Palma Vejigante (Vejigante Palm Tree)
2011. Trópico Abierto: 1st Gran Tropical Biennial, Loíza, Puerto Rico curated by Pablo León de la Barra
For San Juan’s first Gran Bienal Tropical, which took place in the seaside jungle of nearby Loiza, the artist exhibited Palma Vegigante, a series of coconut masks installed in a palm tree. The masks were hand carved and painted, following the traditional designs made by descendants of African slaves living in the village, and installed over coconuts still hanging in a palm tree of the area with the help of coconut pickers. By so doing, the aim was to return the mask to its origin, in the palm, and animate the tree as a many-headed vejigante monster.
A vejigante is a folkloric character most commonly seen during carnival season, which assumes distinctive traits depending on the different local traditions. They can be evil devils, forefathers who come back from the past to celebrate with their descendants the harvesting of the crops, as well as figures of resistance to colonialism and imperialism.
Loiza coconut masks are made traditionally by skilled hand craftsmen, with the knowledge passed from generation to generation. As many with many other traditional crafts of the island, the number of people who posses this knowledge is quickly disappearing as new generations lack the interest.