Saturday, 5 May 2012


Jesus Bubu Negron, Encuentro Folklorico Loiza Zurich masks

The Triangle of Puerto Rico Masks

photo of the coconut masks on coconuts on palm tree, framed traditionally puerto rico style

Bomba drum and maks sculpture

Folkloric Encounter drawings

coconut masks covered with shells

videos found in you tube of people in Loiza playing the bomba drums, and people in Switzerland playing the alphorn, both played at the same time producing an overlaying of both rhythms

Bubu with curator Roos Gortzak who worked with Bubu in her Tropical Abstraction show at Stedjlik in Amsterdam in 2005

Hemerlick, Ana Roldan, Niels Olsen

Damian Christinger preparing the sausages

great Swiss sausages and potato salad

and coconut candy from La Comai in Loiza

Loiza coconut mask maker Wicelino ‘Celele’ Pizarro

and Puerto Rican traditional framer Mr Pablo

Encuentro Folklorico Loiza-Zurich (Folkloric Encounter Loiza-Zurich)
an exhibition by Jesús "Bubu" Negrón
curated by Pablo León de la Barra
Exhibition 5 May - 2 June 2012
Opening 4 May, 6-8 pm
Christinger de Mayo, Ankerstrasse 24, Zurich, Switzerland CH-8004

Christinger de Mayo is honoured to invite Pablo León de la Barra to curate the first solo exhibition in Europe of Puerto Rican artist Jesús “Bubu” Negrón.

In his article ‘Art in Puerto Rico’, published in The Art Gallery Magazine in December 1967, New York art critic Jay Jacobs presented a condescending and paternalistic view of his understanding of the art context of the island. The picture he presented was quite pathetic: a lack of market and institutional support, with artists in Puerto Rico divided between the desire to be international and the need to auto exoticise themselves in order to have their work bought by the tourist market. Jacobs concluded that the Puerto Rican artist was “better off economically if he allows himself to be regarded patronizingly as an exotic, a manufacturer of souvenirs.” He also quoted an American expatriate on the island who affirmed: “the only native culture this place has ever had is carving coconut masks.”

On December 2011, for his participation in the First Bienal Tropical, which took place in the seaside near the village of Loiza in Puerto Rico, artist Jesús "Bubu" Negrón carved a series of coconut masks which he copied from the traditional masks made by the descendants of African slaves in the town. Negrón learned from a youtube video the secrets of mask carving. He had previously tried without success to convince a master artisan to teach him how to make the masks, but the artisan had refused to. Once Negrón had carved and painted his own coconut masks, he proceeded to install them over coconuts on palm trees. With this, he returned nature (the coconuts), which had been transformed into culture (the masks), back to its origins. There was also an irony on having a coconut mask being used as a mask for a coconut in a palm tree. For this work, he was received the Golden Pineapple award for best artist of the biennial. The award included the invitation to do this exhibition in Zurich at Christinger de Mayo.

Loiza coconut masks are made traditionally by skilled hand craftsmen, with the knowledge passed from generation to generation. Still, as with many other traditional crafts of the island, the number of people who posses this knowledge is quickly disappearing and the new generations are not interested in learning these techniques and continuing the tradition. Coconut masks are used during the feasts of Santiago Apostol (St. James) which last for a week during the month of July. The coconut masks represent evil devils, forefathers who come back from the past to celebrate with their descendants the harvesting of the crops. Today the devils are also seen by some as figures of resistance to colonialism and imperialism.

For this exhibition in Zurich, Negrón found a master coconut carver, Wicelino ‘Celele’ Pizarro, who was willing to collaborate with him. Negrón commissioned him to create new masks. In the same way that Duchamp transformed the urinal into an art work by presenting it within an exhibition space, the new masks function as tropical ready-mades. In exhibiting the masks inside the white space of an art gallery, Negrón erases the traditional distinctions between folk and high art, between artisans and artist. As Walter Benjamin wrote in ‘Some Remarks on Folk Art’ his 1929 unpublished text: "Art teaches us to see into things. Folk art and kitsch allow us to see outward from within things”. In this way, wearing the coconut masks allows us to become the other, see outwards, and in doing this action destabilise notions of contemporary art. In 2006 Negrón performed a similar operation as part of his project Honoris Causa, for the Whitney Biennale in New York. There he introduced inside the lobby of the museum, for the duration of the exhibition, two activities that normally happen outside the Whitney every day: a cart selling hot dogs, and a stall selling African masks. With this operation Negrón questioned conventions of what is normally excluded from institutional culture and what should be allowed inside the museum.

Before travelling to Zurich the masks were also installed in a palm tree in Loiza. A photograph documenting this action and framed in the traditional Puerto Rican popular way is also included in the exhibition. A drum used to play ‘Bomba’ a traditional rhythm from Loiza is also in the exhibition space. Two other works form part of the Folkloric Encounter between Loiza and Zurich. One is a series of ink and crayon drawings done by Negrón, which confront Loiza’s traditions with images of Switzerland’s folkloric traditions, and which form part of the images of the country that circulate through the media and the internet. The other work is a double video projection of videos found in the internet. One projection shows people from Loiza playing ‘Bomba’ drums played at the same time that videos of Swiss people playing the Alphorn, a traditional Swiss instrument. In playing both videos simultaneously a new musical rhythm is created by the overlapping of both traditions. The idea of the exhibition is that the Folkloric Encounter will continue in Loiza, with Negrón exhibiting the results of his research on Swiss folklore there.

Notes to the editors:

Jesús "Bubu" Negrón was born in 1975, in Barceloneta, Puerto Rico. He lives in Puerta de Tierra, San Juan, Puerto Rico. He is one of Puerto Rico’s most respected young contemporary artists, and part of San Juan’s vibrant contemporary art community. Negrón has participated in a number of international biennales, including: 1st Bienal Tropical (2011) where he obtained the Golden Pineapple award for the best artist; Trienal Poligráfica, San Juan, Puerto Rico (2009, curated by Adriano Pedrosa, Julieta Gonzalez and Jens Hoffmann; Sharjah Bienal (2007, curated by Mohammed Kazem, Eva Scharrer and Jonathan Watkins); Whitney Biennial, Nueva York (2006, curated by Chrissie Iles and Phillipe Vergne); T1 Torino Trienale (2005, curated by Francesco Bonami and Carolyn Christov – Bakargiev). Group exhibitions in which he has participated include Crisisss at the Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City (2011, curated by Gerardo Mosquera) and An Unruly History of the Ready Made, Jumex Collection, México (2008, curated by Jessica Morgan) and Tropical Abstraction, Steidelijk Bureau Museum, Amsterdam (2005, curated by Ross Gortzak). Recent solo shows include Jackpot Series at Roberto Paradise, San Juan, Puerto Rico, 2012.

The exhibition is curated by Pablo León de la Barra in collaboration with Negrón. León de la Barra is an independent curator, exhibition maker and researcher born in Mexico City in 1972. León de la Barra works internationally and is one of the most active curators working between the American continent and Europe and creating through his exhibitions and projects dialogues and networks between different artistic scenes, positions and sensibilities. León de la Barra is also the editor of his own blog

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