Photo: @HopeciNY

The culmination of Luciano’s three-year residency at The Met, the exhibition will be accompanied by a block party celebration

A special pop-up exhibition titled Cemí-Libre opened Friday July 23 at the Hope Community, Inc.’s Galería del Barrio featuring works by Miguel Luciano created during a three-year Civic Practice Partnership Artist Residency at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Throughout his residency at The Met, Luciano has engaged with the Museum’s archives and collection, foregrounding historic connections between the Museum and East Harlem and exploring the deep activist history of the neighborhood and community. A centerpiece of the exhibition is a sculptural bronze replica of the Taíno Zemí Cohoba Stand (A.D. 974–1027), from The Met’s Arts of the Ancient Americas collection, which Luciano created to present this iconic image of ancestral Caribbean art to the community. The exhibition will be celebrated in a Cemí-Libre Block Party on Saturday, July 31, from 2 to 6 p.m. on East 104th Street, between Third and Lexington Avenues. The exhibition and block party are free and open to the public.

The exhibition is made possible by the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust.

The exhibition space is provided by Hope Community, Inc.

“The Civic Practice Partnership continues to be a significant way The Met can support lasting, relevant, and vital partnerships with artists and communities around New York City,” said Heidi Holder, the Museum’s Frederick P. and Sandra P. Rose Chair of Education. “Miguel Luciano’s Cemí-Libre pushes the boundaries of creative practice and research at the Museum to connect directly and deeply with the people of East Harlem. We are grateful to partner with Hope Community, Inc. in mounting this exhibition at Galería del Barrio. In many ways, Cemí-Libre liberates and provokes us all to think about the ways in which objects and museums interact with histories and communities. It’s thrilling to see Luciano share his work with East Harlem and to witness the ambitious fruits of his residency.”

Suhaly Bautista-Carolina, The Met’s Senior Managing Educator of Audience Development and Engagement, commented, “Luciano’s practice invites us to experience The Met’s art, narratives, and archives through a community-centric lens, one that redirects our attention to the People with a capital ‘P’ and amplifies the work, stories, and impact of community artists, creators, and elders. His residency blazes a path for future socially engaged artists to lead in the critical, urgent, and transformative work of prioritizing diverse perspectives.”

Cemí-Libre follows extensive research that Miguel Luciano (born Puerto Rico, 1972) conducted on The Met’s 1973 exhibition The Art Heritage of Puerto Rico: Pre-Colombian to Present, which was a collaboration with El Museo del Barrio and the first major survey of Puerto Rican art in a U.S. museum. Cemí-Libre also follows the public art project Mapping Resistance: The Young Lords in El Barrio (2019), in which Luciano placed billboard-size historic photographs by Hiram Maristany (the official photographer of the Young Lords) in the exact East Harlem locations where the actions and events occurred 50 years prior. The exhibition Cemí-Libre will be open through August 8, 2021, and will culminate Luciano’s Civic Practice Partnership Artistic Residency, which began in 2018.

“The Civic Practice Partnership has been a unique opportunity for artists to leverage the resources of the institution in service of the communities we represent,” said Luciano. “I am honored to be sharing this culminating work in East Harlem and celebrating with the community that inspired it.”

Luciano, who is based in East Harlem, presents four powerful multidimensional works in a display that places them alongside the bronze replica sculpture entitled Cemí-Libre (2021) (Cemí is the Taíno word for “an ancestral spirit,” and Libre means “to be free”). Using a 3-D scan of the original Taíno Zemí Cohoba Stand, created in collaboration with The Met’s Imaging Department, the Zemí will, for the first time, be brought directly into the East Harlem community to be experienced by audiences who share connections to its history and heritage. On an adjacent wall is a framed original 1973 exhibition catalogue for The Art Heritage of Puerto Rico: Pre-Columbian to Present, from the collection of artist Juan Sánchez, an artist whose work is in The Met collection and who is one of Luciano’s mentors. Another featured work, Shields/Escudos (2020), is a series of protest shields made from decommissioned school buses in Puerto Rico, where hundreds of public schools have been shuttered in recent years due to U.S.-imposed austerity programs. The protest shields make reference to shields in The Met’s arms and armor collection and were inspired by protest movements and uprisings in Puerto Rico and the United States in 2019–2020.

