Puerto Rican/Latin American Cultural Center’s (PRLACC) Afro-Latin@ week closed out with a presentation on “Alternative Activism in Art” as demonstrated in the work of Magdalena Campos-Pons, a painter who used her Cuban exhibit to help its people from the inside.
Ashley Frato, a fine arts graduate student who spoke from 6 to 7 p.m. Thursday evening at PRLACC said she is inspired by Campos-Pons’ work and a desire to move beyond the type of hashtag activism popular with many young people today.
“By no means am I suggesting that there are no young adults out there with passion and experience,” Frato said, “but it’s been my experience that hashtags are just a trend.”
The modern tendency to take to social media instead of the streets after headline grabbing events like the death of Eric Garner at the hands of New York police is a way of shirking responsibility, Frato said. It’s easier to take a picture with a slogan like “I can’t breath” than to educate yourself on the nuances of current events, she explained.
“The way I saw things unfold on social media was a little disappointing,” Frato said. “It becomes cool to take pictures of people chanting in the streets.”
Campos-Pons haunting installations, on the other hand, force her audience to engage with an issue that has personally affected many in America, including Frato herself: the Cuban diaspora.
“These works were amazing,” Kali Adams, an 8th-semester sociology major, said. “You’re in awe, it has a lot of levels to it.”
In her 2012 exhibit “FeFa”, or Familia Extranjero/Family Abroad, Campos-Pons explored the cultural and geographic distance between herself and those in her family that remain in Cuba.
“This project best embodies the kind of alternative activism I’ve been exploring in my own art,” Frato said. “She’s addressing a problem that is experienced by a lot of people who live here with a family abroad.”
Phone taps and an unreliable mail system can make it difficult to stay in touch, Frato explained. While families may often wish to send American currency and goods into the country, there’s no guarentee they will reach the intended recipient.
“You can’t just send hundreds of things to Cuba and expect it to get through,” she said.
Campos-Pons challenged this reality when she decided to use“FeFa” as an avenue for bringing much needed food and other essentials into the country. Through fundraising with American fine arts students, Cuban bakers and interviews with locals, she was able to put together a performance based on meeting the community’s needs.
“This aspect spoke to me the most, claiming it was art allowed her to import those goods,” Frato said. “This project best embodies the kind of alternative activism I’ve been exploring in my own art.”
Much of Frato’s own work — including “it’s a dream: Memories of the Cuban Revolution,” an exhibit inspired by the event’s exclusion from U.S. school’s curriculum – is also inspired by an exploration of her roots.
“I found it really interesting how she said the Cuban Revolution and her family’s background was lacking from American history books,” Isaiah Mayl, a 2nd-semester marine science major, said. “As an African American I can relate.”
At the crux of Frato’s piece, equipped with quiet speakers at uncomfortable heights and videos of her family at odd angles, was her wish to push viewers to put in the work needed to approach political issues critically.
“I find myself searching for the intrinsic quality of art that allows for this,” Frato said. “Activism nowadays is seen as a novelty to young people, and it just can’t be that way.”