Photography exhibit tells story of New York City’s Puerto Rican community

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Photo courtesy of El Museu del Barrio

After almost 4 decades of entombment, the black and white photographs taken by the founding members of the 1974 cooperative, En Foco, are currently on display at El Museo del Barrio until Feb. 27, reflecting on the lives of the Puerto Rican community in New York City, from classrooms to barbershops to even street corners.

The exhibition features a portfolio of evocative documentation from the 1970’s, telling the idiosyncratic story of the flourishing life of New York’s Puerto Rican diaspora in a show called, EN FOCO: THE NEW YORK PUERTO RICAN EXPERIENCE, 1973-74.

Each one of the 79 black and white photographs included in the installation at El Museo, were taken by the Bronx-based locals, Charles Biasiny-Rivera, Roger Cabán, and Felipe Dante, En Foco’s founding members— all of whom concentrated their photography on the themes of education, small businesses, and labor, to depict the realities of their community while living in the city.

Photo courtesy of El Museu del Barrio

In response to stereotypical, external representations of the Nuyorican community (the term commonly used to refer to the Puerto Rican people or culture in New York), the collective used their photography to tell the story of “a community who have helped to make New York City the most complex and lively city in the Americas,” said the exhibition’s curator at El Museo, Susanna Temkin.

“This work is part of El Museo del Barrio’s legacy and represents the original ethos behind the two organizations: El Museo and the photography collective En Foco,” stated Temkin. 

El Museo del Barrio was founded more than 50 years ago by the artist and educator Raphael Montañez Ortiza, along with a coalition of Puerto Rican educators, artists, and activists. The museum is now the country’s leading Latino and Latin American cultural institution, making it the perfect place to showcase the En Foco exhibit. 

Photo courtesy of El Museu del Barrio

Through their Permanent Collection, diverse art installations and publications, education programs, and initiatives, El Museo actively seeks to encourage visitors of all backgrounds to explore and experience their carefully curated landscape- showcasing the lives of many of New York’s most influential communities.

Since its official opening in November, the exhibit’s reception has been incredible. “It’s fascinating how people find them so contemporary and inspiring,” Temkin said.

In addition to the complete selection of photographs, the installation will feature posters, catalogs, a photo book that includes replicated images of the show and historical texts, as well as other material detailing the relationship between En Foco and El Museo del Barrio.

“It’s urgent to make it available now to new generations of museumgoers,” said Temkin, “so they can connect with works historically relevant in the discussions around cultural identity and community-oriented photography.”

El Museo del Barrio is located at 1230 5th Avenue. For more information, visit elmuseo.org.

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