Just weeks before Hurricane Fiona hit Puerto Rico earlier this month, a valuable collection of paintings arrived in Chicago from the island.
The work is on loan from a museum in the town of Ponce on the south coast. Now Chicago National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture in Humboldt Park temporarily houses a small but important exhibit.
“This collection comes from the Museo de Arte de Ponce, Ponce’s museum,”
said Billy Ocasio, CEO of the National Museum of Arts and Culture of Puerto Rico. “It’s an art museum. This is truly the first museum to open in the Caribbean and the first to be accredited in 1959.”
Much of the museum remains closed following an earthquake in 2020.
“The thing is, they have this collection, the biggest collection in all of the Caribbean, and they wanted to do something with it,” Ocasio said. “They want to stay relevant, want to reach different places, and so they reached out to us. And I said, I would like to have an art collection, an art exhibit, made up of Puerto Rican artists and painters.
The treasury features historic artwork dating as far back as the 1700s, including paintings created during Puerto Rico’s colonial era.
Most focus on the landscape and people of the island.
“It’s called ‘Island Nostalgia.’ Not only will you feel nostalgic for the island if you’ve been there before, but it makes you daydream, it makes you think about different kinds of things,” Ocasio said. “This exhibition is about three things – it’s about my people, of my island, of my house.”
Ocasio said the exhibits largely never left the island.
“These are plays that we Puerto Ricans have seen in books,” he said. “We may have seen pictures of them, but we’ve never really seen them in person, and so for us to have this collection here is just a remarkable thing.”
The Humboldt Park Museum has modernized its galleries to secure and protect these rare works, mostly painted in oils.
Raul Ortiz Bonilla is an artist and volunteer at the museum.
“It’s the first time we’ve had this type of exhibition in Chicago, United States,” Ortiz Bonilla said. “I know a lot of people are definitely going to be super proud to be able to see this, a lot of people who have never had the opportunity to go to Ponce’s museum. To be able to see that here, they will be delighted, but it will be great. »
While the art landed in Chicago, something that didn’t make it out of Puerto Rico before the hurricane was most of the exhibit’s catalogs, which remain on the island.
“What I want people to take away is that there is a story behind the Puerto Rican people. Yes, we are American citizens, but you should also take a look at who we are,” Ocasio said. “Puerto Ricans are one-third Spaniards, one-third Africans and one-third Taíno Indians. This exhibit explains exactly who we are as Puerto Ricans.
The exhibition is called “Nostalgia for my islandand just opened at the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture, 3015 W. Division St., and is open through June 9, 2023.