Colonialism and national identity: The special case of visual art in Puerto Rico




Torres-Negron, Juan Daniel

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The purpose of this study is to show how colonialism affects free expression by analyzing the expression of visual art from the nations of Puerto Rico and Cuba comparatively. Cuba and Puerto Rico are very comparable in history, colonialism, anti-imperialism, and cultural production. After the rupture in 1959 by Cuba due to the Cuban Revolution and Puerto Rico’s adoption of the Commonwealth status in 1952, the nations’ states became ideological opposites: colonial (Puerto Rico) and anti-colonial (Cuba). This fundamental difference presents an opportunity to isolate modern-day colonialism and observe its effects on citizens’ ability to freely express their selves. The study uses a triangulation of in-depth interviews, a quantitative content analysis, and a qualitative content analysis over the visual art produced by both nations between 1950 and 1965; and ethnographic field research analyzing the presentation of art in both respective nations via the art museum. The study concludes that the history and events that have occurred and continue to occur in Puerto Rico are kept obscure by its isolation due to its in-between status that preserves the status quo and domination by the ruling class that is both foreign and local for Puerto Rico. Colonialism has created a dependency where the citizens of Puerto Rico have been disempowered to wait for change instead of creating it and the opportunities that arose for artists to paint and document the turbulent history have been suppressed until recently. Material that was once considered subversive and challenging of the status quo is now on display because of modem orientalism that is manifested by both the United States’ multinationals and the Puerto Rican state’s interest in promoting global tourism and a distinct national/cultural identity which is more profitable within this industry. In other words, Puerto Rico’s anti-colonial history documented by visual artists has found a profitable market in the 21st century and displays a much different history than what has been told by imperialist interests in the 20th century.



freedom of expression, anti-imperialist movements, colonial, art, Puerto Rico


Torres-Negron, J. D. (2009). Colonialism and national identity: The special case of visual art in Puerto Rico (Unpublished thesis). Texas State University-San Marcos, San Marcos, Texas.


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