From April 16 to May 16, 2021, in commemoration of Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos’ April 21, 1965 transition back into the ancestral realm, Remembering Don Pedro presents a virtual exhibition by artist Yasmín Hernández. Connected to this virtual exhibition are a series of events, some of which will be facilitated by Lolita Productions, including an in-person event in Chicago on the closing day of the exhibition.
As Yasmín writes on her website, for over 25 years she has been “combining art, writing, spirituality and activism to promote, advance and expand personal and collective liberation strategies.” Her first artwork honoring the hometown hero of her Ponce-born parents, Pedro Albizu Campos, was in 1994 when she was 18 years old. Since then, she has painted Don Pedro over a dozen times and created numerous works on paper celebrating his image, life, and legacy.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Yasmín felt called to do this work, and in 2014 she heard a greater call to rematriate to the birthplace of her parents, Borikén, the largest island in the archipelago called Puerto Rico.
This survey of Albizu artworks from 1994 to 2020 traces her journey from New York City to Ithaca, Philadelphia, and back to Borikén.
PEDRO ALBIZU CAMPOS, 1994
Silkscreen on Paper, 14″ x 8″
Arriving at Cornell University from East New York, Brooklyn, I created this silkscreen in a printmaking class at eighteen-years-old. Created in the black and white of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party, it was inspired by an account of Albizu taking all small US flags off a podium and stuffing them into his pocket before addressing a crowd. He elevated our outlawed flag with love and respect. Back then, I had read the story in Ronald Fernandez’ book, Prisoners of Colonialism, that guided us into this hidden history. Today that book would be Nelson Denis’ War Against All Puerto Ricans.
Mixed media on canvas, 48″ x 32″
This is one of several pieces on unstretched canvas with grommets like actual flags. The Indigenous figure and fetus reference the mass sterilization of Puerto Rican women. Albizu and the crowd of striking laborers are juxtaposed with collaged images of The Latin Kings. While I was self-educating on our subversive history at Cornell, my cousin and uncle were doing the same in prison, with The Latin Kings and Ñetas. This work honors our various paths towards decolonizing and denounces statehood as a detriment to that process.
PROCLAIM YOUR EMANCIPATION, 1997
Oils, copper pigment, pennies on canvas, 42″ x 48″
A play on Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, I replaced his image on the penny with that of Don Pedro. The painted penny reads: “In God They Trust,” “Libertad” and “1998,” marking the centennial of the US invasion of Puerto Rico–July 25, 1898. Fellow students donated pennies for this copper and black Puerto Rican flag, like a canvas wishing well for liberation.
FOLLOW THE LEADER, 1998
Oil on canvas, 30″ x 24″
Living and working in Philadelphia during the centennial, I contemplated the invasion of my nation among sites like the Liberty Bell–altars erected to the colonizer’s independence. The title takes me back to Rakim’s “Follow the Leader.” (Remember, you’re not a slave/ ‘Cause we were put here to be much more than that/ But we couldn’t see because our mind was trapped.) I returned to NYC in 1999 at the heart of the movements for Vieques and the ex-carceration of the political prisoners.
RAISING REVOLUTION, 2004
Mixed media on canvas, 48″ x 30″
Painting with red, black and green, I anchored Puerto Rico to the greater black liberation struggle, and our freedom fighters to Yoruba warrior orishas Eshu and Ogun. Don Pedro, in his First Lieutenant US Army uniform, is painted over a collage of liberationists and those who subverted the colonizer’s institutions to advance the struggle. Puerto Ricans were strategically made US citizens in 1917 when the US entered WWI. His time with the US Army and Harvard University unveiled US racism, segregation, imperialism, and exposed him to the Indian and Irish liberation struggles that would inspire his own.
RHYMES FOR TREASON, 2005
Acrylic and Collage on Watercolor Paper, 10” x 10”
Founded by fellow Cornell alumni Ray Ramirez and Hector Rivera, The Welfare Poets commissioned this image for their second album, Rhymes for Treason. Treason, or Seditious Conspiracy, is what Albizu was charged with in 1936 and so many other political prisoners since. We assert freedom of speech, denouncing 1948’s Law 53/ Gag Law that outlawed any expression favoring our liberation.
