In the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, the struggle to survive is real. Natural disasters, a failing economy, corrupt leadership, and the legacy of colonialism in the Caribbean are among forces that challenge sustainability and sovereignty. Outside investments in tourism have had the effect of disenfranchising locals and fragmenting the island’s creative community. San Juan born and based, curator Marina Reyes Franco has a lot to say on this subject. Her research, writing, and curating illuminate the powerful impact of the burgeoning visitor economy.
In 2019, three years after Hurricane Maria, we venture to Puerto Rico for the opening of Resisting Paradise, an exhibition Reyes Franco organized with the support of Apex Art, New York. Jamaica born artists Leasho Johnson and Deborah Anzinger, and artist Joiri Minaya, from the Dominican Republic, show work engaging at the intersection of tourism, sexuality, gender, music and the internet. We record this episode inside Espacio Pública, a newly established culture space, in San Juan’s Santurce district.
This segment of our Puerto Rico Rising series revolves around creative resistance to foreign fantasies of paradise. The conversation exposes a few of the complex histories and current conditions that inform contemporary art in Puerto Rico and the greater Caribbean.
Voices in the episode: Naima Rodriguez, Marina Reyes Franco, Leasho Johnson, and Joiri Minaya
Sound Editor: Anamnesis Audio | Feature Image: Joiri Minaya, Siboney
Related Episodes: Puerto Rico Rising—Radical Leaders, Puerto Rico Rising—Resilient Artists, The Awakening, Juan Botta Makes One-Minute Movies in Puerto Rico, Edra Soto on the Architecture of Connecting Communities, Mapping Caribbean Cultural Ecologies
Related Links: Resisting Paradise exhibition, Espacio Pública, Deborah Anzinger, Leasho Johnson, Joiri Minaya, apex art, Marina Reyes Franco, ATLAS SAN JUAN: TROPICAL DEPRESSION, Art in America, Oct 1, 2018.
Council on Foreign Relations, Puerto Rico: A U.S. Territory in Crisis, Updated Nov 2020
The Caribbean island, which shares a close yet fraught relationship with the rest of the United States, faces a multilayered economic and social crisis, rooted in long-standing policy and compounded by natural disasters, the coronavirus pandemic, migration, and government mismanagement.
Naomi Klein, The Battle for Paradise: Puerto Rico Takes on the Disaster Capitalists, 2018
In the rubble of Hurricane Maria, Puerto Ricans and ultrarich “Puertopians” are locked in a pitched struggle over how to remake the island. In this vital and startling investigation, bestselling author and activist Naomi Klein uncovers how the forces of shock politics and disaster capitalism seek to undermine the nation’s radical, resilient vision for a “just recovery.”
Angelique V. Nixon, Resisting Paradise: Tourism, Diaspora, and Sexuality in Caribbean Culture, 2015
Angelique V. Nixon interrogates the relationship between culture and sex within the production of “paradise” and investigates the ways in which Caribbean writers, artists, and activists respond to and powerfully resist this production. Forms of resistance include critiquing exploitation, challenging dominant historical narratives, exposing tourism’s influence on cultural and sexual identity in the Caribbean and its diaspora, and offering alternative models of tourism and travel.
Krista A. Thompson, An Eye for the Tropics: Tourism, Photography, and Framing the Caribbean Picturesque, 2007In this nuanced evaluation of the aesthetics of the “tropicalizing images” and their effects on Jamaica and the Bahamas, Krista Thompson describes how representations created to project an image to the outside world altered everyday life on the islands. Hoteliers imported tropical plants to make the islands look more like the images. Many prominent tourist-oriented spaces, including hotels and famous beaches, became off-limits to the islands’ black populations, who were encouraged to act like the disciplined, loyal colonial subjects depicted in the pictures.