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FANTASY ISLAND: A love letter to Puerto Rico



Dear readers,

Editorial Director, Shey Rivera, checking in. In the midst of everything going on in the world, I hope you and your loved ones are doing well. Its been quite a while since I last wrote in .Crudo, and 7 years since I moved from Puerto Rico to start a life in Providence, Rhode Island. Thank you for continuing to support .Crudo over the years.

This 2017 in particular has been a hard year. An this December 31st, 2017, has compelled me to publish a few texts in relation to Puerto Rico’s humanitarian crisis; to highlight a few projects that myself and others have and are creating to generate awareness and support for the people of Puerto Rico, and to post reflections of my own experience as a ‘Diasporican’. This is the first time I’ve decided claim a bigger space within .Crudo, which i LAUNCHED IN 2010 originally just to highlight the work of other artists in the island. .Crudo is now diaspora, but its still here. I will continue sharing my own writings and reflections, low-key and time permitting. This is a fresh and much more direct and honest start in 2018. I hope you can follow me on this journey.

In this article, I’ll start with FANTASY ISLAND [<<<Click here to visit the Page]

This was an installation that I produced and exhibited this year in Providence (RI), New York City, and San Jose (CA), in response to the fiscal crisis in Puerto Rico, through a lens of the real estate market in the island and the tourism economy. After the first exhibition, Hurricane María hit Puerto Rico and the work took on another level of meaning and importance during its time in NYC. I decided to take the time to unpack this project and share the what and why, beyond the face to face:


It’s been two years since I officially became the Artistic Director of AS220, a renowned arts institution in Providence, RI; where I have worked now for 7 years, fully immersed in how art and culture serve as catalysts for social change, community development, and socially-responsible urban development. Since the beginning of last year, most of my artistic/creative energy beyond this complex role has gone toward mobilizing to create awareness in the U.S. about the economic and socio-political condition of Puerto Rico, where I was born and raised.

To me, art can serve to facilitate space for dialogue, knowledge-sharing, emotional connection, and action. I zoned in on Puerto Rico’s colonial status, the limits on the rights of our citizenship, and the unfair business regulations and tax exempt bonds that favored U.S. corporations and led to a deep economic crisis. And, of course, the implications of the Puerto Rico Oversight Management and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) a bill that was passed last year to establish a Fiscal Oversight Board, an external committee to “restructure” the debt;  a committee that overrules the government and -to many- represents multiple human rights violations.

My efforts started with the “¡Capicú! Let Them Eat Cake” intervention/installation alongside artist and curator Anabel Vázquez Rodríguez in both ** RISD Exposé ** Gallery in Downtown Providence and at Distillery Gallery in Boston, MA. This fire evolved toward the creation of FANTASY ISLAND, to shed light on the contradictions of tourism and luxury lifestyle sold to outsiders; a disconnect from the reality of most people living in the island, especially amidst a dire economic crisis. 

On a separate note and just for context, I never went to art school. My artistic practice was self-driven in Puerto Rico and catalyzed by the mission and vision of AS220 and the inspiring community of multi-disciplinary artists in Rhode Island. My practice is socially-driven, immersive or collaborative, and research-based.

Ok, so what is FANTASY ISLAND?

It is a virtual & performative space -a real estate office selling luxury property in Puerto Rico. You enter a space where walls are a black and white grid, with video monitors displaying esoteric animated Gifs of luxury property in Puerto Rico (made at AS220 Media Arts).  An office desk waits for you on the center of the room, surrounded by majesty palm trees, while a pink glow emanating from the coopted logo of Puerto Rico’s Tourism council (a hot pink neon sign) floods the room. Aesthetically,  this is a wink at the offbeat A.E.S.T.H.E.T.I.C. of  the “vaporwave” movement born on the internet. Vaporwave plays on the idea of obsolete futures and luxury lifestyle sold by corporate culture in the 80s and early 90s. To continue the tour, a corner of the room hosts a large altar (cut on the AS220 Labs’ CNC router aka shop bot) that frames a digital print with graffiti silkscreened in gold. This altar piece is titled Nana Buruku; it is a calling for us to remember our Afro-Indigenous heritage, to decolonize our culture, and it is a love note to my own syncretist spiritual background. (Shout out to Larry, Paris, and Chris from AS220 Industries for their help and guidance!)

Within this virtual real estate office, my friend and collaborator journalist/photograper/musician Huáscar Robles delivers a performance as a private developer who intends to displace, gentrify and capitalize on the town of Santurce in San Juan, Puerto Rico. But, this persona slowly starts reconnecting with his roots and humanity through the people in the neighborhood and his perspective changes. In closing, I perform an “incantation” piece titled “Soy bruja”, a poetry chant that opens the floor for us to converse with the audience about the socio-political and economic situation in the island. MORE PHOTOS HERE.


