Expandmenu Shrunk


Los Cuento-Retratos del Barrio Mariana (view images at https://www.flickr.com/photos/161140736@N06/)

The Portrait-Stories of the Neighborhood of Mariana

This article tells how a Portrait-Story Project went active on a certain hilltop of the east coast of a Caribbean and Latin American island nation; one yoked under one colonization or another for essentially the entirety of its recorded history, yet still awakening with paradoxically richer cultural identity.

As millions of the Puerto Rican diaspora in North America with family on the island can attest, in the months after Huracán Maria (Hurricane Maria), instantaneous long-distance communication across and from much of the island transpired far from consistently. Hurricane survivors sometimes drove for over an hour for clear cell phone reception (if they had a way to charge their electronics, if they could spare remaining fuel while gas stations and grocery stores ran empty – customers sat in line on the sidewalks, waiting overnight.), if they found passable roads, if not needing instead to prioritize a search for drinking water and so on. Oftentimes, those needing to communicate overseas had to rely on relay, via degrees of word-of-mouth of removal.

Mainstream amenities returned faster to the cities. Beyond the cities, by December 2017, life throughout those expanses of rural subtropical coastal rainforest mountains hit by the edge of Huracán Irma, a Category 5, (https://weather.com/storms/hurricane/news/category-5-hurricane-20140703)  on 7/9/2017, and the wall of Huracán Maria, a Category 4, on 7/20/2017, had largely stabilized despite lacking a functioning public sector electrical grid. Fresh, ripe coconuts remained difficult to find along the beaches. Residents still scrubbed away post-hurricane mold. In this scene, of neglect from a liberal point of view, yet vigilance from a local one, a unique kind of story preservation, with attributes unconventionally slow for this century (and even the previous two), seemed poignantly reliable and humanizing amongst near-unremitting infrastructural collapse.

On approximately 11×15”or 15×22”, hand-cut, rough-pressed cotton sheets of predominantly 850 grams per square meter density (which at least one person mistook for “sheet metal”), usually coated with 3 or more layers of acrylic polymer emulsions (or rabbit hide glue or duck eggs, etc.), tinted with casein paint and pulverized pastels (or other pigment dusts or watercolour ink, etc.), wrote participants, mostly in Spanish, typically with artist’s grade lightfast and waterproof pen (or, carpenter’s pen, and in one case with sharpened wooded graphite pencil then coated with polymer to prevent smudging etc.).

These participants embodied El Proyecto Cuento-Retrato (The Portrait-Story Project, often Spanglished as “La Projecto de Cuento-Retratos”) as they wrote their cuentos (stories) upon original retratos (portraits) of themselves, thus co-generating Cuento-Retratos (Portrait-Stories). Across three months of blackout, from December ‘17 to March ‘18, 54 of said co-generators would author 56 Cuento-Retratos, with two portrait subjects authoring two Portrait-Stories each. An unmistakable and ironically blooming theme of beauty-within-duress consolidated as some of these authors recalled assisting and interacting with neighbors like never before. Children, suddenly without small-screened video games to hunch over, established more eye contact and used their peripheral vision while playing outdoors. Social connections, including those of families, having previously weakened and faded by the complacencies of contemporarily routine escapism, reinvigorated. New relationships quickly formed as already-existent non-profits and nascent post-Maria Centro de Apoyo Mutuos (Mutual Aid Centers) (https://ecology.iww.org/node/2643  https://www.facebook.com/Centro-de-Apoyo-Mutuo-2033558466880656/) eagerly met peoples’ needs. Reportedly and very believably, strangers, who wouldn’t have otherwise encountered each other, became close friends. In the unpredictable calamities that only a total breakdown brings, estranged blood relatives happily met for the first time.

Some framed their feelings as a revival of an old pride of community spirit, others as a new consciousness altogether, for the barrio (neighborhood), for the island, or even for the whole diaspora. Beyond regional centricities, some spoke of the beginnings of a “mutual aid movement,” which would take its name from intellectual heavy weight anarcho-communist Pëtr Kroptokin’s 1902 book, Mutual Aid – A Factor in Evolution (https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/petr-kropotkin-mutual-aid-a-factor-of-evolution).

To date and aside from theory, far-flung precedents of this dynamic of instinctive and practical widespread communing following catastrophe have probably received their most constructively thorough treatment in Rebecca Solnit’s book, Paradise built in Hell.

