Local photographer focuses on Vieques

June 8, 2007
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Courtesy Photo “Bunkers in a Storm,” Vieques, Puerto Rico, 2006″ by Bonnie Donahue

Casa de la Cultura/Latino Center for the Arts will host “Vieques: A Long Way Home” by Jamaica Plain resident Bonnie Donohue. The exhibit, from June 14 to July 27, will showcase large-scale panoramic photographs of the contested territory of Vieques, Puerto Rico.

The opening reception will be June 14, 6-9 p.m., with a roundtable discussion from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. An artist talk will be held on June 27, 6-8 p.m. Casa de la Cultura is located at 85 W. Newton St. in the South End. For more information, call 927-1737.

The photos show stunning views interrupted by vestigial military architecture that dots the landscape at the same sites where tenant farms stood prior to U.S. Navy’s arrival in 1941. Large-scale expropriations ended a century and a half of cane farming on the island when a Navy base that occupied of two-thirds of the island displaced residents.

Donohue’s photographs are a symbolic reclamation of Vieques from military domination and a restoration and redemption of the land to cultural use. She incorporates contemporary Navy surveillance photos and interviews with elderly island residents. From deep in the naval archives, she culled official documents and images that are evidence of the position of Puerto Rico in the hierarchy of mid-20th century American military and political power.

The exhibit also includes rare visual evidence of the homes and neighborhoods of the agregados (tenant farmers) and displays the only known view of the sugar central in operation, with smoke belching from its twin stacks. Rather than taking a sentimental view of the landscape, the artwork problematizes the complex history of its contested ownership and use.

After enduring years of popular protest that continuously disrupted its bombing-practice operations, the Navy left the island in 2003. As a result, Vieques today is a unique Caribbean location with vast acres of apparently “undeveloped” land. Its “unspoiled” vistas have stimulated the appetites of speculators, hoteliers, eco-tourists, developers and casino owners.

“This illusional paradise has been subdivided for the first time in history and will not remain ‘undeveloped’ for long. I have seized this moment to juxtapose photographs of the past with images from today to pose questions about the future fate of the island,” Donohue said.

Donohue is an artist who works with mapping places of conflict and loss. She is a professor of photography at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. Much of her work is located in sites of cultural disruption and deals with issues of power relationships and colonialism. Underpinning the work is an analysis of economy, race, politics, class and cultural erasure.

She is working collaboratively with sound artist Lauren Weinger of Chicago and with César Ayala, Sociology Professor at UCLA and the Vieques Historic Archives. For more information about Vieques and the exhibition, go to: http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/soc/faculty/ayala/vieques.

From a press release.

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