FANTASY ISLAND was presented at the AS220 Project Space this past June, with the support of the City of Providence’s Dept. of Art, Culture + Tourism (AC+T);  shout out to Lizzie Arujo (AC+T), as well as Neal Walsh, AS220’s Gallery Director. It received such great reception that it was covered by various media outlets and publications, including Hyperallergic, a renowned digital forum of contemporary art with a strong socio-political focus, ArtScope New EnglandMotif MagazineRepeating Islands, and the local forum Law and Order Party list.


The FANTASY ISLAND conversation of displacement and gentrification gains more weight as it relates to the catastrophic impact of Hurricane María, which has further lifted the veil on the deep impact of colonialism in the island. It speaks to disaster capitalism and the measures we must take to protect our land and support our people. Outside of mobilizing to support my own family who lives in Puerto Rico, I’ve been connecting with various relief efforts and communicating with individuals and groups in the island and other ‘diasporicans’ here in RI, NYC, MA and even South Carolina. My goal is for FANTASY ISLAND to disseminate reliable information and help strengthen the energy than many others are generating in support of Puerto Rico and its people. Using art to connect, galvanize, educate, and mobilize. The conversation does not stop there; it includes our sister islands in the Caribbean as well as the impact this has had on the diasporas.

The Loisaida, Inc. Center (NYC) reached out to host what is more than an art exhibit; this is a virtual and physical space to convene, to commune, and to talk through these critical issues affecting our island of Puerto Rico. The renowned Loisaida Arts Center, is a gallery and cultural center in the Lower East Side in NYC, founded in the 70s by Puerto Ricans. It services the Latinx community and has become a pillar that protects the residents of the area, which is seeing rapid gentrification. They are inspired by AS220 and often reference us as a model. I am personally inspired by their work within the intersection of art, social justice, and community development. If you visit NYC, make sure to stop by! (Cool note: “loisaida” is a spanish way of saying “lower east side”). FANTASY ISLAND was also part of the Caribbean Crisis schedule of programming in NYC, an initiative led by filmmaker and journalist Frances Negrón-Muntaner.

Fantasy Island

How this relates to Rhode Island:

Providence is almost 50% people of color by now, with 38% of the population being Latinx, out out which the biggest populations are Dominican, Puerto Rican and Guatemalan, but we have representation from almost every country in Latin America. As a resource: the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at CUNY (City University of NY) disseminated demographic info on the Puerto Rican Population in RI, although numbers have increased since 2013. A special shout out to local leaders in RI: Lydia Pérez, Director of the Puerto Rican Institute for Arts and AdvocacyRebecca Flores, founder of the Natasha Love Foundation, and Pablo Rodríguez, director of RI Latino Public Radio; three powerhouse Puerto Rican artists who -for many years- have been activating people in Rhode Island and beyond through their multifaceted work: from artistic practice and cultural advocacy, to health and wellness, to media and education, social justice, philanthropy, and civic engagement. I also want to recognize our Secretary of State, Nelly Gorbea who is a proud Puertorriqueña, as well as the inspiring Taino Palermo, Director of Continuing Studies at Roger Williams University, Rafael Zapata, Chief Diversity Office of Providence College, the stellar Saul Ramos and Maritza Martell of Arte Latino New England, and the electric Joel Tapia, local artist and advocate of indigenous rights. There are many other Boricuas doing great work here in Rhode Island. To all of you, a big THANK YOU for the work you do for our communities here and beyond.

Relief efforts:

Puerto Rico is in dire condition. For those who are interested in supporting, both PRIAA and Natasha Love Foundation have collaborated on relief efforts here in Rhode Island. You can connect to them via Facebook and their respective websites. Many of us in the diaspora have also supported, and as well as local grassroots organizations in the island who are doing direct work, like Casa Pueblo in Adjuntas. Casa Pueblo has a long history of environmental justice, sustainable farming, education, and community organizing toward advocacy efforts, among other initiatives. They are an amazing organization worth getting to know and visiting.

Thank you for your awareness and desire to learn and mobilize. 

And a big THANK YOU to AS220 for being such a critical and inspiring space of empathy and action. 

FANTASY ISLAND runs as part of the group show called “Notes on Democracy” at Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latina (MACLA) in San José, CA, from Dec 2017 through March 2018.


[FANTASY ISLAND Opening reception photos at Loisaida Arts Center by Audaz Productions / Melvin Audaz]


About Sheyla Rivera

Sheyla Rivera has written 37 post in this blog.

Escritora, músico y gestora cultural. Nació en Puerto Rico en la década de los 80s, entre el campo y la urbe. Completó un bachillerato doble en Psicología y Sociología en la Universidad de Puerto Rico, recinto de Río Piedras, y cursó la maestría en Medios y Cultura Contemporánea de la Universidad del Sagrado Corazón. Se destaca en el manejo de organizaciones artísticas sin fines de lucro, cultura visual japonesa, estudios de género y teoría cultural.


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