ALBIZU ELEVAO, 2006
Acrylic on Burlap, 72″ x 39 1/2″
“Ay, cómo lo escupieron/ Cómo lo empujaron/ Cómo lo llevaron a crucificar” – Héctor Lavoe (El Todopoderoso)
In 2006 I began painting earth tones on burlap symbolizing jíbarxs, the land, and orisha of the sick and poor, Babalú Aye. This image of Albizu in Christ-like crucifixion denounces US government radiation experiments conducted on his and so many other Boricua, Japanese, and US bodies. Secretly administered as light waves in his cell, Albizu suffered burns, lesions, and seizures, eventually dying from cancer on April 21, 1965. The light in the painting represents radiation, celestial light and martyrdom.
CARPETA: DON PEDRO, 2007
Mixed media on canvas, 24″ x 18″
In 2007 I created the ARCHIVOS SUBVERSIVOS series featuring portraits of Puerto Rican liberation “subversives.” Researching in the archives of The Center for Puerto Rican Studies, Hunter College (CUNY), in Don Pedro’s carpeta (government surveillance file) I found more documentation on the radiation torture. Collaged in this painting is a letter written by Ruth Reynold’s organization, American League for Puerto Rico’s Independence, to Albert Einstein petitioning his investigation of the radiation torture of Don Pedro.
Mixed media on paper, 27″ x 32″
This work was created for a Black History Month exhibition at the Harlem School of the Arts. Malcolm X/ El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz was killed on February 21, 1965. Exactly two months later, Pedro Albizu Campos died. Created as part of the ARCHIVOS SUBVERSIVOS series, this work juxtaposes two leaders followed and feared by the US government for their incredible influence on their people, two colonized peoples fighting for liberation: African Americans and Puerto Ricans. The painted images are inspired by the photos of Malik El-Shabazz’ body and Pedro Albizu Campos’ death mask cast in bronze.
NÉBULA ALBIZU, 2015
Acrylic on black velour fabric, 18″ x 24″
I painted this portrait for Casa Albizu’s exhibition commemorating 50 years since Albizu’s transition. Channeling my family’s espiritismo tradition, I envision the spirits of Boricua freedom fighters as nebulas. Painted in our flag’s colors, red and blue are also the colors of hydrogen and oxygen as reflected by the light of stars, the elements of Earth’s water, of our bodies. Born from the bioluminescent bay in Vieques whose dinoflagellates mirror the cosmos, this was my first art series after my 2014 rematriation to Borikén.
LA TRANSMUTACIÓN DEL ALMA, 2016
Digital Montage on Paper, 22″ x 34″
Created for another Casa Albizu exhibition commemorating 1936 as a pivotal year for the PR Nationalist Party, this work is inspired by two letters in Marisa Rosado’s comprehensive biography, Las Llamas del Aurora. Written to his daughters from La Princesa Prison in 1936, Albizu asks, “What mystery does water hold that God would choose it as the element for the transmutation of the soul?” The collage is a tribute to Albizu, his phenomenal Peruvian/ fellow Harvard alum/ scientist partner Laura Meneses, and their children.
DIGNITY AND DISSENT, 2017
Acrylic on canvas, 12″ x 12″
This piece was created for Defend Puerto Rico’s CitiCien exhibition commemorating the centennial of the 1917 Jones Act that imposed US citizenship on Puerto Ricans. All art was requested in black and white. As these are the colors of Don Pedro’s Nationalist Party, I included their symbol. Albizu is painted in his US Army uniform, marking the main motive behind the imposed citizenship–to use Boricua bodies as cannon fodder in US wars. Also appearing is Albizu and his raised fist fighting for liberation from that same empire. The Albizu quote speaks to Puerto Rico as a nation with the international right to determine its own destiny.
EL OJO DEL HURACÁN, 2020
Acrylic on Black fabric, approx. 5′ x 8′
“Yo Salí del ojo del Huracán” – Siete Nueve (Oldest Colonia)
“Yo vengo de la Tierra, Yo vengo del Huracán” – Albizu
Created for El Comité Natalicio Albizu Campos’ annual event at his birthplace of Tenerías, Ponce, my Albizu nebula image is repurposed within these two quotes. Superimposed are two Indigenous symbols, concentric circles to represent seismic waves, and interlocking spirals representing hurricane winds. Albizu’s life and work was marked by the impact of destructive hurricanes San Ciriaco of 1899 (category 4) and San Felipe of 1928 (category 5), and the 7.2 earthquake of 1918.
Yasmín On Painting Don Pedro
I was so proud of that first 1994 silkscreen. It connected me to the faraway homeland of my parents and ancestors. When my Tía visited New York from Puerto Rico that summer, I pulled out one of the prints. Her response was not the same as my father’s.
