Puerto Rican Artists Stun With Powerful Images of Hurricane María’s Aftermath at Whitney Museum

Puerto Rican Artists Stun with Powerful Images of Hurricane Maria’s Aftermath

Courtesy the artist via Whitney Museum of American Art

By Cynthia De Saint

January 13, 2023

For the first time in nearly 50 years, Boricua artists are featured in a major US museum with an exhibition that reflects on the devastation and transformation wrought by the 2017 storm.

Less than two weeks after Hurricane Irma skirted Puerto Rico in September of 2017, Hurricane María, a deadly Category 4 storm hit Puerto Rico with deadly force. The 157-mile-per-hour winds and torrential rains caused devastating destruction to the landscape, as well as to those who called it home, whether they lived on the island or abroad. 

Five years later, the repercussions on the lives of those affected by its path of destruction are still being felt. 

But if there is anything that art can do, it is to create meaning and beauty out of pain. 

The island’s defining moment is now the subject of The Whitney Museum of American Art’s exhibition “no existe un mundo poshuracán: Puerto Rican Art in the Wake of Hurricane Maria,” on display Nov. 23 2022 through April 23, 2023. 

A First in Nearly Fifty Years

“No existe un mundo poshuracán,” which takes its title from a poem by Puerto Rican poet Raquel Salas Rivera featured in the exhibition, explores the trauma created by loss, reflection, and grieving through painting, video, installation, performance, poetry, and newly commissioned works created for the show.

The first scholarly survey of contemporary Puerto Rican art presented by a major US museum in nearly half a century brings together over fifty works by an intergenerational group of artists from Puerto Rico and the diaspora whose art reflects and explores the historic events that preceded and followed the path of the deadline storm.

From the Heart

Some of the stunning works include Gabriella Báez’s “Ojalá nos encontremos en el mar” (2018–ongoing), which presents photographs of objects that once belonged to the artist’s father, who died by suicide two months before the first anniversary of Hurricane María. 

“ID. Escuela Tomás Carrión Maduro, Santurce, Puerto Rico—New on the Market” (2021), by Rogelio Báez Vega, is a large scale painting depicting an elementary school in a sad state of abandonment, evoking public school closures and the sale of their buildings to private real estate investors. 

Gabriella Torres-Ferrer’s 2018n sculpture “Untitled (Valora tu mentira americana)” 2018, undermines the belief in the protective power of US citizenship. In the work, an electric post found among the storm’s debris in mid-fall still bears a sign urging voters to value their American citizenship.

Sounding a Warning

“The artists in this exhibition challenge us to understand the historical, physical, and political forces that have shaped Puerto Rico, and to see both our own responsibility and vulnerability,” said Adam D. Weinberg, the Alice Pratt Brown Director of the Whitney Museum. 

These works, he believes, serve not only to collect the experiences of those who were impacted by the storm, but also as a warning to the rest of the world.

“Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria is a harbinger of things to come for those who are most vulnerable, not just in the Caribbean,” he said, “but worldwide.”

READ MORE: 20 Fun, Quirky, and Fascinating Facts About Puerto Rico




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