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Boston Herald

Real World: Puerto Rico; Center For Latino Arts Peers Into The Beauty And Hardships Of Caribbean Nation

Mary Jo Palumbo

February 16, 2004
Copyright ©2004 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved.

In 1941, photographer Jack Delano was hired by the U.S. government to capture scenes of Depression-era poverty in Puerto Rico.

The images he took were stark and penetrating - the dirt- smeared, weathered face of a sugar cane cutter; a farm laborer's wife and her eight children standing in front of the chipped, peeling walls of their ramshackle home; barefoot toddlers peering from their one-room hut.

Delano's photographs provided some of the most thorough and poignant documentation of the island countryside, and the poverty that plagued pre-industrial Puerto Rico.

But the artist's efforts didn't end there.

The Philadelphia photographer was struck by the beauty of the region, the widespread destitution and the spirit of the people.

After serving as a military photographer during World War II, Delano returned to Puerto Rico and made it his home until his death in 1997.

An exhibit of more than 35 of Delano's photographs is on display through Feb. 29 at the newly opened Center for Latino Arts in the South End.

Mounted chronologically, the show traces the cultural and socioeconomic changes in the Caribbean island over 50 years.

As the exhibit progresses, mules are replaced by tractors. Sweeping acres of sugar cane, tobacco and coffee farms give way to images of young women working in needlework shops and men crafting cigars in factories.

Images of thatched huts on a pristine tropical countryside are followed by a picture of a mall parking lot jammed with cars in San Juan.

"Puerto Rico: Through the Lens of Photographer Jack Delano" is on loan from the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration.

The show is a fitting exhibit to inaugurate the visual arts program for the new arts center, which is run by a community development corporation founded three decades ago by Puerto Rican residents in Boston.

The Center for Latino Arts opened in November with a $1.3 million renovation of the former All Saints Lutheran Church on West Newton Street.

The center features a ground-level art gallery with gleaming hardwood floors, a mirrored studio for music, dance and theater classes and an art studio.

"We're up and running now," said Sabrina Aviles, director of the Center for Latino Arts. "We want this to be a place where people can learn about Latino arts, and we want to be a resource center to lead people to other Latino groups and artists in the community.

"We really want to see the community get involved. Right now it's just a matter of getting the word out."

Aviles is renting studio space to artists and groups as programming is developed.

A flamenco workshop started earlier this month, and Aviles expects to have more dance, art and music classes running by early summer.

An exhibit featuring Puerto Rican-born installation artist Adal Maldonado is scheduled for September. The exhibit will be curated by the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American studies at Harvard University.

"There is no organization like ours that promotes and houses Latino artists in New England," said Aviles. "And it's high time we had one.""Puerto Rico: Through the Lens of Photographer Jack Delano" on exhibit weekdays from 9 a.m to 8 p.m. through Feb. 29 at The Center for Latino Arts, 85 West Newton St., Boston. Call 617-927- 1730.

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