Rematriating Borikén looks to deep-sea bioluminescence and the Puerto Rico Trench for new aesthetics and strategies in transcending climate change and colonialism, and works to demystify reverse migration and the reclaiming of our ancestral lands and ways.
Yasmin Hernandez Art
“I come from life”, 2019
Acrylic on canvas
20 x 16 inches
“I come from life” is what my little one would respond to the question, “Where do you come from?” He did this between the ages of two, when we arrived in Puerto Rico from New York, to about five or so. They say, somewhere along the way, we forget our source. My art stems from an endless quest to remember and get back. This work is the first in a series exploring a new form of bioluminescence for me. Previous projects have explored the bioluminescent waters, or rather the dinoflagellates that makes the waters glow in three different bays in Puerto Rico. I have also, since Hurricane María, been exploring the glow of fireflies and the native cucubano. This work is inspired by the Puerto Rico Trench, the deepest part of the Atlantic found just 75 miles off the northern coast of Puerto Rico. It stretches from the Dominican Republic, running parallel to the northern shores of the Antilles towards the east (“the place where hurricanes enter”).
Inspiration for this piece and the Rematriation Manifesto arrived in the weeks leading up to the fifth anniversary of our May 15, 2014 rematriation to Puerto Rico. Both re-envision our rematriation as a crossing of “sands submerged” at the bottom of the sea, the place of Olokun’s mystery and abundance, the underwater cemetery of our enslaved ancestors. Arriving from the North to Puerto Rico, means you cross the trench. We usually do this by plane where during the day, shortly before landing, you see the clear demarcation across the water, from dark blue to light, marking the trench. The trench becomes a metaphor for the grueling journey back and the struggle to stay given the challenges of colonialism. “Rising from the trenches” likens the experience not to living in them within this colony, but to returning from the belly of the beast, the colonizer, seeking refuge in the womb of my ancestral homeland. This piece is a celebration of my return. A different portrait of different refugees of a different exodus.
The image and statement arrived separately and were worked on independently of one another but ended up overlapping in ways that I didn’t realize till after. The last element I painted were the concentric circles, having forgotten that I mentioned these and closing the broken circle at the end of the manifesto a few days earlier. So both the manifesto and the painting closed with these concentric circles, sacred motif of our Taino ancestors that marks the patterns that stars scribble across our sky as we rotate on an axis pointed at Polaris. All my bioluminescence explorations in my paintings, no matter their light source, are meant as earthly/ water reflections of the cosmos. Even when not consciously intended, it just reveals itself in that way. Future pieces in the series will celebrate other rematriators on this same journey.
March 2020 Update:
Since conceptualizing this project in May of 2019, the trench and the concentric circles have taken on new meaning. I initially included them in the painting as a traditional Taíno motif and to reference sonar. However on September 23rd, 2019, day of the Grito de Lares Revolution, at the 23rd hour, there was a 6.0 earthquake in the Mona Canyon of the Puerto Rico Trench. This site is about 70 miles off the northwestern coast of Puerto Rico near where I live. It also happens to be the site of the epicenter of the notorious 1918 earthquake and tsunami. In the two weeks that followed I felt the tremors of aftershocks and wrote several pieces reflecting on this axis between hurricanes and earthquake or what I call Hurriquake. (These can be read at the blog link below.) In November of 2019, my mother rematriated from Brooklyn. Her family had left Ponce when she was just one year old. Then on December 28th, 2019, the Muertos Trough to the southwest of the main island of Puerto Rico went active in what is now being called an "earthquake swarm". Its main seismic events were the 5.8 and 6.4 of January 6th and 7th. The Mona Canyon site has also gone active with a series of smaller tremors during this time. The tremors continue. These concentric circles are now references to seismic waves. I am using them in subsequent paintings to connect to these active sites while also referencing the fault lines of this Caribbean plate. Rematriating Borikén becomes a meditation on the crossroads of colonialism and climate change and the continued depopulation of our homeland. Hypocritically, though incentivizing wealthy foreigners, luring them to Puerto Rico, the government makes no provisions for the retention of its own population nor the recruitment of its people in the Diaspora, forced to leave and/ or born abroad as children of pushed out migrations. We rematriators return, resist the teachings to fear this place, turning to our ancestral tradition of loving, staying, cultivating sustainability.
Click here to read the Rematriation Manifesto at my Rematriating Boriken Blog.
Image below: "Rematriated: Momma, 2020, Acrylic on canvas, 18"x24"