Looking Back at ‘A Monument to the 500 Years of the Cultural Reversal of America’ by the artist Jorge Luis Rodriguez




The exhibition ‘A Monument to the 500 Years of the Cultural Reversal of America’ by the artist Jorge Luis Rodriguez at Center for Puerto Rican Studies in East Harlem in 2014

In anticipation of The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture’s upcoming event, Open Archive: The Slave Ship, we reached back in our archives to an exhibition on this very subject which opened at The Center for Puerto Rican Studies East Harlem in 2016. The exhibition was a compilation of decades of artwork by Jorge Luis Rodrigues, entitled ARTchives: Method and Documentation ~ and part of this exhibition included an exhibit entitled A Monument to the 500 Years of the Cultural Reversal of America, which was a small-scale exhibition of his original sculpture of a Galleon ~ a slave ship, including ceramic slaves placed in the hold of the vessel. Bringing the original sculpture down to scale, the Galleon was painted on the wall of the library, with 50 of the original 126 ceramic slaves beneath.

The room was filled with artifacts from the 1993 large-scale installation, including the musical boxes which are the artists’ homage to the African Cultural heirloom, and steel drums, each named for the African regions.

Cristobal Colon figurine from the original Galleon sculpture

The Helm and Cristobal Colon figurine from the Galleon, as well as paintings, drawings, and sculptures were also on display. Rodriguez focused on the negative aspects of the colonization of the New World with prints of the American continents as they looked before and after Columbus’s journey, and the actual ceramic slaves used in his original sculpture, which was commissioned by Mayfair 93.

Jorge Luis Rodriguez at an artist talk for his exhibition ‘A Monument to the 500 Years of Cultural Reversal of America’

The original, commissioned installation was created after three years of careful research into the history of colonialism, and was to coincide with the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492.

The original sculpture by artist Jorge Luis Rodriguez commissioned for the Mayfair Festival of the Arts. Image via jorgeluisatelier.com

The sculpture was a twenty-foot long medieval slave ship and best described by the artist himself, “A statue of the Italian explorer can be seen at the apex of the nine-foot high structure, pointing ominously toward land. Below him, in the hold of the vessel, there are ceramic statuettes placed in rows to mimic the harsh conditions faced by the slaves aboard. They were each crafted individually by the artist, in contrast to the dehumanizing reality of slavery. The globe at the front of the ship alludes to the post-Columbian, “New World,” while the indigenous, Pre-Columbian inhabitants are represented by feathers placed all around the vessel. There are photographic etchings on the surface of each copper-plated continent, which are images taken from another sculpture, Mysteries of My Past, Present, and Future .

While on display, the sounds of the ocean could also be heard playing in the background of the gallery space. Most impressive, however, is the mechanical engineering of the ship’s wheel, which allows for rotation of the globe. It is this layering of different techniques and materials that evokes the consequences of Columbus’s fateful landing, and the resulting heterogeneity of the continent. Moreover, Jorge Luis is able to synthesize elements of this shared, complicated history into a single structure, of which he is both the architect and the passenger.

After the Mayfair Festival, the installation was included in the exhibition  “Reclaiming History,” which celebrated the 25th anniversary of El Museo del Barrio. It was then hosted at Kingsborough Community College later that year. Finally, in 1996, the installation made its way to Hartford, Connecticut.  The exhibition, “Legacy/Legado,” was hosted at the Old New State House, which is also where the Amistad trials took place two centuries earlier.”

Jorge Luis Rodriguez during an artist talk at Centro
Jorge Luis Rodriguez – prints before and after Columbus’s journey

The one-day event at The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture entitled Open Archive: The Slave Ship will take place on Wednesday, February 13, 2019 from 1-2:30pm to be held at The Schomburg, located at 515 Malcolm X Boulevard, at 135th Street in Harlem. The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is part of the New York Public Library. This is a Free event with registration.

Have you signed up for the 7th Annual Black Comic Book Festival at The Schomburg?  While you’re there, check out Victor Hugo Green’s Green Books.