By Deborah Odunuyi (284)
Throughout this year’s Hispanic Heritage Month, we’ve celebrated multiple Hispanic artists such as Frida Kahlo and Pablo Picasso. But there are Hispanic arts in Philly right now to celebrate too!
Johnny Irizarry is a retired university professor who’s worked at the University of Pennsylvania and LaSalle, which is just a hop-skip-and a jump away from Central. He also served as the executive director of Taller Puertorriqueño, an art center focused on the Latino community which is the site of his debut exhibit, “Experience is Foundation”.
“Experience is Foundation”, Irizarry’s first solo exhibition opened on August 13th and closed on October 2nd. It showcased his realizations about being a Puerto Rican in the United States. One of those is that small aspect of a culture need to be celebrated, no matter how small it is. An example of this is “the chancla.” The idea of Hispanic children being chased by their mothers bearing a slipper has been an infamous image in the American view of Hispanic culture. Johnny plays on this in his piece “Chancletazos, Correazos, Tiros, Y Cuchillazos?” (“Flip-flops, Strap-ons, Shots, and Knives?”).
The juxtaposition of the chancla, which has a violent reputation, adorned with peace signs interestingly inverts the stereotype. It plays on the viewer’s fear and yet the strange sense of familiarity with the object at the same time. The piece sends a message, “Find peace in the violence,” which is a lesson that’s important for students to know. Believe it or not, violence doesn’t always mean physical aggression. It can describe the intensity of something too.
While the “Experience is Foundation” exhibit has long since been closed by the time you’re reading this, I encourage you to look up the show for yourself and examine the pieces. It’s good to see what kind of messages you can pull from the artwork. Like Johnny Irizarry said in an interview, “I’m hoping that people relate to the work. If not relate to the work, then feel the topics and think of their own stories in relationship to these topics.”