Raphael Montañez Ortiz started a new large-scale work, in a development of a series of assemblages in which he had been working for the past decade. In the spring of 2020, he began to relate the work, inspired by the genocide of indigenous peoples during the European invasion of the Americas, to the impact caused by Covid-19 among Latinx and BIPOC populations in the United States. Last summer, Montañez Ortiz decided to donate the work to El Museo del Barrio, the institution he founded in 1969. The condition he put in place was that the work should be presented in 2020, in order to ensure its resonance in the context of the global pandemic. The work was completed after several months gathering material purchased online, presented in a specially created display case. This structure echoes the shape of various exhibition apparatuses and their colonial genealogies — from the cabinet of curiosities to the diorama and the reliquary. Inside are presented pages of books, replicas of gold nuggets, bones, feathers, and weapons, all alluding to the invasion of the Americas. The orchestration of these objects articulates recurring interests in the artist’s practice since the 1960s, such as colonialism, destruction, authentication, magic, and animism. Described in the artist’s own words “a personal prophecy”, he relates the piece to recent events as well as to his own mortality: “I put myself into this piece.”
With its monumental title (The Memorial to the Sadistic Holocaust Destruction of Millions of Our Ancient Arawak-Taino-Latinx Ancestors Begun in 1492 by Columbus and His Mission to With the Conquistadores Colonize and Deliver to Spain the Wealth of the New World no Matter the Human Cost to the New World’s Less Than Human Aborigine Inhabitants…), the work is presented here together with another item from El Museo’s permanent collection, an English edition of the book by Fr. Bartolome de las Casas. Brevísima relación de la destrucción de las indias was first published in 1552 and is one of the earliest and most important historical accounts documenting the brutal treatment of indigenous cultures by the Spanish conquerors.
This presentation anticipates the retrospective that will celebrate Montañez Ortiz’s more than sixty-year career, scheduled for the end of 2021. With this major donation, the founder of the Museum creates a gesture that expands and deepens his legacy in the institution.