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Two Centro Collections on View in Exhibit at El Museo Del Barrio

By Madonna Hernandez 

PLAYING WITH FIRE: Political Interventions, Dissident Acts, and Mischievous Actions is currently on display until January 3rd 2015 at El Museo del Barrio. Curated by Nicolás Dumit Estévez, the exhibition highlights the art work “that confronts the status quo with a wide range of disarming conceptual strategies and aesthetic detonators.” The exhibition includes original work from two Centro archival collections, those of filmmaker/photographer Carlos Ortiz and poet/performance artist Pedro Pietri.It serves as a chance to showcase Centro’s holdings in a museum setting, making these treasures available to a broad audience, increasing awareness of both the artists and Centro’s own repository.

Thematically, both artists’ works use art as a political act and, occasionally, an act of defiance. Dumit Estévez feels that this makes their works just as relevant today as they were during the times in which they were created. He believes that the art used in the exhibition can be inspirational for younger generations. “Both artists went against the grain. Their work is really needed now. It illustrates that one doesn’t have to conform. It also raises questions about the places we come from.”

Carlos Ortiz was a photographer from the South Bronx who was able to capture much of the social unrest and turmoil which existed during the 70s and 80s in the Bronx. His work chronicled his neighborhood, along Longwood Avenue, and attempted to capture its decay and steep decline into poverty as well as the resiliency of his neighbors in the face of such adversity. One image of his that Dumit Estévez used in the exhibit, of a young boy riding a big wheel bike with smoldering rubble and ash in the background, is among the favorite photos of the curator. It serves to represent a simultaneously literal and ironic play on the exhibit’s title. It also illustrates the ways in which Ortiz’s images are specific to the South Bronx but can serve to represent the struggle of many innocent, underserved populations who become victims of a system that is more often than not beyond their control. It forces the viewers to pose questions about what is happening on the “other side” and analyze the history that doesn’t make it into textbooks.

Pedro Pietri was a poet, playwright and performer. He remains a seminal figure in the history of the Puerto Rican poetry scene in New York. After being drafted into the Army during the Vietnam War, he affiliated himself with a radical Puerto Rican activist group known as the Young Lords and was known for his non-traditional, passionate and irreverent performances and artistic style. Pietri was a master of language and of performance art who used common words to evoke emotion. Often times his performances and the language used in them were intended to catch the attention of the audience and illicit emotions as they encountered it. One of the pieces included in the exhibit is an album-scrap book. This piece, Dumit Estévez feels, “compiles so many layers of who (Pietri) was and his vision of the world in which he was operating. It is humorous and irreverent, and also chronicles an important piece of New York City histories.”

The exhibit at El Museo del Barrio includes work from an array of artists from the New York art scene and beyond. According to the museum, this exhibit is meant to coincide with the founding of El Museo del Barrio during the 60s, which was a time of social unrest and radical activism in the United States as well as throughout the Americas.

For more information about this exhibit Click Here.

To learn more about the Centro Library and Archives Click Here.