Clamor: Your DIY Guide to Everyday Revolution.

Clamor ceased publication in December 2006. This website contains information for your reference and archival purposes only.

Artist profile: Miguel Luciano

Passion, commitment, persistence
Keeps you warm, but also uncomfortable, too much heat

A lifelong search about identity, culture, and freedom, Miguel’s work embodies these themes and stays true to them as the intensity and range of emotions embedded in his art warms you at first, but as you continue to look deeper into the pieces the warmth turns into unbearable heat, as the understanding begins to spread across your body, enveloping you, wrapping around your heart, slowly choking you with the burn of oppression.

What is your work about?

My work is rooted in history, deconstructing colonialism and looking at the relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States. A lot of it began with my own investigations into my own history and heritage in terms of being from both cultures, and later it expanded from personal questions of identity construction to broader issues of colonialism, and cultural imperialism.

Where do you get your ideas for the work that you do?

A lot of my work plays with historical references, so I’m big on history. I like to do a lot of reading and research, looking at the parallels between yesterday and today, and analyzing how much and how little we’ve progressed, how much things have changed, and how much they’re still the same.

The Island of Puerto Rico - Clarity of thought, of purpose

What screams at you when speaking with Miguel is how focused and committed he is to the mission of his work, and of his life. His adoration for his birthplace is crystal clear, and remains the bedrock of his inspiration. Thus, when looking into his eyes, and into the depth of his work, a profound sense of love and pain seep through, evoking an emotional battle from within.

One project that has really inspired Miguel is La Mano Poderosa Racetrack, an interactive sculpture installation project. "It’s a combination of Puerto Rican folkloric culture and consumer fantasy. It’s built around a ten-foot tall version of the all-powerful hand, which is a religious icon representing the hand of Christ, whose fingertips are traditionally adorned by the biblical family. But in this project they’re all replaced with new consumer santos. These new Deities speak to consumerism operating in religious proportion. Out of this stigmata-starting gate comes this twenty foot long Hot Wheels race track where you can race your own cars down a track of blinking lights to the Sacred Heart finish line."

Between 1999 and 2000, Hot Wheels racing in Puerto Rico was a huge thing, bigger than it had ever been in the United States. People were racing cars competitively in public and there was a lot of money invested in the consumption of Hot Wheels. The prizes ranged from trophies, to electronics, to you name it. Puerto Rico broke all the sale records, they’ve never sold so many Hot Wheels in one place, ever... "

"The racetrack project is sort of a parody on machismo culture and consumerism. A lot of my work speaks to consumerism as a colonial structure of dependency in Puerto Rico, as a colonial practice, or manifestation. Although the vast majority of Puerto Rico lives below the poverty level, we are avid consumers. We consume more per capita than any state in the U.S. With so many people living below the poverty level, you wonder how we can buy so much, what’s the need to buy so much, you know. I think that the ambiguity of our colonial status, living in a captive economy, and a lot of other factors that contribute to this compulsion to consume. I’m interested in understanding how colonial subordination is aided by globalization. We’ve transformed from a production-based society to one that is grounded in consumption. We all buy things to replace other needs in a way, and the sense that material goods signify progress, prosperity, it can be a really superficial existence. I try to bring this out in the work, critiquing the way consumer culture operates and questioning the ways we negotiate our own participation in it. These are global issues."

Grounded in spiritual self, grounded working with young people

Connection to self, remaining grounded in this life is what keeps truth emanating from Miguel’s art. His feet are firmly placed, rooted in his love for Puerto Rico and in the hope for change. "At the core of all the work is a desire to connect with other people on a heart level and create a better understanding of who we are to one another, and its really about impacting change, like changing consciousness. It’s a spiritual desire to create, its really about love, sometimes finding it through pain, but to reconnect with love; loving ourselves first."

How does working with young people fit in to your life?

It’s a big part of what I do, having a connection with young people reminds me why I make the work, why I’m an artist. When I was a young person I had a lot of these questions on my mind, I had my own search that I struggled with. So I’m really compelled as adult to reach back to young people who may be asking the same kind of cultural questions about who they are in this world they’ve inherited. Part of that was moving to New York--I live and work in a Latino neighborhood, and have a direct relationship with the young people that I work with. It keeps me grounded, and it keeps me mindful, a big motivation for me is that we contribute to change so that this next generation can be asking different questions.