Meanwhile, The United States Military, wielding the largest fiscal largesse for any purpose ever, (by all means, look into that claim, the numbers run dizzyingly) outfitted with all preponderances of cutting-edge and heavy-duty hardware (drones, jets, helicopters, satellites, battleships, tanks, hummers . . .) and notorious for an audacity of heedless, bloodily explosive cross-continental regime-smashing, postured in all the absurdity of a supersized baby, like a heavyweight boxing champ whining about imperative to lift of a grain of sand, referring to mountainous inland places as “inaccessible,” where conversely, visiting civilians (some with no prior disaster relief experience) arrived at those same places in commercially-rented two-wheel drive vehicles, or neighbors on foot, including pre-adolescents, co-operatively removed the downed foliage blocking the roads.

The United States Military deserves condemnation for its atrocities worldwide, mockery for its ineptitude in regard to humanitarianism, and shunning for its irrelevancy in regard to building a sustainable future.

After over a century of colonialism under the world’s current sole superpower, and a shared inherited memory of centuries of Imperio Español (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_Empire) (retrospectively regarded as the once-strongest “superpower” {https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superpower} ), many Boricuas, conditioned by disaffection, understood not to even bother with indignant frustration at the absence of benevolent political willpower coming from the so-called “mainland” government.  Still others, very understandably, do grieve – for a double-standard has imposed itself with tremendous inertia.

A graffitied stencil seen and chant heard from a Feminist Collective on the streets of San Juan, Ni gente / sin techo / ni casas / sin gente (No people without roofs, no houses without people), succinctly implies a solution to the seemingly contradictory, simultaneous problems of homelessness and depopulation caused by local economy-depressing, disproportionate outward migration, to the land more directly ruled by the polity responsible for impoverishing colonial policies.

From far away from the island, volunteers mobilized, (including those overtly opposed to empire, despite their births unto privilege within it), some bringing their deepening roots in grassroots disaster relief . . .

Here we must trace some steps, going back over a decade prior to give context; beginning with the most severe Atlantic hurricane season then on record, in 2005,

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2005_Atlantic_hurricane_season ) many people of conscience baulked in dismay at the liability-strapped unresponsiveness of corrupt and inertia-ridden bureaucracies (and “genocide” said some) of the mainstream organizations promoting themselves as professional for the recovery. Thus, efforts born in the wakes of two Category 5 hurricanes, Katrina and Rita, very much became a non-authoritarian inversion of the aggressively top-down-ist opportunistic amoralism described by Naomi Klein in her book, The Shock Doctrine: the Rise of Disaster Capitalism. While neither waiting for a “blame-gam(ing)” statecraft (http://www.iraqtimeline.com/katrina/katrinablame.html )  to behave outside the context of corporate globalization, militarism, venality and pettiness, nor believing that some combination of short-term survivalism and the market would adequately restore an imperiled humanity to dignity, the organization informally called “Common Ground”  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_Ground_Collective) grew exponentially, committing millions of hours of volunteer labor (much of which otherwise would not have been carried out, either individually or in other organizations), and eventually “burning out” and disenchanting some of its longer-term volunteers as it underwent constant and massive organizational mutation.

Years later, some stayed or re-emerged still dedicated to anti-oppressive and humanitarian pursuits, without backpedaling upon or forfeiting analysis developed during their uncompromised youths, seasoned by the dramas of trying to collaborate on scales effective in the face of global climate disruption, and maintaining their learning curves; which ran reportedly steep enough for manifestos to declare “we are a vision from the future”.

As late as 2012’s “Occupy Sandy” (http://occupysandy.net ) response to “Superstorm Sandy,” a Category 3 Hurricane, (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurricane_Sandy ) those with a grassroots movement-orientation still “only” scrambled “the day after” to stopgap social vacuums which left “dead zones” in urban areas. By the second half of the 2010’s, some pockets of the grassroots had advanced towards preparing for human-caused climate change’s accelerated eventualities, pre-emptively seeking renewed purpose where inadequate, underdeveloping or declined paradigm would stage its transcendence and abolition. While The Portrait-Story Project can and has manifest entirely outside of altruistic emergency responses to situations resembling scenarios described in James Howard Kunstler’s book The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century, it also resurfaces within those responses.

