscelyn Gardner [Eng]

In Creole Portraits II, Caribbean/Canadian artist Joscelyn Gardner is interested in colonial histories and their representation. Looking specifically into colonial material culture found in British Caribbean archives, Gardner works mostly with printmaking and multimedia installation.

In this piece, each drawing illustrates enslaved women wearing tools of torture entwined with their beautifully braided hair. Some of these tools were iron collars, bridles, shackles, and ‘man-trap’. These lithographs explore the history of women who lived on Egypt Estate, Jamaica in the 1700s.

Tales about a Murdered Landscape Tales about a Murdered Landscape (1976) by Wilfredo ChiesaMuseo de Arte Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico

Natalia Viera Salgado on Relatos de un paisaje asesinado by Wilfredo Chiesa [Eng]

In Relatos de un paisaje asesinado [Tales of a Murdered Landscape], Wilfredo Chiesa created a graphic representation of a musical score with the same title composed by Rafael Aponte Ledée in 1976. This section of the score was performed by Nelson Rivera Rosario and Luis Hernández Megall (on two pianos), along with Fermín Segarra (cello). Aponte-Ledée was a pioneer of the new music movements of the 1960s. The same year he composed this piece, he co-founded the Fluxus group of Puerto Rico (1967) with Francis Schwartz. The work also includes poems by Tomás López Ramírez which reflect on the fragility of a landscape.

During the 1960-1970’s there was an increased interest in environmental justice movements starting with anticolonial and anti imperialist mobilizations led by activists, some directly connected with the pro independence movement, which later joined environmental justice causes.

Reports Confirmed 1/5 (2003) by Yolanda V. FundoraMuseo de Arte Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico

Natalia Viera Salgado on Reportes confirmados by Yolanda Fundora [Eng]

Reports Confirmed consist of five digital prints displayed as souvenir-like collector’s stamps by Cuban artist Yolanda Fundora. The works depicts headlines in Cuban or American newspapers with “reports” of absurd or unnatural events. The iconography in

Reports Confirmed 5/5 (2003) by Yolanda V. FundoraMuseo de Arte Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico

The first piece shows rockets with medicine supplies leaving a military base, the second commemorates the signing of a treaty for the propagation of the papaya fruit, the third a celebration of la Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre to save a pineapple harvest, the fourth reports a UFO flying over the island and the fifth, an announcement that cigarette smoke is beneficial or good for your health. In her work, Fundora plays with reality and apocalyptic scenarios.

Spirit of the Court Spirit of the Court (1996) by Daniel Lind RamosMuseo de Arte Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico

Natalia Viera Salgado on El espíritu del corte by Daniel Lind Ramos [Eng]

Daniel Lind Ramos’s thoughtful work offers multiple readings and it is full of references and details. With his work, he is interested in connecting histories by talking about the place he grew up in, Loiza, a historically black town in Puerto Rico. Interested in history, community struggles and the Afro Caribbean experience, his work explores this specific culture, its festivals and its peoples. El espíritu del corte [The Spirit of the Cut] exposes the links between Loiza and the African diaspora and the Antilles through carnival characters.

Most of Lind’s sculptural works honors construction workers, cooks, musicians, and people who work with agriculture.

By presenting these tools, most of them found or recollected from his neighborhood on the beach, he references symbols from Afro-Caribbean religions and traditions.

Frugal Dinner (1993) by Silvano LoraMuseo de Arte Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico

Natalia Viera Salgado on Cena frugal by Silvano Lora [Eng]

Dominican painter, sculptor and performer, Silvano Lora was an artist devoted to social activism and 'non-conformist' style, exemplified by his very vocal opposition to the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic. For him, it was important that art could reach the masses and was a believer that it should be accessible to everyone. Lora was a promoter of projects such as the Marginal Biennial or the Alternative Biennial, an event which gave a platform to facilitate a cultural exchange and visibility with marginalized sectors and less privileged artists.

Hunger was an important theme in his practice. His work, influenced by movements such as Neorealism, is a reflection of his social concerns for the human condition of the marginalized communities. Lora was influenced by arte povera and Neo Realist art. Most of his works are constructed with found objects or materials such as sand, soil, sawdust, plastic, wood etc. Cena frugal [Frugal Dinner], like many of his works, makes reference to the social inequalities from his native country and the need to be prudent with spending.

Natalia Viera Salgado says goodbye [Eng]

By connecting some of these artworks and their themes, this exhibition highlights the experience of living among islands, specifically in a Caribbean context. Entre Islas offers an opportunity to think about how these dynamics, systems, and power structures play an essential role in the Caribbean scenario. The complicated reality in relation to the violence of the colonial project forces us to rethink the following questions: Where are we situated in the context of the Caribbean and how can we relate? Who is this space for? How does the landscape respond? What does it look like? How does it feel?

Credits: Story


Rubén Méndez Benabe, President
Rafael Flores Pérez, Vice President
José Negrón, Treasurer
María Awilda Quintana-Román, Secretary
Salvador Alemañy
Antonio García
Pedro Muñoz Marín
Enid Picó
Letty Rivero Iturregui
Rachid Molinari
Luis Fernando Rodríguez
Dra. María Elba Torres

Marianne Ramírez Aponte, Executive Director and Chief Curator

Evita Busa, Deputy Director

Wanda Michelle Dilán, Administrator

Marina Reyes Franco, Curator

Mariela Collazo Heredia, Registrar

Raquel Torres Arzola and Joudy Santaliz, Education Coordinators

Karin Cardona, Head Archivist

Windy Cosme, Projects manager, MAC en el Barrio

Welmo Romero and Donald Escudero, Coordinators, MAC en el Barrio

Carolina Cortés and Brenna Quigley, Development Coordinators

Dalila Rodríguez Saavedra, Communications Coordinators

Melinda Llompart and Alexnel Suárez, Administrative Assistants


Natalia Viera Salgado, Guest Curator
MAC Permanent Collection photography by Antonio Ramírez Aponte

Online exhibitions are organized by Marina Reyes Franco, MAC Curator

Our special thanks to the sponsors of this project:
Fundación Ángel Ramos
Fondo Flamboyán para las Artes

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
Fondo Flamboyán para las Artes
Gobierno de Puerto Rico
Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña
Comisión Especial Conjunta de Fondos Legislativos para Impacto Comunitario
Ford Foundation
Filantropía PR
Fundación Ángel Ramos
Banco Popular de Puerto Rico
The National Endowment for the Arts
The Boston Foundation
Hispanic Federation
Titín Foundation
Miranda Foundation

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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