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Allentown Morning Call

GO ART: Artist Cleverly Envisions An Ideal Puerto Rico

By Geoff Gehman

MAY 23, 2002
Copyright © 2002
Allentown Morning Call. All Rights Reserved.

"Blueprints for a Nation" at Lehigh University is an outrageously clever, gloriously subversive construction of an ideal Puerto Rico . Its creator, ADAL (Adal Maldonado), a 53-year-old photographer/ performance artist raised on Puerto Rico and living in Manhattan, vividly illustrates his statement: "When you deny a group its own territory they will struggle to create such a space."

It's hard to imagine what this imaginary country doesn't have. A passport, printed on a handkerchief, permits the bearer to enter "another zone of thought." A monetary note honors dance rhythms rather than God: "In Bomba y Plena We Trust." A bittersweet, catchy national anthem, printed on the back of a paper bag reflected in a mirror, begins: "En mi viejo San Juan/They raised the price of pan [bread]/So I fly to Manhattan."

Shrines are everywhere. A tinted photo of salsa singer Marc Anthony, looking very Christ-like with his long hair and open shirt, appears over a pillow that muffles his recorded singing.

Political statements are everywhere, too. The debate over Puerto Rico 's lame-duck status -- because it's a commonwealth, its citizens can't vote for a U.S. president unless they're legal residents of a U.S. state -- is addressed in an annexation proclamation, also printed on a paper bag, that calls for the decolonization of brains.

Yet "Blueprints" is more than a string of gags. ADAL is an intelligent graphic artist, whether he's making stamps or a trading card of percussionist Tito Puente, his collaborator on the 1990 piece "Mondo Mambo: A Mambo Rap Sodi." He's also a sneaky appropriator of art icons. One of Roy Lichtenstein's comic-strip paintings is given the snappy caption: "I don't care! I'd rather sink than vote for Statehood !"

ADAL loses authority when he turns garish or cute. A tabloid collage of President Bush endorsed by an alien is ridiculous. He loses his out-of-focus nature -- not quite Spanglish, not quite Nuyorican -- by including too many in-focus self-portraits. Still, he and curator Ricardo Viera, who directs Lehigh's galleries and museum operations, launch a cultural rocket ship that travels as far as the moon, which is planted with a Puerto Rican flag, naturally.

Lehigh is also presenting the project that led ADAL to create "Blueprints." For four years he returned to Puerto Rico to photograph his ancestral heritage as a country dweller, or jibaro. He arranges "Jibaro" as seven journeys, each with eight black-and- white photos, covering pig slaughtering, music making and other rituals. It's a sort of still-image movie, a straightforward yet subtly hypnotic journey.

"Blueprints for a Nation" and "Jibaro," through July 14, main gallery, Zoellner Arts Center, Lehigh University, 420 E. Packer Ave., Bethlehem. 610-758-3615,

Courtesy of Lehigh University; Caption: ADAL makes a statement by creating an imaginary land in "Blueprints for a Nation' on view through July 14 at Zoellner Arts Center.

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