James “Jimmy” Dunson, a twice-participant of The Post-Katrina Portraits – Written and Narrated by Hundreds during his volunteering at Common Ground in the mid-2000’s, remembered seeing that series of originals (including, of course, his own two Portrait-Stories) as they hung on the walls of Common Ground-managed spaces in New Orleans. Having also previously beheld that series as a hardback publication, Dunson found and purchased a secondhand copy online. Seeing the Portrait-Story artist’s e-mail on the inside back cover flap, he included that address, of Francesco “Cesco” Lovascio “Vascio” di Santis, in MADR’s listserve.

Dunson would reference The Post-Katrina Portrait-Stories in his 2016 University of Florida thesis Participatory Horizons: Participation and Shared Power in Mutual Aid Disaster Relief Organizations (https://mutualaiddisasterreliefsite.files.wordpress.com/2017/11/participatory-horizons.pdf), before going on to co-found and coordinate the horizontalist, decentralized, intersectionalist network Mutual Aid Disaster Relief (MADR [ https://mutualaiddisasterrelief.org . When rain induced-flooding adversely affected the Baton Rouge Area the following August (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2016_Louisiana_floods) and MADR ameliorated the condition of residents, the possibility that lay within a certain metaphorical extinguished coal re-flickered as MADR  volunteers messaged the Portrait-Story artist (http://vasciosoutercapeart.wixsite.com/turtleisland/fashion ).  But that particular effort soon dispersed, in part, because apolitical disasters where a patchwork of relative normalcy soon reoccurs adjacent to locations of destruction inspire fewer radical volunteers, and fewer volunteers altogether, than cataclysms exacerbated and prolonged by historically-scaled politics. The conversation tapered off; “the coal went out.”

Then, in the aftermath of the 2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2017_Atlantic_hurricane_season), in which enforcement of The (only temporarily waived) Jones Act (https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/9/27/16373484/jones-act-puerto-rico ), prevented “foreign flag” ships from bringing urgently needed and otherwise available supplies to the shores of Puerto Rico, MADR accordingly swelled and rose to the occasion. Unsurprisingly, its communication with The Portrait-Story Project’s bottomlining artist resumed. During October 2017, that bottomliner requested that MADR independently review The Mission Statement of The Portrait-Story Project (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eEe9RRcUSbI) during one of its bi-weekly steering committee conference calls, so those within the organization’s most determinate decision-making process could enable themselves to know what to expect from the media solidarity they had the option of summoning. The MADR steering committee listened to the afore-hyperlinked audio recording of said mission statement and easily reached unanimity. Dunson messaged Vascio shortly after to confirm.

Casual observers of Vascio’s portfolio across the years may note this manually applied media’s strenuous intricacies (http://vasciosoutercapeart.wixsite.com/turtleisland/landscape). Increasingly the Portrait-Story artist has brought both a studio scale of equipment into plein air practice and a fine visual art aesthetic ever farther outside the Fine Visual Art World, which conspicuously runs on investment enforcing extreme manifestations of the scarcity theory of value (supply and demand ratios sharply favoring the art of dead artists; prices instantaneously spiraling upward, less so due to the connoisseurship of clients tastefully discerning craftsmanship and more so due to the lust of impulsively competing auction bidders scoring a prize; intellectual propriety upon limited edition prints, etc.). As a non-imperialist, non-commercial kind of enterprise, The Portrait-Story Project arises by design in a convergence of values, neither by importing ideology upon areas alleged as bereft of independent development, nor by feigning a self-fulfilling prophecy of elitism. The Portrait-Story Project neither seeks to merely negate negatives where consciousness does not appear to go beyond the myopic complaints of immediate personal difficulties, nor place art outside the accessibility of subjects depicted by it.

By November 2017, when Vascio arrived in Tampa, on the west coast of the Floridian Peninsula for the first time, MADR’s activity for post-Irma Tampa had notably decreased, while it maintained momentum sending teams to distribute supplies and labor in more profoundly de-normalized Puerto Rico.

