by Alexa Schmidt, Senior Writer
To wrap up this year’s Peace and Justice Week, the Art History and Digital Media Art department sponsored a lecture from Miguel Luciano, an Artist in Residence in The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Civic Practice Partnership Residency program.
Typically, public art and art institutions have played a critical role in highlighting past and current injustices, as well as our understanding of history. Artists, like Luciano, have been challenging institutions to confront their colonial legacies through themes of history, popular culture, social justice and migration through sculpture, painting and socially engaged public art projects.
Luciano’s residency allows him to work with an extraordinary group of artists across different disciplines, all of whom are connected to and work on social justice issues in their work. This residency in particular happens through The MET’s Education department.
“It opened the door to artists who have these practices that connect to communities,” Luciano said. “To think about how we connect to the museum, leverage the resources of the museum in service of the work we do in our communities.”
Luciano, as a sculptor, painter, and educator, specifically confronts paradoxes that happen in art institutions and history.
“I’m interested in terms of sort of looking at our colonial history, and how to sort of confront and engage this, this paradox of our colonial status in a way that allows us to sort of move through it and but also think about histories of resistance that have been part of that history and continue to be part of our experience today,” Luciano said.
Luciano presented a series of images that allow him to interrogate how history is presented to us, and how we can change that narrative.
“This became a way for me to sort of think about how we deconstruct this imagery that we’ve just kind of accepted, so readily,” Luciano said. “And actually confront it to create more challenging text and narrative about it in the wall text that’s on the wall and even online descriptions, but not necessarily with a critical tone but in very matter-of-fact ways, and how it’s described kind of skirting away to politically interrogate these images.”
One of Luciano’s favorite projects involved the use of ordinary objects: kites. In 2012, he created the Amani Kites, and a year later, the DREAMer Kites. The Armani Kites project was created through the smARTpower Program, an initiative of the Bronx Museum of the Arts and the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State. Luciano traveled to Nairobi, Kenya and worked with artists of all ages in local communities. The large-scale kites had participants’ self-portraits displayed, as a symbol of flying, and generated conversation about freedom. This same concept applied to the DREAMer kites, where images of undocumented youth were flown along the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to draw attention and support for the DREAM Act and immigration reform. Each participant gets to keep their kite, and according to Luciano, the most special part about it is “seeing joy in the act of flying.”
“Here’s the thing for me about the kites,” Luciano said. “I love that joy is a big part of it. And the joy and play in a return to that space as art, as a kind of resistance, as a kind of the embodiment of connection and collaboration. You can’t fly a kite by yourself like that. You need somebody to launch your image for you while you hold onto the strings. So it entails collaboration no matter what. I love them because of how beautiful and how careful everybody is with their own images and with each other’s images, there’s something really special just about that. And it’s a slow process, you know these workshops take place over the process of a week or two. And then when they’re done, they’re these really dramatic portraits that hopefully in the end will fly.”
In addition to offering others artistic experiences, Luciano creates work based on his personal experiences. Luciano is from Puerto Rico, and much of his works off his identity. Leah Krouse, a sophomore, attended the lecture and connected with Luciano’s work.
“I’m from LA so I grew up in a Spanish-speaking community, and I’ve been taught Spanish literally since preschool,” Krouse said. “And, you know, it’s huge, it’s almost like everyone in LA is part of that community, especially when you go into the city. It was incredible. And the emphasis on art from the community is very big. And I love it. It’s something I treasure.”
Cristina Pérez Jiménez, professor of English is a big fan of Luciano’s work, and attended the lecture. Not only does Luciano’s work affect her, but it also carries over into her classroom and encourages students to reflect on what they’ve been taught.
“We actually just at Manhattan College, I just finished teaching a unit on the Young Lords and we finished analyzing your mapping resistance works and the students just had beautiful responses,” Dr. Pérez Jiménez said. “It’s wonderful to get to hear you speak.”
Jilleen Barrett contributed to reporting.