Saturday, 24 September 2011


Chemi Rosado presenting El Cerro project at Creative Time Summit, New York

El Cerro in 2001 before being painted as part of Chemi Rosado's project

El Cerro painted green

neighbours of El Cerro painting their houses green

social art workshops

Raimond Chaves community newspaper Hangueando done in 2002

The Museo del Cerro, co-curated by Pablo Leon de la Barra with members of El Cerro in 2002

Chemi Rosado presenting El Cerro project at Creative Time Summit, New York

Text read by Chemi Rosado:

Good afternoon and thanks for this invitation.  It is an honor to be surrounded by so many people whose work I admire and to share this microphone with them. Thanks Creative Time for the invitation, for giving us a voice, and for allowing us to put together this type of work.

            Today, September 23rd, Puerto Rico commemorates “El Grito de Lares,” a rebellion which took place in 1868 against the Spanish regime in the Island. To my dad I dedicate this remembrance. 

            It is not a coincidence that, in this same day, we are here at this summit and that I am presenting The Cerro Project, name of the community were this project was developed (which means the hill or small mountain).  The community or slum areas that form El Cerro are located in the Naranjito municipality, south of San Juan and to the west of Bayamón. Bayamón is the municipality with the most extensive (though unplanned) horizontal urban sprawl in the Island.  So there is a great contrast between these two neighboring towns, and that is part of the experience when visiting El Cerro.       
            El Cerro community was created even before the municipality of Naranjito was founded, before 1810, by coffee plantation workers and, even today, is inhabited by the descendants of these workers and a few other families that have moved here over the years. El Cerro was shaped by the need of the working class, without formal education; and as many other neighborhoods alike there is a negative social stigma about these “types” of communities that’s been supported by the media.

            This project pretends to pay a tribute to the spontaneous architecture development that the community has created. How they have maintained the topography of the place were they live and the harmonious way it stands at the side of the mountains and on top of the town center.  Also to the way, this spontaneous architecture affects their way of living as neighbors and as families. In the first few weeks working with the community it shocked me how the majority of the people went from one house to the other, and nearly everyone’s doors were open most of the time. 
            For me, there are four major aspects that this project has achieved:
1. It’s a Social Active work of art
2. The exchange of knowledge between people that normally wouldn’t share [artists, guest and volunteers from different social backgrounds meet, share and learn from each other].
3. An open community for other artistic or social projects, activities and workshops.
4. And finally it is still a formal or traditional painting brought to the spectacle of reality.

            We started this project by visiting the people in the community, showing them some proposals in sketches, drawings, and suggesting the possibility of painting their houses in different shades of greens for free.  Some neighbors told us: “Finally someone is looking up here; someone wants to do something with us!”  Others were skeptical about the project and about us, asking "Are they from the government?, "do they come from the police? As for the color, some neighbors would make comments about it right away:  “GREEN!!  But this is a mountain already!”  Others would joke, saying, “Now the cows will eat the balconies,” or, would say in a derogatory way: “What will we do on Thursdays? That’s a gay color to have on that day!” 

            Another objection to the color was politics: the color green is linked to the pro-independence party (blue with the pro-statehood party and red to the commonwealth party.) That is why painting the first house in the neighborhood was so significant.  It was Ivette Serrano’s house. Her house was blue. She decided to paint her house because she thought that the project would help unify the community and bring something positive for the younger generation, and also because she wanted to help the artists that pretended to make an art work of the whole community. Some people just said “yes” because their houses would be painted for free; others preferred to paint with us, while others would take the paint and do it themselves, as they said: We’ll paint”, so they painted their houses themselves. I won’t forget to see Cabe and Jossy cleaning and preparing the exterior of their house in order to paint it. After finishing, they sat in front of their newly painted house, having some beers and admiring their work, even the colors, and saying, “This is a work of art.”

            Another great experience for me was when the neighbors themselves went to the lookout point, the mountain in front of the community, to watch the progress of the ‘piece’ and started to decide which color would be used and what houses should be painted next.  From that point on, the project was, in a way, in the hands of the community or, at least, they were in charge of its direction and logistics.

