I recently visited Carlos Rolón: Outside/In and found the concept of the exhibition quite moving for a several reasons. The content of his work spoke to me in an incredibly personal way, in that Rolón, like me, has a close connection to both Puerto Rico and New Orleans and was inspired by the similarities between the two.
I first moved to New Orleans seventy-two hours before Katrina and recently my parents experienced Hurricane Maria while living in Puerto Rico. At the time of the opening of Afuera/Adentro (Outside/In), my folks still did not have power in their neighborhood—they didn’t get it back until seven months following the storm.
Experiencing Afuera/Adentro with that mindset was very emotional. Rolón’s architectural pieces of wrought iron and mirror for me really showed the resilience of both cultures. Both my island and my city on the bayou experienced hell on Earth, and yet the beauty of both locations continues to shine through the destruction. His Gild the Lily series was a celebration of the spirit of the land. The similarities in not only the culture of these two places but the land itself show with his choice of flora. Standing in front of these pieces, one cannot be entirely sure if this magical golden garden lies in the so-called northernmost city in the Caribbean or the actual Caribbean.
I would say that the piece that moved me the most was Maria. Standing in front of this impressively large fractured object—and seeing myself fractured in the reflection—was like a visual representation of my mind during that time. You could really get a sense of the total chaos the storm brought to bear. And yet, much like these carefully arranged pieces of broken mirror, the most terrible parts of the storm were created by humanity.
Like the lily, Mother Nature will regrow herself and easily reclaim her former glory. However, the human impact continues with thousands of homes lacking basic amenities. What for many Americans is a given has become luxury for these Puerto Ricans. Simple things like a hot shower at the end of a long day is something many can only dream of at this time. Afuera/Adentro, with its wild beauty and heavy visual impact, continues to remind us New Orleanians of our sisters and brothers to the south who are suffering much like we did in the mid-Aughts. It serves to remind us that we are all intertwined, part of one larger story.