Biding his time until a deployment amenable and appropriate for him to join presented itself, Vascio focused both on co-generating Portrait-Stories in Tampa (http://portraitstoryproject.org/tampa/ ), as well as non-Portrait-Story Project art which he would leave with MADR. The latter compositions exclusively depicted hand gestures adjacent messages already featured on the walls of the “Temporary Autonomous Zone” (TAZ), formally posted as “Tampa Mutual Aid Disaster Relief Post-Irma Convergence Center,” informally dubbed “The Hub” and nominally owned by St. Paul Lutheran Church on Central Avenue of the neighborhood called Seminole Heights.

These works stated:

“Solidarity not Charity” (accompanied by a very forefront opaque power fist)

“They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.” (accompanied by a power fist, perhaps tilted or receding and casting a whimsical glow, depending on one’s angle of viewership)

“Love has no Borders” (accompanied by an open hand reaching toward the viewer)

“Nothing for Ourselves, Everything for Everyone” (accompanied by an open hand reaching upward)

While the Portrait-Story artist laboured on one of these pieces in main entrance room of this TAZ, a few MADR volunteers entered for a meeting on their upcoming trip to Puerto Rico. This included a Boricua who divided her life between Tampa, and Puerto Rico, where her parents reared her and lived. She expressed a desire to participate in The Portrait-Story Project, yet reticently caveated with heartfelt gravitas, that she didn’t wish for her portrait session to commence until within her home country again, the land which she would write of upon such a portrait.

Vascio listened sympathetically, then agreed that such precondition felt apropos, assuring her that he would gladly postpone a portrait session until then, resonating on a sentiment which fuels much of his modus operandi.

In the footloose “self-cat-herding” of an ad hoc group of travelling acquaintances, that particular portrait session unfortunately went unrealized; yet nonetheless, the trip set a Puerto Rican Portrait-Story Project firmly into motion. Within 48 hours of landing in San Juan, after spending the night at the aforementioned Boricua’s parents’ home, they carpooled to the tallest loma (hill) of Barrio Mariana (the neighborhood of Mariana), rustically signed as La Loma de la Niña Mariana, and commonly referred to as La Loma, (and with funny redundancy, by some gringos as “The La Loma”) where MADR had previously distributed supplies to the post-Maria  Proyecto Apoyo Mutuo Mariana (Mutual Aid Project of Mariana) (https://m.facebook.com/PAMHumacao/), co-existent with Asociaciόn Recreativa y Educativa Communal del Barrio Mariana de Humacoa (Communal Recreational and Educational Association of the Neighborhood of Mariana in Humacoa [ARECMA] { http://arecma.wixsite.com/arecma }), una organizaciόn de base comunitaria sin fines de lucro (a non-profit organization of community base), solidly reputed by decades of engagement with the barrio from which it arose.

There, the artist of The Portrait-Story Project approached and gifted a hardback of The Post-Katrina Portraits – Written and Narrated by Hundreds to Proyecto Apoyo Mutuo Mariana co-founder Christine Enid Nieves Rodríguez, (https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=christine%20enid%20nieves%20rodríguez) whose beamingly radiant smiles and upbeat attitude served as its own kind of charisma.  Vascio dedicated the hardback via India ink via brush “To Proyecto de Apoyo Mutuo,” positing a mixture of unfazeable passion and bewilderingly stubborn indifference that he would sleep tentlessly under the stars, if only they would open-endedly accept his vocation, which perennially involved producing and gifting art to those also taking the risk of living their dreams as they go. After a few weeks of windy, rainy nights, coupled with thoughtfully insistent offers of hospitality, he accepted being an “artist-in-residence” at Christine and her partner Luis’ casa (house), a short walk from La Loma.

Often we may hear the sentiment that “everyone has a story,” yet stories don’t necessarily happen automatically: Every self-aware person has memories of their experience; and stories occur with the construction of these memories as a presentation of a sequence of events. From the point of view of constructing a post-Hurricane Maria Portrait-Story, la huracán occurs as an initiatory moment, from which at least some semblance of self-determination usually follows.

Some participants internalized this underlying salience, of emphasizing the lived experiences of positivity (even if despite, because of, or after negativity), more so than others; in any case, outreach clearly put forth the thematic angle. Potential participants were often handed a highly legible handwritten invitation (inked on analog photographic paper, matboard, hanging file folders, sketch paper or index cards, etc.), which struck a balance between fancifully florid gestalt conveying creative intent and plainness conducive to smooth literary digestion:

These contained some variant of:

Cualquiera persona que quiera escribir a mano su cuento de como sobrepasό Maria en Puerto Rico venga y participle Al Proyecto de Cuento-Retrato  . . . Especificamente, como te sentiste solidario y como practiste en apoyo mutuo en tu barrio or communidad?