            Since the first weeks, working in El Cerro we started doing some informal workshops on Saturdays –that afterwards became a routine and formal events, being the first making El Cerro T-shirt, were participants from the community would cut materials to make their own original shirts based on their views of the community. The workshops, which were given by social workers, artists and volunteers and other professional such as my mom, Luisa Seijo, were given to children, teenagers, and people of all ages. Some of the themes were:
“What I like or dislike about El Cerro,”
“Knowing your rights (review of the law),”
 “Letting the anger out,” among others.

For this project, I had the support and collaboration of many, many people and organizations, including the Institute for Community Development from the University of  PR, a complete interdisciplinary class where students and professors worked closely with residents of the community. And mostly volunteers who became the 'engine' of the processes, by painting, giving workshops and as leaders of the project, some of them got really involved in the community, like Jeanelis, she ended up been teacher in the town and a  Resident of El Cerro. Another great volunteer Bubu Negron is now a well known artist.

            Through the process of painting, the neighbors met and visited one another.  In some cases, neighbors that hadn’t visited each other in 14 years met again while painting each other’s house. Even neighbors that didn’t talk each other would find a way to communicate again. Others TOLD me how they were ashamed of living in the community most of their lives and that now they were proud of being from El Cerro and were able to see how beautiful their community is. Some would appreciate how we worked letting the kids and teenagers work closely with us.  Even people who didn’t paint their houses would participate as volunteers and leaders of the project.

            The other important point of the project is how the locals from the barrio are willing to work in other artists’ projects.  In 2002 Raymond Chavez and Pablo Leon de la Barra came to the community and became residents for a few weeks. Raymond developed “hanguiando, el periodico con patas” (hanging-out: the newspaper with legs, or friends, as they say in Peru).  For this project, he had an office with a scanner, a printer, a voice recorder, computer, and thread with clips to hang the pages of this open and public newspaper.

            Pablo Leon de la Barra created El Museo del Cerro (el Cerro Museum).  By visiting most of the houses of the community and choosing objects that should be in the communal Museum, he ended up co-curating the collection of this ‘new’ museum.  The actual museum was done in the abandoned community center, which we cleaned and painted as part of our intervention in El Cerro. Now, the Center has a roof and air conditioning due to governmental aid but, mainly, as a result of the community effort in getting what they deserved and need.

            New leaders have emerged from this barrio. One of them is Cuco.  With his help the community was able to prevent the government to build three new roads that would have changed the entire barrio as its people conceived it.  Cuco continued to coordinate new workshops and activities for the community.  (By the way, he is now living in NYC and will be with us later for the the exhibitions.)  
            It has been almost 10 years since the project began. Throughout these years, El Cerro has had an impact on different projects, and certainly it has had an impact on the residents of this community and the town.  But it also has an impact on the common passerby, who is intrigued by what he or she sees and comes up to the mountain asking, “Hey, what’s happening here?”  It is true that El Cerro Project is perceived from the outside, but is inside that you can experience it. 

Chemi Rosado Seijo:
Born 1973.Lives and works in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Chemi Rosado Seijo is an artist whose practice weaves social commentary and artistic practice. His work juxtaposes architecture and the urban landscape, work and social action, and art and its history. In Historia sobre Ruedas (History on Wheels), his 2005 project with Art in General, Seijo mapped Manhattan from the perspective of a skateboarder, re-drawing the city in terms of its skating sites. For another project, Tapando para Ver (Closing to See) (2001), which culminated in a book, Seijo covered up parts of text from newspaper clippings with charcoal leaving only specific words, suggesting that all language might be a form of manipulation and drawing attention to the degree to which commercial information is controlled by the media. Since 2001, Chemi Rosado-Seijo has worked with the inhabitants of El Cerro, in Puerto Rico, painting all of the houses in the village in different shades of green. Over several years, and through negotiation and collaboration with the inhabitants of the community, over 100 buildings have been painted.  Seijo has participated in numerous exhibitions and biennials including the Whitney (2002), Prague (2005), Havana (2006), and Pontevedra (2010).

Creative Time Summit:
The Creative Time Summit is a conference that brings together cultural producers—including artists, critics, writers, and curators—to discuss how their work engages pressing issues affecting our world. Their international projects bring to the table a vast array of practices and methodologies that engage with the canvas of everyday life. The participants range from art world luminaries to those purposefully obscure, providing a glimpse into an evolving community concerned with the political implications of socially engaged art. The Creative Time Summit is meant to be an opportunity to not only uncover the tensions that such a global form of working presents, but also to provide opportunities for new coalitions and sympathetic affinities.

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