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 525 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 appropriates archival 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 and objects comprising the installation ironically bear witness, sometimes overtly and sometimes 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 Federal PROMESA fiscal control board.

The Museum of the Old Colony also invites visitors, Puerto Rican as well as non-Puerto Rican, to consider their own complicity in the colonial system. It is as much an exploration of history as it is an intensely personal exercise by its creator to understand and come to terms with the present-day realities of the island where he was born and raised. 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.