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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Number of artists boycotting Poli/Grafica Art Exhibit grows

Institute of Puerto Rican Culture Executive Director Carlos R. Ruiz Cortés (LinkedIn)

By The Star Staff

Close to 30 artists have withdrawn their works from the Poli/Gráfica Art Exhibit, Puerto Rico’s most important art exhibition, to protest what they perceive as censorship against one of the artists.

The boycott is to protest the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture’s (ICP by its Spanish initials) alleged censorship of Puerto Rican artist Garvin Sierra Vega, who wanted to present a work related to Puerto Rico’s debt. The ICP, in a statement, insisted it supports artistic freedom, that it was all a huge mistake, and that the exhibit’s curator, Lisa Ladner, is no longer with the event.

According to the publication En Blanco y Negro, artists Charles Juhaz-Alvarado, Yolanda Velázquez-Vélez, Antonio Martorell and Marta Pérez García, among others, have already withdrawn works.

The ICP, in a statement from Elvis Fuentes, chief curator of the Poli/Gráfica; María del Mar Caragol Rivera, director of the Studio Arts Program and ICP Director Carlos R. Ruiz Cortés, apologized and clarified.

“In recent online posts, it has transpired that curator Lisa Ladner’s communications inadvertently created the appearance of a censorship exercise against Puerto Rican artist Garvin Sierra Vega. This is a fact that we deeply regret, and therefore, we express our apology for any misunderstanding caused,” the ICP said.

Last July, the ICP said Ladner contacted Sierra Vega about possibly participating in Poli/Gráfica with excerpts from a work about Puerto Rico’s debt and those responsible in the island’s government.

“Ladner clarified that due to her role as honorary consul of Switzerland, she had to consult with her superiors to avoid any appearance of conflict. Given this communication, Sierra Vega wrote a letter to the executive director of the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture, denouncing what he perceived as censorship and declining to participate in the exhibition,” the ICP said. “Ladner wrote to Sierra Vega on August 15 of that year, clarifying the misunderstanding and offering the responsibility for curatorial coordination be passed into the hands of the project’s chief curator, Elvis Fuentes. There was no response from the artist to this communication.”

“Artistic expression is a fundamental right and we recognize the importance of supporting diverse voices and perspectives within our community,” the ICP said. “La Poli/Gráfica has always aimed to be a space where artists can freely share their creativity and ideas without fear of censorship or repression. In fact, that is one of the central themes of the exhibition we are organizing right now: Under Pressure.”

However, the ICP said, “in our efforts to uphold community guidelines and standards, there may be cases where our actions were perceived as limiting artistic freedom. This was never our intention and we sincerely apologize for any impact this may have had on the affected artist, an artist of enormous prestige, and on his followers and colleagues.”

The ICP said it was committed to rectifying the situation and ensuring that its practices are transparent, fair and respectful of artistic expression.

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