The Puerto Rican town of Carolina is known as La Tierra de Gigantes, the land of giants, in honor of its most famous inhabitant: Don Felipe Birriel, the tallest man in Puerto Rican history. We use the same expression for Puerto Rico itself, as it is one of the smallest Caribbean islands and yet very rich in natural beauty, architecture, culture, traditions and talents. The furry dense mountains, the silent presence of colonial fortresses, the colorful Vejigantes masks, and the big bouncing heads of Cabezudos costumes are all giants that gave me vivid childhood memories. This small tropical island became mi tierra de gigantes.
Carnival is a crucial component of Puerto Rican culture and identity. Festivals honoring patron saints, Fiestas Patronales, are celebrated annually in every town. During this colorful time, costumed characters, called Vejigantes and Cabezudos, join the crowds in singing and dancing. The Vejigante, dressed in horned masks and flowing attire, are demon figures from medieval Spanish folklore.The Caretas (masks) are typically made with coconut shells, wood or papier-mâché. Los Cabezudos, or “big heads” are gigantic caricatures of popular figures, including politicians, sportsmen, artists, and other public figures. Both Cabezudos and Vejigantes have become staples of Carnival celebrations and cultural symbols of Puerto Rico. Their massive scale make them both comical and terrifying. As they dance in the streets, the beat and rhythm of the Pleneras and African drums feel like steps of the giants.
tierra de GIGANTES is my second solo exhibition with PDX CONTEMPORARY ART and my reflection on Puerto Rican landscapes, both terrestrial and cultural. At double and triple the scale of previous work, these freestanding sculptures and wall mounted reliefs comprise my most ambitious body of work to date. These objects embody memories of Vejigantes and Cabezudos, of majestic mountains, waterfalls, vegetation, and massive colonial architecture. They manifest a synesthetic fantasy of shape and color.