I have travelled all over the United States. And, in my short year of life here, I have learned Puerto Rico is nothing like the United States.
And for that, we should give thanks.
No, Puerto Rico is a uniquely vibrant country with a culture deeply immersed in music, food and art. Drawing out the best of its African, Native, and Spanish cultural heritages, these expressive cultures have fused into a people a spirit that exudes artistic expression.
Street art, often a controversial topic in the United States, is extremely pervasive and acceptable within the local communities of Puerto Rico. This is not graffiti. Although, there is plenty of that. No, this is an art and that serves a purpose here on the island.
Street art is a combination of protest, historic storytelling and decorative expression on what can often be a difficult life here on the island. Street art, however, is not a protected speech. Anyone who opposes a mural’s message can simply slip by in the dark of night and in minutes, with a can of paint, destroy what took the artist hours and often times, days, to create.
This love of artistic expression, coupled with risk, is what makes street art so interesting. The neighborhood must collectively accept the artists mural. They have to take ownership of it, to watch over it, and care for it, least it becomes lost to vandals.
Santurce, a working class neighborhood within the municipality of San Juan, seemed to have the most street art of the communities I have wandered thru. The neighborhood is a mix of bars, shops, restaurants and apartments. Many buildings lack air conditioning. Thus, crowds will often loiter on the streets, rather than their hot apartments. This is generational living here. Gentrification, a coveted term in urban America, is not welcomed here.
Many of the buildings here are caving in on themselves, long since abandoned, their value now zero. These modern day caves are now the hiding places of society’s forgotten. Yet, it is many of these unsavory buildings that now serve as a canvas for the street artist. That is until the buildings are demolished or collapse in on themselves.
Homeless people, the neighborhood hooker, the bar locals have all watched me with curiosity as I moved thru their neighborhood looking for these murals.
Calle Cerra is a side street with a heavy concentration of street art murals. I am the curious outsider and the residents know it, “He just another gringo who is taking pictures of our walls.”
But, I was not alone in my search.
Other art aficionados who have heard rumor of these murals, are doing the same. They also are sidestepping the cats, the children and the refuse trying to photograph and see something that is truly, colloquially, unique.
You won’t see the average tourist here. No, those few who wander into the Puerto Rican neighborhoods looking for street art know exactly what they are searching for. They have heard tale of a mural or two that may or may not still exist. We few are on a quest. A treasure hunt. We few are the true disciples of art and its meaning and we relish the visual hunt. Our only prize, a precious photo.
While fine art may be found in the great museums, it was never birthed there. Art, the kind that tells a story and moves you, comes from neighborhoods and people that you find in Santurce. You are stepping into another era here.
This is Average Joe Art.
Street art painted by hard the working Average men and women of this beautiful island who were willing to risk their art, to the hands of others, in order to make an expression on life as they know it. This is anything but average.
I hope you enjoy these murals as as I have.
Honoring the Puerto Rico ladies; beautiful, hard working, proud.
Puerto Rico Life
Many lives are lived humbly here on this island.