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PURCHASE PRINTS:

(Allow an average of 2-3 weeks for the arrival of prints. Giclee prints are special-ordered and will take around 4 weeks.See buy page for more information on purchasing. )

Bookmarks, $2:

13 x 19" inch print on watercolor paper, $40:

Archival Giclee Print, approx 24"x30":
Media/ Price

 




Bright Puerto Rican Red
Piri Thomas: Soul Rebels series

2005
Acrylic, oils, collage on Masonite
76 " x 19"

Piri Thomas was born in El Barrio/ East Harlem in 1928 to a Cuban father and a Puerto Rican mother. His coming of age in the streets of El Barrio is recounted in his groundbreaking book Down These Means Streets. When I first saw Piri, it was around 1996 at Cornell University when I was an student. He was invited to speak on campus. I arrived at the event and was one of about 200 students of color packed into the space. When Piri took the stage, I saw the strongest looking Puerto Rican man with white hair I had ever seen. He was tall and his voice was even taller. He spoke poetically, with his arms outstretched and the wide sleeves of his white tunic, glowing radiantly against his brown skin like open wings. His street slang of the 40's, 50's, 60's through today put you in this timeless, time warp where age did not matter and experience did not matter because we were all the same and we in the audience were just as tall and as strong as he. It was during that presentation that he completely tore apart the term "minority". As a Puerto Rican woman on a college campus, you hear that wherever you go.I have not used that term since and feel refreshed to not think of myself as a "minority."

After graduating Cornell I moved to Philadelphia to work at Taller Puertorriqueño, Inc. At Taller's bookstore I had purchased Piri's spoken word/ word songs CD "Sounds of the Streets". That CD became my Greyhound Bus soundtrack for trips back home to NYC. I remember the first time I put my headphones on as the bus was pulling out of the Philadelphia Greyhound station. By the time we were somewhere in New Jersey a particular poem came on, which began with the words "To my heart, to my heart". I expected to hear a love poem. But among the first images conveyed, were those of a "dream where the walls are painted bright Puerto Rican red". As an artist I thought, Wow, I never considered colors in that way. Later on, the poem talks about the streets, gangs, violence, self-esteem and pride. Sitting on the bus that day, I listened to the words carefully, hearing:

I'm gonna be what I want to be
I ain't gonna believe what they want me to be...
I ain't gonna be afraid, I ain't gonna be ashamed...
And I'm gonna scream, I'm a Rican! Puerto Rican!
T o my heart, to my heart, Punto!

Suddenly it all made sense. It was a love poem: love for oneself and having to prove yourself to no one but yourself, your heart. I remember getting all teary eyed on the bus, carrying that poem in my heart ever since. When it came time to paint Piri Thomas, there was no doubt in my mind about what the color scheme would be (bright Puerto Rican red) or which of his words would appear alongside his image. I even kept that as the title of this painting.

As a Soul Rebel Piri used his own experience with the rough life of the streets, incarceration, addiction, to relate to youth and others going through the same struggle. He uses his words to heal and doesn't write to glorify his own experience but to create an outlet for others. He takes his empowering messages to young people on campuses, in prisons and on the streets teaching us in his own words: "I'm gonna keep looking upward, and I ain't gonna let them make me look down."

Visit Piri's site at www.cheverote.com.

© Copyright 2005-09, Yasmin Hernandez. Under no circumstances should any of the images or content of this site be downloaded, printed or reproduced without direct permission from the artist.