Five years after Hurricane Maria, Puerto Ricans are still facing hardships that were only exacerbated by Hurricane Fiona. The hurricanes caused mass destruction that not only affected the ecological landscape of Puerto Rico, but also impacted politics, economics, and the wellbeing of residents. Many residents were diagnosed with mental health disorders after experiencing Hurricane Maria, with almost 49% of Puerto Rican workers expressing symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder one year after the hurricane. Puerto Rican artists have responded to this crisis through a variety of art forms.
Organized to coincide with Hurricane Maria’s fifth anniversary, “no existe un mundo poshuracán: Puerto Rican Art in the Wake of Hurricane Maria” is an art exhibit in the Whitney Museum of Art in New York City that will be on display until April 23, 2023. The exhibit showcases the personal hardships faced by many Puerto Ricans because of Hurricane Maria and the aftermath of the storm. It is the first Puerto Rican art exhibition displayed at a United States museum in almost fifty years and contains around fifty artworks created by twenty diverse artists.
The exhibition was curated by Marcela Guerrero, who spent years searching for art that explored gaps in societal discourse. It is divided into five themes that explore different aspects of the causes and aftermath of Hurricane Maria: the lack of strong infrastructure, harms of tourism, mental health impacts, ecological damage, and political disarray. Guerrero explained that art was crucial to getting a realistic impression of how residents were impacted by the hurricane because it gets past extreme news stories in mainstream media.
Gabriella Báez, one of the artists with work in the exhibition, turned to photography to mourn their home and family. They used red threads to display emotional connections in photos with their father who died after the hurricane due to mental health impacts. Báez hopes to draw awareness to the government’s inadequate response to the mental health crisis caused by natural disasters. They aim to break the taboo around discussing mental health through their thought-provoking artwork displayed in the exhibition.
Another artist part of the exhibition, Sofía Gallisá Muriente, hopes to shed light on the impacts of urbanization and tourism. She uses natural tools such as humidity and salt to corrode analog film, destroying her art with the environment like the storm destroyed her home. Her short film titled “Celaje” exemplifies Puerto Rico’s shift from building schools and homes to expanding businesses and tourist attractions. Báez, Muriente, and the other artists are the start of an artistic resistance to the current government policies and infrastructure in Puerto Rico.