Aubiquitous sound in Puerto Rico is
the patient tapping of dominos as a
player awaits his opportunity to play.
Bibiana Suarez's installation is a
visual simulation of the ambiance, atmosphere
of chance, and gamesmanship involved in her
island's national pastime. The domino is a for-
mat that allows her to discourse on the dualistic and multilayered issues of national and
personal history and identity.
Each domino contextualizes issues like race, gender, family, religion, politics, economics, stereotyping, tropicalism, etc. The line between the two sides of a single domino can be a barrier bulwarking oppositions, or mark ing a transition between variants. The implied line where two dominos meet, however, is meant to indicate the conjoining of like numbers, of the comparative juxtaposition of visu ally delineated issues.
Stylistically Suarez has chosen to be as var ied as she has been in choosing her visual sources. Cartoons, photos, souvenirs, images from Puerto Rican art history, and conceptions from her imagination all give credence to the pervasiveness of the ideas she addresses and their relevance to all periods of her national and personal histories. These domi- nos register imposed American images, gen- erated Puerto Rican imagery, syncretized real- ities, and autobiographical experiences.
Although several years in the making, this installation has always meant to be first viewed in 1998. It is Suarez's way to observe the centenary of her nation's transfer from Spanish to American colonialism. The territorial Spanish American war of 1898 continues in 1998 to be a cultural war between "Spanish" and American, or "Anglo". She, like many born and raised on the island, pursued her university education in the United States and continued to live on the "Anglo Mainland". She has become bi-national, bi- cultural, bi-lingual. Being simultaneously two things in one persona was a prompt for the appropriateness of using the domino-one object with two designated zones. Awareness of dual simultaneity elicits the parallel conundrums of appropriation, adaptation, and assimilation. Suarez visually aligns these concerns, whether by contrasting a Puerto Rican almuerzo with an American fast-food lunch, or showing a Caribbean rumbera with Anglo bleached blond hair. Paradox is evoked in ironic images of colonialism like the souvenir postcards and family photos from Guanica, the site on Puerto Rico's Caribbean coast where the invading Americans landed on July 25, 1898.
Shuffling, an integral part of playing domi nos, assures that each game will be different, ruled by chance, and not controlled by a single player. Suarez intends that her pictorial dominos can be reshuffled and reconfig ured. Cultural identities are not static. They are constantly being negotiated and in process. Each installation will be like a different game and the changed relationships will establish new contextual associations and interpretations-as in reality, the only constant is change.
This installation is about raising questions, not advocating solutions. Suarez provides icons, symbols, and images to evoke a dialogue about identity and historical interpretation. Her politics are purposefully oblique; it is not evident if she favors independence, statehood, commonwealth status, or some other future political/cultural reality. Through viewer participation, new layers of meaning will accrue to the work's contextual armature, and, hopefully, new or renewed insight (s) will be gained into what is Puerto Rico and
Puerto Rican, as well as into the constituents of one's personal and national identity.
PROFESSOR ROBERT J. LOESCHER
Goldabelle McComb Finn Distinguished Chair of
Art History, Theory and Criticism
School of the Art Institute of Chicago