Which approximately translates:


Anyone wanting to handwrite their story of overcoming (Hurricane) Maria in Puerto Rico is welcome to include themselves in The Portrait-Story Project . . . Specifically, how did you practice solidarity and mutual aid in your neighborhood or community?


“Solidarity” is a noun which translates as Solidaridad, and has the adjectival form solidario; which only has scant, incomplete or seldom-used single word English-language translation. Due to the legacy of Imperio Español, more Hispanophones live in the western hemisphere than the Iberian Peninsula from whence their romance language originates. Historically, Latin America has seen stronger peasant, labor and indigenous movements than its North American counterpart; thus, its venaculars wield greater succinctity and commonplace in regard to la lucha (generally, in this context, “people’s social struggle”), despite that, generally, word and syllable counts tend to run higher when English is translated to Spanish.

Translating the rather dense, adjective laden, and perhaps eccentric, English-language Mission Statement of The Portrait-Story Project into Spanish proved difficult, or at least ongoing in process. Both random visiting short-term bilingual volunteers and locals with Spanish as a first language collaboratively opined and refined the following edit to such an extent that the translation now eludes anyone’s credit. What follows below reads exceedingly similarly to multiple previous translations. The gender-neutral words: todxs, mismxs, aquellxs and nosotrxs, unfamiliar to perhaps most Hispanophones at the time of this typing, are recent amendments of traditionally de facto masculine-gendered words. Adherents of anti-oppression movements sometimes characterize themselves as part of a succession of “waves” which have hastened the use of language towards “inclusion” and away from “invisibility”. One familiar with the extent of such analytical tradition could imagine that preferred spellings, words or grammatical configurations may continue amending. If so, the Portrait-Story artist nonetheless left behind contemporary variants, (delicately inked upon 4 ply brown railroad paper, primed via irregular scrapings of wide blade palette knives) to reflect the piecemeal zeitgeist that produced it, regardless of what linguistic innovations may supersede. In attempting to stay present to the present, Vascio neither self-flagellated as if all innermost spaces breed the microcosmic poisons of incurable and eternally perpetuant tyrants, nor demogagued alongside self-proclaimed experts that all currently advocated corrections are stale matters of settled dust.


Misόn de Proyecto de Cuento-Retrato

Como un fenόmeno de artes y medios y sociedad con respecto a la privacidad, ocurrimos de forma no burocrática, no tecnocrática, de naturaleza transcultural involuncrando multiples generaciones, cara-a-cara y naturaleza voluntaria con un propόsito de generar los medios de solidaridad para contribuir a empoderamiento de comunidades e individuos conectados a la tierra a la que habitan. Creemos que podemos hacer de nosotrxs mismxs individuos más seguros, solventes, sustentables, honorable y coherentes, ayudándonos con determinaciόn propia y con respecto al planeta. Trayendo este proceso catalizador de medios a todas las partes del mundo para aquellxs que lo afirman a gran escala dado a su interés propio, hemos operado espontáneamente así como con cita previa, con sin acceso a electridad, al mercado u organizacones sin fines de lucro, junto a individuos que tienen o no tienen conocimento practico de computadoras. De forma que los participantes puedan valorar y perpetuar sus roles protagόnicos, los mismxs escriben a mano su testimonios únicos e independientes y lo transforman a un testimonio de medios anecdόticos infrastructurales la cual es la realidad de cientos, logrando posibles ramificaciones globales dentro de eventos dramáticos. Nuestro arte y documentaciόn de historia acomoda todo language escrito y encarna nuestro valor por tener perspectivas diversas dentro de nuestras identidades personales, culturales, étnicas, lingϋisticas, histόricas, sexo, género, orientaciόn sexual, geográficas, politica, espiritual, o seculares, especialmente dentro del contexto de sinergia encaminandonos hacia autosufiencia, a la economía local, la solidez ecolόgica y la autonomia y dignidad de todxs.

