The Museum of the Old Colony is a work of conceptual art that derives its name from a U.S. brand of soft drink named Old Colony, popular in Puerto Rico since the 1950s. Old Colony (the beverage) remains available at island groceries and restaurants in two flavors: grape and pineapple. Meanwhile, Puerto Rico endures 523 years of ongoing colonial rule – first under Spain, now the U.S., since 1898. The island, an “unincorporated territory of the United States,” is widely regarded as the world’s oldest colony.

The Museum of the Old Colony employs still photographs and moving images of Puerto Rico – along with their original captions or descriptive language– created mostly by U.S. photographers, mostly for the consumption of the U.S. general public. The images comprising the installation, purposefully displayed as large push-pinned copies, ironically bear witness, some overtly and some in subtle ways, to the colonial oppression imposed by the U.S. institutional and cultural fabric on virtually all aspects of Puerto Rican life. With sardonic humor and wit, the installation references traditional historical or anthropological museums and their use of ethnographic imagery and didactic text panels.

However, The Museum of the Old Colony also evokes the tragic injustices and numbing legacy of exploitation suffered by Puerto Rico and its people, who have not held claim to their own land from the arrival of Columbus in 1493 through the occupation of that supposedly benevolent benefactor, Uncle Sam. The installation suggests that a careful examination of the colonizer’s gaze might shed light on the island’s present predicaments: an economy in default with no recourse to bankruptcy laws, exorbitant rates of poverty and unemployment, a mass exodus of population, and the stripping away of any pretense of democracy under the new Federal PROMESA act.

The Museum of the Old Colony is as much an exploration of history as it is an intensely personal exercise by its creator to understand and come to terms with his own relationship with the island where he was born. The Museum of the Old Colony is a growing and ongoing project. The installation adapts to the space and particular context of each exhibition venue.

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