Everything Living Fights Back: A timeline of PC’s cancellation of local artists’ exhibition

Plátano Ancestor Room by Shey ‘Ri Acu’ Rivera Ríos.

March 20 –

Providence College Provost Sean Reid and the Office of Mission and Ministry vetoes the group art exhibition Nothing Living Lives Alone, featuring the work of Shey ‘Ri Acu’ Rivera Ríos, Feda Eid, and Luana Morales, which was scheduled to run from March 27 to September 28.

April 3 –

Providence College faculty, staff, and city citizens release a letter of concern against the college’s decision to cancel the exhibition with a petition of signatures. As of reporting, there are 375 signatures on the letter. 


In it, they write: “We could write about the ways in which this artwork — singled out as “iconoclastic” by the Office of Mission and Ministry — is an example of Catholic faith in the Caribbean. That, rather than an example of iconoclasm as alleged, this was an artwork that testifies to the ways Catholic imagery is celebrated and circulates in Puerto Rico and the wider Caribbean.”

April 11 –

Carol Stakenas, director & chief curator of Providence College Galleries, releases an online statement addressing its cancellation of the art exhibition. The statement did not directly address the institution’s decision to cancel the exhibition, saying: “The exhibition emerged from a desire to honor and cultivate interconnection and reciprocity. Now, manifesting this commitment means attending to the direct impact of this decision and its effects on our campus and in the Providence art community.”

April 22 –

Providence College president Father Kenneth Sicard notifies the campus community of Provost Sean Reid’s resignation. Reid did not step away immediately, staying on for a transitional period through at least the end of the academic year.

April 25 –

AS220’s co-executive director Anjel Newmann writes a statement of support for the canceled exhibition and the artists, on behalf of the AS220 leadership team, staff, and board of directors. The letter condemns the decision as “unjust, insensitive, and culturally insensitive to Black, Brown, and Queer people,” while embracing “the deep and thoughtful action taken by Providence College faculty, students, and staff who disagree with this decision as well.”

Return to the Womb of my Mother, video still, Morales.

April 30 –

A statement of support from Dirt Palace is posted to Instagram, stating: “As many of you also know, over the past 4 years the Dirt Palace has had a collaborative relationship with Providence College Galleries in administering the Interlace Grant Fund. While the decision to cancel Shey’s show came from higher-ups and not our direct collaborators, we have determined that it is neither in the best interest of our community, nor does it align with our values to continue this relationship. We have been working over the past weeks to formally end this collaboration and are grateful to our partners who have supported this decision.” 

The statement also indicates that Rivera Ríos, Eid, and Morales are planning “to mount a reconsidered iteration of Nothing Living Lives Alone at Aunty’s House.” Aunty’s House is a community arts studio founded by artist, arts educator, and scholar Lilly Manycolors.

May 5 –

Steven Maurano, associate vice president of public affairs, government, and community relations at PC, responds to Motif’s request for comment, saying: “To my knowledge (and I have been working at the College for almost thirteen years), this is the first time the College has ever prevented a proposed art exhibition from moving forward.

Prayers to Nana Buruku, 2017, Rivera Ríos.

As our Provost explained in communication to faculty, while the artist is accomplished and has a broad portfolio of work, one of their pieces is a manipulated image of Jesus and the Virgin Mary. That particular image, while not scheduled to be a part of the Providence College Galleries (PCG) exhibit, was deemed to be hurtful and offensive to many of the Catholic faith, including those who find it sacrilegious. (Providence College is a Catholic institution of higher education that is operated by Dominican Fathers.) In the Provost’s judgment, the College had the right and obligation not to sponsor and house the work of an artist at PCG who could reasonably be understood to be expressing contempt for that faith and its sacred imagery. The Administration would have had the same reaction to the desecration of sacred icons of any other faith, or the denigration of any other ethnic or affinity group.” 

When asked to clarify which prior work was of concern in the decision to cancel the exhibition, Maurano replied, “My understanding is that it is titled ‘Prayers to Nana Buruku altar,’” which was included in Rivera Ríos’ 2017 immersive installation Fantasy Island at AS220. The show was profiled in an online review by Hyperallergic author Jasmine Dreame Wagner, including this photo of the art piece by Lesean Thomas.

I spoke with Rivera Ríos to discuss the cancellation of their exhibition. They let me know that PC alerted them to the decision to cancel the exhibition two weeks before it was to open. Additionally, according to the artist, they were not clued into the conversations being had by college faculty leading up to the decision about the artwork of concern, which was a prior work. 

Rivera Ríos describes their work that was to be shown in the canceled exhibition as a video of plantain flowers and the artist’s family home in Puerto Rico. 

Many within the community have condemned the college’s decision to cancel the exhibition, including Dirt Palace, as mentioned previously. Rivera Ríos and their collaborators Eid and Morales, will be artists in residence at Wedding Cake House this month to recuperate from this experience and work on reconfiguring the exhibition ahead of its display at Aunty’s House, which is set to open on May 31 and run through June 16. The new show is titled Everything Living Fights Back. In a press release shared by the artist, they share that “the exhibit will talk about the resilience and cultural power of people who come from lineages impacted by colonization, specifically Rivera and Morales as Boricua people with mixed Afro and Indigenous lineages, and Eid as a Lebanese American artist.”

Rivera shares: “My goals with this are the following: 1) to share my experience with our arts community so that folks know what’s up and can make their own decision on whether PC is a safe space for them to partner with; 2) to challenge and push higher the standards of care that institutions must bring forth when working with local artists and communities; and, 3) to demonstrate that actions like these have actual impacts and consequences, that our arts community responds back, and that we have power and agency in how and with whom we build relationships.”

They reflect: “The role of the artist is to show truth. I’m very committed to this.”

To support the artists in showing a new version of their art exhibition, visit For more info, visit @studio.loba on IG and

Everything Living Fights Back opens Friday, May 31 at Aunty’s House, 25 Acorn St, PVD.