Miguel Luciano: Cemi-Libre Block Party Celebration & Exhibition in East Harlem




Zemi Cohoba Stand, creative sculptural expression for the Taino peoples. Image via The MET

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Civic Practice Partnership Artist-in-Residence, Miguel Luciano, is having a party and we’re all invited! The block party is a celebration of his new exhibition, on view at Hope Community Inc.’s Galeria del Barrio, and it is also a celebration of the culmination of Luciano’s there-year residency at The Met.

Throughout this residency, Luciano engaged with the Museum’s archives and collection, foregrounding historic connections between the Museum and East Harlem and exploring the deep activist history of the neighborhood and community. A centerpiece of the exhibition is a sculptural bronze replica of the Taíno Zemí Cohoba Stand (A.D. 974–1027), from The Met’s Arts of the Ancient Americas collection, which Luciano created to present this iconic image of ancestral Caribbean art to the community.

Zemi Cohoba Stand, creative sculptural expression for the Taino peoples. Image via The MET

Luciano’s work pays homage to the activist history of East Harlem, which challenged institutions to become more inclusive and responsive, while he underscores the need for this work to continue today.

The Civic Practice Partnership continues to be a significant way The Met can support lasting, relevant, and vital partnerships with artists and communities around New York City,” said Heidi Holder, the Museum’s Frederick P. and Sandra P. Rose Chair of Education. “Miguel Luciano’s Cemí-Libre pushes the boundaries of creative practice and research at the Museum to connect directly and deeply with the people of East Harlem. We are grateful to partner with Hope Community, Inc. in mounting this exhibition at Galería del Barrio. In many ways, Cemí-Libre liberates and provokes us all to think about the ways in which objects and museums interact with histories and communities. It’s thrilling to see Luciano share his work with East Harlem and to witness the ambitious fruits of his residency.”

Suhaly Bautista-Carolina, The Met’s Senior Managing Educator of Audience Development and Engagement, commented, “Luciano’s practice invites us to experience The Met’s art, narratives, and archives through a community-centric lens, one that redirects our attention to the People with a capital ‘P’ and amplifies the work, stories, and impact of community artists, creators, and elders. His residency blazes a path for future socially engaged artists to lead in the critical, urgent, and transformative work of prioritizing diverse perspectives.”

The outdoor art installation, Mapping Resistance: The Young Lords in El Barrio (2019), in which Luciano placed billboard-sized historic photographs by Hiram Maristany in the exact East Harlem locations where the actions and events occurred 50 years prior.

“The Civic Practice Partnership has been a unique opportunity for artists to leverage the resources of the institution in service of the communities we represent,” said Luciano. “I am honored to be sharing this culminating work in East Harlem and celebrating with the community that inspired it.”

Cemí-Libre follows extensive research that Miguel Luciano (born Puerto Rico, 1972) conducted on The Met’s 1973 exhibition The Art Heritage of Puerto Rico: Pre-Colombian to Present, which was a collaboration with El Museo del Barrio and the first major survey of Puerto Rican art in a U.S. museum. Cemí-Libre also follows the public art project Mapping Resistance: The Young Lords in El Barrio (2019), in which Luciano placed billboard-size historic photographs by Hiram Maristany (the official photographer of the Young Lords) in the exact East Harlem locations where the actions and events occurred 50 years prior. The exhibition Cemí-Libre will be open through August 8, 2021, and will culminate Luciano’s Civic Practice Partnership Artistic Residency, which began in 2018.

Luciano, who is based in East Harlem, presents four powerful multidimensional works in a display that places them alongside the bronze replica sculpture entitled Cemí-Libre (2021) (Cemí is the Taíno word for “an ancestral spirit,” and Libre means “to be free”). Using a 3-D scan of the original Taíno Zemí Cohoba Stand, created in collaboration with The Met’s Imaging Department, the Zemí will, for the first time, be brought directly into the East Harlem community to be experienced by audiences who share connections to its history and heritage. On an adjacent wall is a framed original 1973 exhibition catalogue for The Art Heritage of Puerto Rico: Pre-Columbian to Present, from the collection of artist Juan Sánchez, an artist whose work is in The Met collection and who is one of Luciano’s mentors. Another featured work, Shields/Escudos (2020), is a series of protest shields made from decommissioned school buses in Puerto Rico, where hundreds of public schools have been shuttered in recent years due to U.S.-imposed austerity programs. The protest shields make reference to shields in The Met’s arms and armor collection and were inspired by protest movements and uprisings in Puerto Rico and the United States in 2019–2020.

Also on view will be a billboard vinyl from the public art project Mapping Resistance: The Young Lords in El Barrio (2019), featuring a 1970s photograph by Hiram Maristany of a Young Lords member holding an issue of Palánte Newspaper with the headline “Liberación o Muerte!” A limited-edition “El Met” T-shirt—a conceptual project that Luciano launched in June 2021 as a provocation to increase the visibility of Latinx art at the Museum—will also be on view. Luciano remixed the Museum’s logo in Spanglish as a way of reimagining The Met through the lens of Spanish-speaking audiences. Luciano’s “El Met” merchandise is now available in The Met Store and online, and all proceeds will support the acquisition of Latinx art at the Museum.

Miguel Luciano: Cemi-Libre Block Party Celebration will be held on Saturday, July 31st from 2:00 to 6:00pm on East 104th Street between Third Avenue and Lexington Avenue in East Harlem.

The exhibition is on view from July 23 through August 8, 2021 at Galeria del Barrio, 162 1/2 East 104th Street. The Galeria is open daily from 11am to 7pm.

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Miguel Luciano: Pimp My Piagua, 2009. Customized tricycle pushcart, sound, video, LEDs. Image taken at Lenfest, Columbia University, 2016

Just for fun, we thought we would include another of the artists’ creations ~ a mobil public art project, Pimp My Piragua (image above), a piece that commemorates the innovations of Latino street vendors. We spotted it a few years ago in the lobby of Lenfest Center for the Arts at Columbia University.

Check to see what else is going on in East Harlem.  Visit the historic La Marqueta.