My father would speak to me of our hidden history and his heroes, especially Don Pedro, in car rides home whenever he picked me up from LaGuardia High School. When she saw my silkscreen, my Tia’s smile turned into a frown. Shaking her head, she said in a low, stern voice, “Él fue un hombre muy malo.”
So many things died in me at that moment. The connection I was able to make to Borikén severed with a few words, and the excitement to celebrate my ancestors halted. Shocked by the disarmament that comes with such lies, especially from our own kind, I realized there was no celebration. This was a war: The Gag Law of 1948 (La Mordaza) still manifesting cross-charco in our 1994 Brooklyn sala.
They had radiated Don Pedro to the point of cancer. My brother, before succumbing to cancer years later, was treated at the same institution that cancer injector, Puerto Rican genocide orchestrator, Dr. Cornelius Rhoads had founded. They buried Don Pedro and tried to bury his genius with him. I was determined to exhume it and paint it over and over, poniendo mi granito de arena to bury the lies and lift the legacy.
My espiritista family had long spoken with our ancestors. This was a different kind of channeling, focused on the teachings of our tortured freedom fighters. I would raise them, paint them, share them, starting with Don Pedro.
Reflection And Further Reading From Remembering Don Pedro
Working with Yasmín to create this virtual exhibition, and the handful of events associated with it, was an enriching experience. Many times our work meetings veered off topic as we spent time just geeking out on Don Pedro and our work/research related to him, sharing stories, feelings, and more. We also spent the necessary time checking in with each other, seeing how each other was doing, discussing parenting during a pandemic, and giving each other props for choosing to take up this work in the middle of it all.
When Yasmín approached me with the idea of collaborating on a virtual exhibition to commemorate the anniversary of his physical death, I quickly said, “Yes!” What I didn’t know was what our conversations would eventually produce in terms of the above exhibition and the events. Then, at some point in the process, I was contacted by Lolita Productions in Chicago to discuss the possibility of collaborating around my work with Don Pedro. Conscious of the moment, seizing the amazing opportunity to combine the efforts of Boricuas living in Puerto Rico, New York, and Chicago, the three of us (the four of us, technically) met virtually to discuss our collaboration, and here we are!
All of us associated with this virtual exhibition believe strongly in the educational aspect of our work. I created this website, Yasmín paints and writes about suppressed narratives and histories, and Lolita Productions, especially through their recent project The Bodega Academy, curates spaces so that people can engage with and learn from artists and educators. That said, I leave you with a list of posts from this website that are related to themes and topics raised in Yasmín’s artwork.
- Nationalist Party Activism — This post details the work of Don Pedro before becoming Nationalist Party President, including an event where he removed U.S. flags from the stage before delivering a speech.
- Leading A Principled Movement — This post details Don Pedro’s involvement in the 1930s labor and student strikes that made him a target of U.S. and colonial government plots to assassinate/imprison him.
- R.O.T.C. Training At Harvard & Lieutenant Albizu Campos — These posts detail the military training that Don Pedro received while at Harvard, and what he did as a U.S. Army Infantry Officer while in Puerto Rico.
- Months From Independence & Prison And The Ponce Massacre — These posts detail the time when Don Pedro was on trial for seditious conspiracy and what else was going on at the time, and the actual trial.
- Torture In La Princesa & Final Months And Funeral — These posts detail the years during which Don Pedro was subjected to lethal amounts of radiation and how they eventually caused his physical death.
- Columbus Hospital — This post details Don Pedro’s time in Columbus Hospital in New York City. It also discusses how he met Ruth Reynolds and how he inspired her future work.
- ‘Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos’ — This post discusses the legacy of Don Pedro, how he saw his work connected to a larger project of liberation and how groups and mass movements have continued it.
- The Patriotic Struggle Of Don Pedro — This post details Don Pedro’s commitment to using ‘any means necessary,’ and the spiritual concept of transmutation he mentioned in letters and speeches.
Yasmín Hernández is a Brooklyn to Borikén rematriated artist and writer whose work centers liberation themes. She lives and works in Aguada, PR.
Andre Lee Muñiz is the creator of Remembering Don Pedro, an English language on-line resource on Pedro Albizu Campos’ life and legacy. He lives and works in the Bronx, NY.
Lolita Productions, in the spirit of Boricua revolutionary Lolita Lebrón, curates spaces for local and Diaspora creatives to vend and showcase their work. They are based in Chicago.