In the early 20th century, both Florida and Puerto Rico saw rapid spikes in industrialization, migration, and tourism.
Both saw the rise and fall of commercial sugarcane production, tourism, industrialized agriculture, military bases, and testing exercises, with the natural landscape taking the brunt of the abuse. Deteriorating beaches, draining wetlands, and clearing wooded areas made both locations more susceptible to flooding and coastline erosion. In September 2017, two catastrophic hurricanes (Irma and Maria) made landfall, leaving trails of devastation in their wakes, and forever linking these two areas.
In Lost in Paradise, the newest exhibition in the J. Wayne and Delores Barr Weaver Sculpture Garden & Plaza at the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, artist Carlos Rolón draws inspiration from the architecture and natural landscapes shared by Florida and Puerto Rico, and brings attention to both nature’s unbridled ability to change its own landscape and humankind’s ability to rebuild. Rolón’s losa isleño (island tile) pieces break from traditional repetitive decorative design to create new sculptural paintings that reference homes in Puerto Rico. When Rolón visited the Cummer Museum in June 2018, he was most drawn to the gardens and the work being done to restore them. His mosaic floral works create indestructible plant life to memorialize the native plants of Florida and Puerto Rico.
For Rolón, the connection is personal. Born in Chicago to a Puerto-Rican family, Rolón explores inclusion and cultural identity through his work. As a child, the artist viewed firsthand how his own family and others adapted to new American middle-class lifestyles by introducing island color, texture, and pattern to create a sense of longing. As an artist, Rolón “takes these barriers to access and transforms them into new points of entry, ultimately producing a hybrid language of exuberant flora paintings, sculpture, and site-specific installations composed of diverse materials that offer opportunities for self-reflection, rich symbolism, and community engagement, bridging the divide between public and private.” His work examines both curiosity and material exploration and the associated culture surrounding working as a contemporary artist. His work often rides the line between memory and imaginary, melding the two together in order to create a commentary on post colonialism. Rolón says, “The work is at once melancholic, excessive and exuberant, poised somewhere between celebration and regret. The works ultimately produce a language of social practice, painting, and sculpture, inviting the viewer to engage in discourse and discussion.”
The Moors, a nomadic people from Northern Africa first invaded Hispania in 711 AD when they crossed the Strait of Gibraltar onto the Iberian Peninsula and overran the Visigoths. This conquest resulted in the settlement of Umayyad Caliphate in Cordobathe in what is now southern Spain. The Moors brought not only their culture and the first settlement of Islamic faith onto the continent, but also their knowledge of pottery and ceramics. Hispano-Moresque ware is a style of ceramics that was initially created in Muslim Spain blending traditional Islamic and European motifs and continued to be produced during the onset of Christian rule. They went on to introduce two key forms of ceramic techniques that spread widely throughout Europe, one a glazing technique which uses an opaque white glaze and the other a luster glazing technique that imitates metallic finishes creating an iridescent effect. These techniques resulted in highly ornate and intricately stylized utilitarian vessels as well as tiles used for interior decorative elements. As these highly colorful and painstakingly intricate ceramic techniques spread throughout Europe beyond the Iberian Peninsula, they also made their way overseas to the Caribbean during Spanish colonization of the Americas.