Sheyla (Shey) Rivera Rios was born in Puerto Rico. Leaving her homeland some seven years ago, she landed in Providence at the advice of a mentor. With a new role as artistic director at AS220, her creative passion is as deep as her Caribbean roots. Bienvenido!
Fantasy island is a combination of works by Shey Rivera and Huascar Robles. Working separately on the political awareness of Puerto Rico’s economic and social oppression, the performance is a powerful homage to the outlook that exists in this Commonwealth. The performance/installation exhibit runs through the month of June at AS220 Project Space on Mathewson Street, Providence.
The gallery space is well fit for confinement with an urban oasis twist. With stark white walls and linear lines, it is almost as if the people of PR are being backed into a corner. The space houses black and white digital photos, a neon sign, an altar and digital art. What is it all about? The truth. The truth about Puerto Rico, generations of family, its lush failing land, its incredible history and the harshness of reality. With Huascar’s opening dialog, he is the well-dressed business man behind a contemporary glass desk, perhaps a visual of the fragility of the island. His crisp attire would appeal to the masses of financiers, creating an unrealistic view of tourism, urbanism and the social structure. He pontificates on decades of politics from the fountain of wealth, a vault of history and the economic crisis. Debt and more debt. Puerto Rico is not for sale. I am alarmed by the stages of ups and downs PR has endured and even more alarmed of the neglect of the Commonwealth. With a roaming eye, I seek out meaning for the other pieces hanging in the gallery that add to the performance installation. With Shey’s emotional voice, she clearly embraces her heritage with metaphors “This is a funeral”… “Tell me where are you from, did you get here on purpose, where are you headed, what are your dreams made of, mine taste like rain…”.
With social disparity of what is currently happening on the island and a dire situation for families, most people are totally disconnected from the reality they are facing in PR. Shey’s media art of real estate luxury spins off the internet culture, again, showing the lack of realism in society. The large altar of virgin and child is a reminder of the depiction of the influx of slaves that intermixed with the native community that makes the PR race today. The written gold graffiti of Nana Buruku displays for the people her spirit of the earth and moon. They hide their beliefs of their West African root, as this is how they grew up. The installation is about creating awareness of what is going on today.
Puerto Rico is in debt, big time debt. How much you ask? $72 billion. How did this happen? Here’s a quick history lesson:
- Puerto Rico has been borrowing money (for years) by issuing municipal bonds.
- Puerto Rico can’t afford what it currently owes.
- The sales tax has increased, schools are closing and there are budget cuts for hospitals.
- The marketing of PR as a tourist attraction is covering up the bigger picture.