In two weeks (!!!!) , I’m going to Puerto Rico to support my colleagues from AgitArte, a political puppetry troupe who I have been collaborating with in various ways for 6 years--including working together on both People’s Climate Marches, being interviewed for their book, and sending my artwork on tour with them across the country.
This time around, we're making a new project inspired by One Question Unity Scroll, which is a I made in 2012 and have been performing periodically every since. Agitarte saw me perform this piece when they hosted me in Puerto Rico a few years ago (as part of a conference they ran to strategize around When We Fight We Win, the book they co-wrote!! They’re so prolific!) More than a year ago, I started talking with Agitarte’s creative director Jorge Diaz about what another version of this scroll could look like, one that contextualized the climate crisis as part of a larger crisis of power, and that articulated the facts and the feelings of US colonial empire. We decided that we could best achieve all of this by focusing on the story of Puerto Rico, as we both believe that story of this one place holds within it all the biggest questions of our time about power, justice, and liberation.
After the storm, I assumed this project would be cancelled or delayed...but soon after phone service was restored, Jorge called me up to say he thought it was more important than ever to continue--as the hurricane and its aftermath were actively compounding many of the deep injustices Puerto Rico already faced. He saw immediately that there was a critical role for this project, as the people on the island face newly dire conditions and the gaze of the US public turned slowly back away from this long-standing crisis of our own making. Now, amidst an extremely grim political climate, we see a glimmer of an opportunity to incubate long-term change in Puerto Rico by developing ways that it’s full story can be shared. We’re thinking about this project not just as art-makers but as cultural organizers, because we see the ways it could bolster and strengthen social movements on the island, in the diaspora, amidst allies, in parallel decolonial struggles, and in other “natural” disaster zones.
This project has grown into something wildly ambitious and politically nuanced. We’ve recruited a core team of truly amazing artists, historians, and documentarians from both the US and Puerto Rico--Crystal Clarity, Emily Simmons, Dey Hernadez, Estefania Rivera, Jorge Diaz, Osvaldo Budet, Saulo Colon and myself. We’ve had weekly group political education calls all fall, as well as two work retreats in NYC. Our plan is to illustrate how the devastation of Hurricane Maria is directly tied to long stories of exploitation, corruption, environmental destruction, military and medical testing, control and neglect towards Puerto Rico on the part of the USA. We’ll feature the many ways Puerto Ricans are rehabilitating their communities after the storm, and disproving the generations-old myth that the people of the island are incapable of self-governance. We'll make 5-10 original copies of the scroll, some of which will stay in Puerto Rico to be shared via the network of mutual aid kitchens around the island that Agitarte helps support, and other of which will travel back to the US, to use as a tool to build solidarity and support for Puerto Rico stateside (be in touch if you’d like to host the scroll down the line!!)
I’ll be honest, I’ve had my moments of doubt about whether it’s worth the air miles for me to go travel to Puerto Rico to do this work. I believe my dear friends in Agitarte when they say that my presence as a visitor, artist, and friend is deeply wanted--but I understand it is as my place to be as generous as I can in return;.generous with my attention, skills, and passions, as well as generous with the material offerings I bring with me.. As I I visit this place of limited resources, I aim to leave behind more than I use up (as if you can ever measure such a thing!)
I wanted to invite you to join me in supporting Agitarte on the occasion of my trip. Here are three ways!
1) DONATE DIRECTLY TO AGITARTE! Agitate just completed a fundraiser that will support their ongoing cultural and relief work in Puerto Rico, and this is still the best way to support them!
2) BUY SUPPLIES TO SEND TO CASA TALLER: Here is an Amazon Wish List for Casa Taller--the house where we will be working. Some of these gifts will be used by our team and then left behind (to, for example, charge our own cell phones off-grid...since the power is back on but limited). Others will be distributed directly to neighbors.
3) DONATE FOR FOOD AND MEDICINE: If you'd rather, you can also send cash directly to my business paypal account. I will use whatever money is in that account by January 11th to purchase a stash of things to bring with me on the plane for the folks who are there: preserved foods, and a few fresh vegetables, medicine, herbal remedies--things my hosts say are prohibitively expensive or hard to come by.
I want to reiterate that I post this because I want to share the opportunity to be directly generous-- I am thrilled for you just to be reading as I head out on my journey, and I can't wait to share this with all of you when I return in February.