Can you tell me about any of the work you’ve done with young people?

Recently, I designed a series of vending machines entitled Cuando las Gallinas Mean (When Hens Pee). The project refers to the expression "Children can speak when hens pee," which is an old Puerto Rican colloquialism often used by adults to silence children speaking out of turn. It’s like an early form of learned censorship or repression…so in these vending machines, when a quarter is inserted, a plastic hen "pees", and opens up this possibility to express ourselves. The hen cackles, pees, and lays an egg with a unique prize inside, one designed by community residents that speak out about personal, communal and global concerns. I did workshops for months with different groups of young people in the community asking them what they feel they haven’t been aloud to express. We then translated the responses into vending machine objects, becoming the prizes in these machines. The vending machines were placed in a supermarket, community center, and at the Newark Museum where the project was sponsored. The peeing chicken was a novelty, but I liked that the prizes evoked intimate dialogues in an unsuspecting atmosphere."

Matters of the heart

Self renewal and keeping the important things in life close to you support the work by maintaining a balance, and keeping the soul strong for longevity in the struggle. Miguel is clear on what’s important in his life, and what makes him happy. "Little things make me happy. When I have time to sleep, my niece, my family, when someone smiles at me for no reason, those moments really shine when your in New York City, you know. It makes me happy working with students and thinking you can be a positive influence. I’m happy when I’m in Puerto Rico. "

What are your rituals as an artist?

I spend a lot of time meditating on the work, like with these paintings that are based on older images. I often paint the reference material as it originally existed and I feel like I can build a relationship with the image in this way. In the process of rebuilding it, I can step back from it and then decide how to change or alter what it wants to say to me. That’s a ritual process for me, its one way of getting closer to an image. At the foundation of my paintings are historical references that are appropriated and then recreated with new layers built upon them. Each layer changes the meaning of the one underneath it, and eventually they are multi-layered with multiple narratives. They don’t always have one beginning and one end, and sometimes its hard to distinguish what’s been borrowed from the past and what’s from the present. I like that interplay, that potentially the viewer may ask themselves the same questions, and then again relate to how much things changed and how much they remain the same. A lot of the paintings relate to consumerism and our dependency as consumers on American markets.

Resistance is like the air we breath, without it we will suffocate

What role does white supremacy have in the issues you address in your art?

At the core of deconstructing a colonial mentality you have to address the issues of white supremacy in our own consciousness of how we think of ourselves. You have to look at how that has impacted our identity. A core issue that runs through the work is how to flip this hierarchy around to challenge the preference to view ourselves as a Spanish Colonial culture versus an Afro-Antillian Caribbean culture. We are a mix of both of these and Taino as well. A lot of times I’ve worked with imagery that’s Catholic in origin. Upon altering them, I’m not interested in being sacrilegious or blasphemous or in challenging the sacredness of these icons. What I am sometimes doing is challenging the way these icons were introduced to the island, and how the white and European physical characteristics of those saints reinforced a system of supremacy that preferred "whiteness" as the image of the purest good. It’s heavy. I have a hard time describing this stuff to my grandparents who are really Catholic."

Miguel’s work has been shown in galleries and museums from Brooklyn to Puerto Rico, and his work with young people has inspired such things as human sized kites of freedom flown in Vieques, to political slogans and anti-war pins and stickers coming from the eggs of peeing chickens. His current installation is featured in the Caribbean Abroad exhibition at the Newark Museum where he has re-created a series of vending machines and kiddie rides.

I’m creating Puerto Rican experiences in these American amusement machines and rebuilding them—it’s a political process, to recodify something that already exists and create it in our own language, resymbolizing it, owning it and Puerto Rican-izing it. That’s a way of being empowered. It’s about reclaiming power in a colonial process that’s really essential to my work, to reinvent or rebuild a lot of these images and objects and to make it say something different, something that I want it to say.

Miguel Luciano: Inhale visual revolution and inspire the warrior within.

To see and hear more about Miguel’s work, go to


Go to Top

Clamor Magazine (a project of Become the Media) P.O. Box 20128, Toledo, OH, 43610, USA.
Website by amphibian | Header graphic by Monkey Bubble Media