Today’s contributing writer, Natalia Almonte, is an artist born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Almonte’s practice is committed to exploring the emotional anatomy of Puerto Ricans through audiovisual and mixed media installations. She uses strategies proposed by Dada and Concrete Poetry to create visual infrastructures that question the authority of language and the power of verbal manipulation, a reality faced by colonial entities that seldom dictate their own story and are subject to the mercy of the empire’s archives. The tension of both movements existing simultaneously parallels the incongruence of Puerto Rico’s status. Her solo and collaborative work has been shown at galleries in Puerto Rico and New York.
Natalia Almonte with Nicole Economides, curated WE ARE HERE TO SERVE YOU at the Arnold and Sheila Aronson Galleries of Parsons School of Design in New York before the pandemic brought about strict quarantine measures.
Read below for Natalia’s review of the effects of the pandemic on their exhibition that has been indefinitely extended!
WE ARE HERE TO SERVE YOU, an exhibition recently written about on this website, has overextended it’s welcome on New York City’s most consumer infested street… and it works. The exhibition opened on February 20th of this forsaken year and was scheduled to close a month later. Due to COVID-19 guidelines, however, the de-installation has been postponed until further notice.
As a result, the show remains, seemingly integrated to 5th avenue’s luxury brand aesthetics; a neon, a vinyl, and flat screens still running and visible through the front window vitrine. Instead of Barbie-style mannequins clad in overpriced clothing – patio chairs on a stolen barricade, instead of an ad for a gag-fest candy fragrance – a reinterpreted racist ad for Puerto Rican yams, and instead of giant heroin-chic photographs – a life-size monument of President Truman hanging from a crane undoing its mistaken erection.
WE ARE HERE TO SERVE YOU has become the 5th avenue imposter, a poser, a spy, an infiltrator from the other side: the ANTI side. Anti-capitalist, anti-colonial, and anti-privatization at its core, not really for the utopian versions of these concepts, but for the seedy greedy ways these ideas have been implemented in both Greece and Puerto Rico. WE ARE HERE TO SERVE YOU is a traveling exhibition that focuses on connecting artistic practices from both places that are confronting similar intangible realities. The artworks on view — ranging from multimedia video installations and photography to performance and painting — critically engage with reductive perceptions of Greece and Puerto Rico. In debt, but not indebted to, conceptually permeates the exhibition who’s intentionally sarcastic title suggests assumed foolishness that in actuality reveals our hyper-consciousness.
Fast forward to Phase 4 in NYC with over five months of quarantine measures and curfews under our foolish masks: While high-end retail was boarded up, the exhibition still remained vulnerably available to the public. Only a 5-minute walk from Washington Square Park, one of the Black Lives Matter protest centers during the past few months, and if you hear glass shattering it is from the gallery’s inside-out attempting to disrupt the 1%’s money-sucking land of fashion and toxic constructions of beauty.
The exhibition stayed up at the private institution of Parsons… and it works. The hollowed land of tourists and bougie Beckys that peaced-out early March has been void of the usual inhabitants, and the rest remained enduring the virus epicenter. Protesting within the white cube, there are three works that include the incessant sounds of pots and pans, footage of riots and tear gas and police brutality, a barricade used to control crowds, a central image of an offensive monument with a crowd looking up at its removal and those currently taking the streets join that crowd fists up at the necessary spectacle.
The HERE in WE ARE HERE TO SERVE YOU was repeated and emboldened on the window vinyl, claiming its ground, proclaiming its voice, and demanding to be heard. “HERE HERE HERE HERE HERE HERE HERE HERE HERE…” because we are not here to serve, we are here to stay.