Also on view will be a billboard vinyl from the public art project Mapping Resistance: The Young Lords in El Barrio (2019), featuring a 1970s photograph by Hiram Maristany of a Young Lords member holding an issue of Palánte Newspaper with the headline “Liberación o Muerte!” A limited-edition “El Met” T-shirt—a conceptual project that Luciano launched in June 2021 as a provocation to increase the visibility of Latinx art at the Museum—will also be on view. Luciano remixed the Museum’s logo in Spanglish as a way of reimagining The Met through the lens of Spanish-speaking audiences. Luciano’s “El Met” merchandise is now available in The Met Store and online, and all proceeds will support the acquisition of Latinx art at the Museum. 

About Miguel Luciano

Luciano is a multimedia visual artist whose work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, including in exhibitions at The Mercosul Biennial, Brazil; La Grande Halle de la Villette, Paris; El Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City; The San Juan Poly-Graphic Triennial, Puerto Rico; and The Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C. He is the recipient of numerous grants and awards, including the inaugural Latinx Artist Fellowship (2021), supported by the U.S. Latinx Art Forum, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Ford Foundation. His work is featured in the permanent collections of The Smithsonian American Art Museum, The Brooklyn Museum, El Museo del Barrio, the Newark Museum, and the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico. Luciano is a faculty member of the School of Visual Arts and Yale University School of Art. He received his MFA from the University of Florida.

About Hope Community, Inc.

Since 1968, Hope Community, Inc. has worked to transform the East Harlem community and surrounding neighborhoods through economic development, social service partnerships, and cultural arts programming at Galería del Barrio. Hope Community’s core mission is to continue developing and managing affordable housing and commercial spaces for thousands of low- and moderate-income families in East Harlem and provide its residents and community at large valuable tools and resources to enhance their quality of life through health forums, women’s empowerment workshops, and financial literacy workshops. Hope Community collaborates and maintains numerous art space projects and murals throughout East Harlem, such as the iconic “Spirit of East Harlem.”

About The Met

The Metropolitan Museum of Art was founded in 1870 by a group of American citizens—businessmen and financiers as well as leading artists and thinkers of the day—who wanted to create a museum to bring art and art education to the American people. Today, The Met displays tens of thousands of objects covering 5,000 years of art from around the world for everyone to experience and enjoy. The Museum lives in two iconic sites in New York City—The Met Fifth Avenue and The Met Cloisters. Millions of people also take part in The Met experience online. Since its founding, The Met has always aspired to be more than a treasury of rare and beautiful objects. Every day, art comes alive in the Museum’s galleries and through its exhibitions and events, revealing both new ideas and unexpected connections across time and across cultures.

About The Met’s Education Department

Dedicated to making art accessible to everyone, regardless of background, ability, age, or experience, The Met’s Education Department is central to the Museum’s mission and currently presents over 29,000 educational events and programs throughout the year. These programs include workshops, art-making experiences, specialized tours, fellowships supporting leading scholarship and research, high school and college internships that promote career accessibility and diversity, K-12 educator programs that train teachers to integrate art into core curricula across disciplines, and school tours and programs that spark deep learning and lifelong relationships with and through art. The Met’s Civic Practice Partnership was launched in 2017 and is a collaborative residency program for artists who are socially minded in their practice and who will implement creative projects in their own neighborhoods across New York City. The Met invited two dynamic lead artists for the Civic Practice Partnership’s inaugural program: choreographer and performance artist Rashida Bumbray, working in Bedford-Stuyvesant, and multimedia visual artist Miguel Luciano, working in East Harlem. In 2020, The Met welcomed three additional artists to the program: Jon Gray, of artistic and culinary collective Ghetto Gastro; Mei Lum, of the W.O.W. Project, a community organizing and arts space in Manhattan’s Chinatown; and musician and composer Toshi Reagon.