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“Nosotros No Tenemos Armas Para Echar A Pique Sus Fuerzas Navales,
Pero Tenemos el Arma de Echar a Pique Su Prestigio en El Mundo.” Albizu 1930

HomeOscar's JourneyNot Enough SpaceOur Puerto Rican Prisoners of War and Their Art

Our Puerto Rican Prisoners of War and Their Art

by Juan Sánchez

Art is a multitude of things truly beautiful. Art is life-affirming, celebrative, and uplifting. Art reveals the wonder, the revelation, and the joy. Art is a blessing and praise. It is spiritual and concrete; an awakening, strength of character, and peace. Art seeks truth. Art is a necessity. Art is perception and vision. Art is about social and political reality. Art responds to life. Art and life are inseparable. Art is always progressively reaching out for life. Art is life.

But the persistence to reach both the external and internal luminous vision to give shape and certitude to meaning, knowledge, reason, justice, and free will is the struggle that goes beyond art — it is also life. With clay, paint, crayons, paper, brushes, canvas, and other means, the creative minds, vision and feelings of two individuals, without the pretense of being “Artists,” are reaching out … for life’s luminosity. Both are Independentistas. Both have declared themselves Puerto Rican Prisoners of War. Both are embraced as our Puerto Rican freedom fighters. Even though many of our past captured warriors had their sentence commuted and were released under strict and limiting conditions by the imperial colonial government some years ago, Oscar López Rivera and Carlos Alberto Torres remain incarcerated for twenty-five years in maximum security federal penitentiaries with no liberty in sight. But it is their creative expressions that are reaching out for that luminosity from their prison cells. 

Oscar López Rivera’s and Carlos Alberto Torres’ plight in resistance evolves around serving time with pride, integrity, and dignity while distilling history, culture, feelings, yearnings, and points of view with their creative imagination. They now concentrate on giving shape to materials and images with paint to instill a human determination and Puerto Rican consciousness to create visually serious and engaging forms of cultural, social, and political emancipation. Their multitude of aesthetic, formal, and process concerns emanate from a personal as well as a communal state of consciousness. Their art became their own symbolic, aesthetic, and metaphorical resistance. From their maximum-security cells, in solitude as well as under the weather, Oscar López Rivera and Carlos Alberto Torres continue to assert that Puerto Ricans should never exist under the obscure and foreign subjugation and control of colonialism.

The paintings, collages, and ceramics by Oscar López Rivera and Carlos Alberto Torres are part of a sum in the cultural, social, and political expression that goes beyond the criteria of craft, aesthetic, and creative accomplishments. They want to stimulate you to think, feel, believe, and perceive in the way we should relate to our surroundings and the world. You see portraits of Albizu Campos, Lolita Lebrón, Pancho Villa, Frida Kahlo, and a delightful little girl named Lali. There is this scary but funny Vejigante and a beautiful hilly landscape occupied by children playing around shanty homes among other works. You can see in these splendid but humble pieces that Oscar López Rivera and Carlos Alberto Torres repeatedly bring to bear our lives, our culture, memories, stories… and our struggles. This is the art that came out of necessity. This is art we need to see and feel. This is the art that collects and reorganizes fragments of reality into meaningful wholes, bringing the force of facts to bear against the demoralizing injustice from everyday colonialism. Art is a self-determined act of empowerment Self-empowerment is what determines freedom. Art can be extremely lucid when in communion with a people and is most powerful when it illuminates.

With that intensive luminosity, we must demand the unconditional release of Oscar López Rivera and Carlos Alberto Torres if our Puerto Rican integrity is to be free.

Juan Sánchez is a professor at the Art Department at Hunter College of the City University of New York. He has been active in the community and the movement to free Puerto Rican political prisoners since the early 1970s.


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