Artist, Shellyne Rodriguez: My name is Shellyne Rodriguez. So I’m a Nuyorican artist – the Nuyorican is a Puerto Rican from New York. So for Nuyorican artists looking back, we look at Martin Wong. Why? Because Martin Wong is painting the landscapes that we know.
This is a painting of the Lower East Side. When I look at this painting, I think about the Chinese and Puerto Rican communities side-by-side, who are constantly under threat of displacement. I think about the landlords who burned these places down. They paid somebody to go in, burn it, collect their fire insurance money.
Martin Wong moves into the Lower East Side, and starts hanging out with the guys on the block who are graffiti writers, painters, and poets. He’s like really immersed in all of the things that are happening outside of any institution, really, they’re just happening on their own – that’s one of the things about New York in the 1970s, is that everybody’s creative, and just making it happen. Some of that, like, DIY culture, that’s a little bit more radical, that’s a little bit more not giving a shit.
Martin Wong captures this, painting himself on the left among the rubble and half demolished buildings. Standing on the right of the painting near the pompa, or the fire hydrant, is Miguel Piñero, poet, playwright, leading member of the Nuyorican Literary Movement. And they were sometimes lovers, but really good friends. Painted across the top are hand signs, which he appropriates from sign language. They’re forming letters, and for me, this reads as him trying to engage with graffiti culture.