Creemos que la necesidad más importante son las historias que yacen en la aprehensiόn vigilante de nuestras propias trayectorias presentes a través de medios inclusivos inspiradores y proactivos que no tengan que ver con agencias externas a nosotrxs. Para aquellxs de nosotrxs que asumimos la responsabilidad de organizar nuestra propia forma de vida, ningún futuro se veulve necesario excepto aquellos que fallamos en imaginar más allá. Ningún futuro se veulve inevitable excepto por aquellos que decidimos crearlo y vencer el status que alqunos de nuestros contemporaneos trágicamente persiquen. A medida que la suma de nuestros impactos se convierte en la materia de nuestro legado, consideramos que es primordial producir narraciones veraces que las generaciones futuras hereden con nuestras acciones y archivos informados. Mientras tanto, queremos que las imágenes de los Cuento-Retratos proliferen fieramente como intelectos fusionados para la polinizaciόn cruzado de la liberaciόn y el movimento orientado a la base. Mientras ejecutamos este Proyecto de palabra e imagen, arraigado con los proyectos de nuestra vidas, reconocemos que aquellxs que desean un mundo deben crearlo. Cuando no representamos y creamos nuestros propios sueños e histόrias, nos convertimos en sujetos de las histόrias de otros – que pueden ser justas, amistosas, deseables, pácificas y en un ambiente en el cual se puede sobrevivir – o no.

Como un gran conjunto de trabajos recopilados, cada serie de Cuento-Retratos originales debe ser para el público sin fines de lucro, no autoritario, no electoral, de servicio comunitario y para la tierra y su gente.

¡ Hacia la libertad, en un mundo donde quepan muchos mundos!


Similarly in spirit to the non-Portrait-Story art mentioned earlier for Tampa, Vascio passed a sketchbook around on La Loma encouraging Boricuas to write aphorisms, declarations or the like, which he then presented to other Boricuas whose opinions he also valued. If at least 4 consecutive persons, including the artist, agreed with such a message, Vascio would likely paint the letters, accentuated with “loud” high-chromatic fields of cadmium or copper, via palette knife, to adorn and complete representations of puños (power fists), a generic image of empowerment which Vascio rendered with an un-generic degree of detail.

The resultant works bore messages such as:

Ni gente / sin techo / ni casas / sin gente               (no people without roofs, no houses without people)

Ha llegado el momento (The moment has come [or, with revolutionary connotation, “The time is now”])

Somos Encanto / Somos Uno / Somos Puerto Rico (We are enchanted / We are One / We are Puerto Rico)

En la Uniόn esta la Fuerza  (In our unity is our strength)

El desastre es la colonia (The colony is the disaster)

Resistencia (Resistance)

Solidaridad (Solidarity)

Despierta Boricua (Awaken people of Taíno descendent)

Nos Levantaremos (We are rising)

Puerto Rico no se Vende (Puerto Rico is not for sale)

Sin lucha no hay libertad (Without struggle there is no freedom)

Sin imaginaciόn no hay libertad (Without imagination there is no freedom)

La Autogestiόn communitaria transforma (transforming community via self-initiatory, localized, decentralized planned economy characterized by worker-owned-and-operated entrepreneurship. Autogestiόn, usually translated as “self-management,” truly requires an essay to convey its depth)

As Vascio wondered aloud about how to continue deepening the regionally-defined, organic authenticity of these pinturas de puños (paintings of power fists), a few Puerto Rican and non-Puerto Rican peers brought a small plastic bag of full of achiote to his attention, informing him that the pre-Columbian indigenous of Boríken (Puerto Rico’s original Taíno name), used those seeds for food coloring and cosmetics. The meager yield of Annatto-rich powder he thus very inefficiently mullered off those hard seeds behaved similarly to the paprika which with Vascio already had familiarity as artist’s pigment, lending a warm “earthy” subtlety upon those saturations which have spoiled western artists into being underachievers at least since Les Fauves.  Understanding that achiote is a “fugitive” pigment (one expected to fade), Vascio exclusively used the substance within the uppermost layers of non-representational fields atop non-fugitive pigments, so that legibility and verisimilitude would stay intact as the pieces faced the sun. Vascio and supportive residents would find tiles discarded as construction debris, beneath culverts, laying roadside or unused as extras beside finished floors. Such leftovers of upcycling-waiting-to-happen became amongst the surfaces for this art.

