The Museum of the Old Colony, a conceptual art installation by Hartford-based artist Pablo Delano, derives its name in part 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, officially defined as an “unincorporated territory of the United States,” is widely regarded as the world’s oldest colony.
Delano deploys enlarged and carefully-sequenced reproductions of original historical materials, invoking the imperial logic of traditional historical and anthropological museums built to celebrate the so-called achievements of Empire and inherent superiority of some people over others. As such, the installation operates within a contemporary art tradition of post-1990s institutional critique (such as Fred Wilson’s Mining the Museum), made especially resonant since Hurricane Maria, which rendered the faultlines of US-Puerto Rico relations more widely visible. In many ways, the installation is also a personal meditation on the past and present situation of the place Delano where was born and raised.
Spanning a century of images, this wry, sometimes shocking, and often deeply painful “museum” draws attention to the role of photographers, writers, historians, and other “experts” in constructing (racialized, often primitivist) narratives of Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans, and naturalizing the United States’s socio-economic and military exploitation of the island under the guise of the “many benefits of citizenship.”
Image caption (original to photograph):
PUNTA SALINAS, Puerto Rico — A contrast on the Punta Salinas road, a few miles outside San Juan, Puerto Rico, as the great guns with which the U.S. is fortifying the island pass the humble ox cart of a Puerto Rican “Jibaro” (mountain man). CREDIT LINE (ACME) 1-12-40