Mass Appeal interviews Shellyne Rodriguez about El Museo del Barrio’s “¡Presente! The Young Lords in New York”

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This week, artist, educator, and VCS alumna Shellyne Rodriguez was featured in a Mass Appeal interview with Jamie Maleszka about El Museo del Barrio’s ongoing exhibition ¡Presente! The Young Lords in New York. In the interview, Shellyne talks about the late-1960s radical activist group The Young Lords, with a particular focus on their relevance for current activism (including Black Lives Matter and the Occupy movement), and the influence that researching the group has had on her work. Here’s a selection from the interview in which she discusses a piece she made for the exhibition (shown in the image below):

Let’s talk about your piece in response to the group’s Garbage Defensive, which was this successful accumulation of garbage that literally created a traffic-disrupting, wall of refuse at the middle of Second and Third Avenues in Harlem—that the Young Lords then set a flame. Your work literally stands but blocks away from where it actually happened.

Absolutely. After doing research, I had this idea of making this broom be like this weird deity. So, I imagined that the energy of the crowd standing around the fire, having participated in this revolutionary act, which was described as like an ancient ceremony, that it invokes the spirit of a deity. The deity takes the form of a broom, charred from the fire, born of the people’s action. It’s a mother-like figure. It bearing its teeth is kind of a grin or a grimace depending on what your intention is. Is it a smile or an I’m-gonna-fuck-you-up? You decide. The deity’s only appendage is a fist, which hangs from the broom handle. It doubles as a Black Power fist and an azabache fist. Azabaches are super traditional. They are put on babies as charms on bracelets and stuff to ward off any evil eye. And so, this mother hand, this azabache, this fist carries a whip made of 100 little azabaches. They are the people. I mean, it’s not like a deity is born and it’s a savior. The weapon, the whip of this deity is literally the unification of the people. So, she will defend her children by empowering them to work together. When she swings her hand, she swings with the power of the people.

Photo by JSP Art Photography (via Mass Appeal)

Photo by JSP Art Photography (via Mass Appeal)

The rest of the interview is here, and you can read about some of Shellyne’s other recent work as an artist and an educator in these posts:

Shellyne Rodriguez featured in a recent interview on the MoMA learning blog (Jun 28, 2015)

VCS alumna Shellyne Rodriguez writes about the UPNEXT Program on the MoMA INSIDE/OUT blog (Feb 21, 2014)

¡Presente! The Young Lords in New York will be on display through December 12, 2015. For more information, visit El Museo’s website.

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Visual & Critical Studies