Molly Crabapple, ( https://mollycrabapple.com) another movement-supporting artist whose portfolio bridges worlds, called Vascio “a materials nerd” in the friendliest of conversational ways during one of her visits to Mariana. Vascio caveatlessly conceded.

While lettering and choosing field colors, Vascio gratefully accepted graphic design-oriented advice from a long-term volunteer and Portrait-Story Project participant named Jerry “Jurwayne” Wayne (initially called “Yeti”, then “Yerry” and finally “Jerry” by his Puerto Rican friends), a proud descendent of two southeastern Native North American First Nations peoples, the Cherokee and Catawba, and self-identifying “cornbread communist,” “anarchist,” and “redneck,” who Portrait-Storied of making Puerto Rico his home.

A few years prior to huracán Maria, el Municipio de Humacoa (the Municipality of Humacoa) abandoned Escuela Intermedia Juan de Dios Lόpez, a public sector middle school. Architecturally speaking, this set of interior spaces stood as the largest available in Barrio Mariana. Some volunteers expressed surprise that the local government simply withdrew from so much asset in such carte blanche and uneventful manner, indifferent to huracáns howling through shattered windows to fling, rust and rot furniture around the concrete rooms. From this scene sourced the aforementioned 22×30” sheets of brown 4 ply railroad paper, fortunately found unmolded inside of cardboard boxes. The Portrait-Story artist very much perceived meaning in annexing supplies from a downed indoctrination camp to support the consenting authorship of its graduates.

As volunteers undertook the task of rehabilitating this former escuela intermedia towards its unknown quantity of potentiation, no one doubted that Los Cuento-Retratos del Barrio Mariana should exhibit there. Eventually, around the time when some would begin calling the building complex “Centro de Imaginaciόn” (Center of the Imagination), Vascio would help re-paint a hallway, designated for his collaborative contribution. This hallway-turned-gallery would lead to a former cafeteria delightfully renamed “The Dream Incubator.”

Around the second or third week of February 2018, just as el artista had wondered how to “wrap up” El Proyecto Cuento-Retrato del Barrio Mariana, the perfect way presented itself:  ARECMA scheduled its bi-annual meeting, the Asamble General Comunitara (General Community Assembly), for 1:30 PM, Sunday, February the 25th, 2018. As the roadside dry erase announcement board at the foot of La Loma implored in marker, “¡reconstruyamos el barrio!” (“Let’s rebuild the neighborhood!”). For this event, Vascio drafted a proposed Memorandum of Understanding in disarmingly straightforward and amiable language, with a slightly humorous tone, repeating what he’d verbally promised for weeks. The effort soon resulted in an ease of translation and a formalized agreement as a forgone conclusion. Three persons of ARECMA took turns translating and reviewing beforehand, increasing the artist’s confidence that the larger group would accept the proposal in all its particulars.

On this luckily windless day, towards the end of this several hour, outdoor meeting upon La Loma, Luis Rodriquez Sanchez (http://www.lrsmusica.com) read the following memorando (memorandum) aloud, with all the forthright delivery of the musician and symphony conductor that he is, flawlessly and nearly verbatim into a microphone powered by solar panels, paraphrasing minimally only where the typed document didn’t lend itself to oratory:

Memorando de Acuerdo Entre Asociaciόn Recreativa y Educativa Communal del Barrio Mariana de Humacoa (ARECMA) y El Proyecto Cuento-Retrato/The Portrait-Story Project (PSP)


En el espíritu de apoyo mutuo y solidaridad, ARECMA y el artista del PSP, Francesco Lovascio di Santis se sienten honorados al exhibir Los Cuento-Retratos/The Portrait-Stories de/of Puerto Rico/Boriken/Borinquen a perpetuidad.



*La Mayor parte de estos Cuento-Retratos/Portrait-Stories fueron dibujados, pintados y escritos a mano en la misma Loma de la Niña Mariana donde opera ARECMA.


*La mayoria de estos Cuento-Retratos/Portrait-Stories describen y son escritos por voluntaries de ARECMA, personas que reciben apoyo de ARECMA, voluntarios de Centro de Apoyo Mutuo ascociado con ARECMA y generalmente, personas de Barrio Mariana a quienes ARECMA les da servico.


