“I got my hat turned backwards because the sun don’t shine here,
loose jeans to fit all this baggage that I carry,
Strong Arms from all baggage that I buried.
Shackle-free, I turn tragedy to triumph,
I’m thankful for struggles in life and being free to make art about them. ”
I am a potter, activist, culture-maker, rapper, poet, and educator. All of these roles that “I am” are rooted in my childhood. Having had no formal music or art education as a child, I often practiced table drumming and writing hip-hop lyrics (seen above), as it was customary to “battle rap” during lunch times. Instead of art class, I drew in my composition book, and marked every wall that I could. “Graffiti” was a way to get my name into the community, to attain a local fame that satisfied my desire for an accessible past time.
I am from the ghetto; self-referentially I am a ghetto potter. The word ghetto can be seen as a negative but I equate “ghetto” with the word “resourceful.” My father would convert washing machine engines and tin can lids into shredders. These were fused into large food processors that could make large amount of a base used to make Puerto Rican food. This food was sold and the money sent to indigent communities of the Dominican Republic. This transformative act of turning trash into treasure has driven me to be the artist I am today.
Although my history is filled with adversity, racism and sheer bad luck; I celebrate these moments in my work, I could not make art without the experiences they have offered to me. The act of making pots is a similar process of transforming the ground we walk on into something we eat from; we prize; we search all day for the perfect spot to put it on display. In many ways this relationship from tragedy to triumph is a metaphor for my life’s story.
My life’s story takes shape in the form of teapots, poetry, murals, rap, artist talks, and sheer acts of activism. I teach communities to make mosaic murals that pay homage to those killed in their neighborhood streets; promoting equality by exhibiting the same respect for the lost people of the ghetto in the same way Christian saints were paid tribute in renaissance Italy. It takes courage to talk about what happens behinds closed doors. When I speak of my experience, someone might say, “I didn’t know anyone else went through that or felt that way too”.
Today my graffiti is defacing adversity. I am a composite of my experiences; on the wheel in my studio you will find a variation of a Woody Guthrie quotation, “This Machine kills Hate”, There I play hip-hop music, burn sticks of Indian incense, sip Puerto Rican Malta, and thumb through books on historic Royal porcelain. My experiences as a poor, brown kid from the ghetto are my 22 years of research which inform my version of Puerto Rican American history. With my education in critical theory, art education, art history, and studio art I have developed a studio practice that fluidly communicates with diverse audiences. I bring art to those that don’t believe they need it to see it and engage in deeper ways of knowing, learning and thinking.