* Estos Cuento-Retratos/Portrait-Stories son muy apreciados por ARECMA


* El artista del PSP se siente agradecido por las deliciosas comidas que le efrecen las cocineras y por poder acampar y llevar a cabo su arte en la encantadora Loma de la Niña Mariana con su extraordinaria vista y su gente acogedora; y por haber sido acogida por Christine Nieves y Luis Rodriguez Sanchez, miembros de ARECMA.


ARECMA y PSP acuerdan que:

* El PSP no es un negocia, el artista del PSP no cobra los participantes por su trabajo, su intensiόn es ser solidario.

* Que los originales Cuento-Retratos/Portrait-Stories de/of Puerto Rico deben permanecér juntos como una serie indefinitamente, que esta series debe permanecér indefinidamente em la Islad de Puerto Rico y que no será vendida.

*Que como imágenes de alta resoluciόn Los Cuento-Retratos/The Portrait-Stories de/of Puerto Rico deben poder ser visto libre costo en la portal cibernetico, en la pagina de facebook de ARECMA y en portraitstoryproject.org para la gente de todo mundo puedan compartir las perspectivas. La redundancia de contendio en multiples dirrecciones URL augmenta la possibilidad de que los lectores puedan dar con el continido rápido y facilmente.

* Que cualquier persona puede fotographiar Los Cuento-Retratos/The Portrait-Stories.

* Que si ARECMA quiere, puede imprimir y reproduciόn Los Cuento-Retratos/Portrait-Stories para Mercado con 100% de sus ganacias.

*Que según las circunstancias lo permitan ARECMA exibirá estos Cuento-Retratos/Portrait-Stories en espacios cerrados, limpios e illuminados, donde la gente pueda pueda accedor libre de costos.

*Que con el propόsito de transparencia este memorando se publicará en portraitstoryproject.org y el portal cibernetico de ARECMA y que la copia firmada del memorando debe aparecer en todas las exhibiciones de Los Cuento-Retratos/The Portrait-Stories de/of Puerto Rico.

Like several in Mariana, Luis pronounced the artist’s name “Fran-check-ko”, when speaking in Puerto Rican-dialect Spanish and “Francesco” when speaking English. The artist found this endearing, never objecting to the off-and-on “Puerto Ricanization” of his name.

The audience rippled with laughter as the speech complemented the cocineras (kitchen ladies) culinary skill and clapped after hearing of all the project’s nearly intuitable closure. The Portrait-Story artist stood quietly humbled by such approving crescendo, from a community from which he neither hailed nor could speak to in its dominant tongue.  The memorando was promptly passed around and co-signed by over a dozen applicable and ARECMA-associated persons.

Below, the English-language version:

Memorandum of Understanding between Asociaciόn Recreativa y Educative Comunal del Barrio Mariana de Humacao, Inc. (ARECMA) and El Proyecto Cuento-Retrato/The Portrait-Story Project (PSP)

In the spirit of mutual aid solidarity, ARECMA and the artist of The Portrait-Story Project/El Proyecto Cuento-Retrato, Francesco Lovascio di Santis are honored for ARECMA to exhibit The Portrait-Stories/Cuento-Retratos de/of Puerto Rico/Boriken/Borinquen in perpetuity,


*The large majority of these Portrait-Stories/Cuento-Retratos were drawn, painted and written by hand at La Loma de la Niña Mariana, where ARECMA operates.

*Most of these Portrait-Stories/Cuento-Retratos depict and are authored by ARECMA volunteers, persons who received help from ARECMA, volunteers with the Centro de Apoyo Mutuo associated with ARECMA and generally people of the barrio of Mariana which ARECMA serves.

*ARECMA likes these Portrait-Stories/Cuento-Retratos and will cherish them.

*The Portrait-Story artist is grateful for being fed the delicious meals that the cocineras of ARECMA cooked, for getting to camp and make art upon the enchanting La Loma de la Niña Mariana with all its magnificent view and wonderful people, for being hosted by Christine Nieves and Luis Rodriguez Sanchez who are with ARECMA.

ARECMA and The PSP understand that:

*The PSP is not a business, that The PSP artist did not charge participants for participating, that The PSP artist donated his media of solidarity.

*That the original Cuento-Retratos/Portrait-Stories de/of Puerto Rico should remain together as a series indefinitely, that this series should remain on the island of Puerto Rico indefinitely, that this series is not for sale.

*That as high resolution digital images Los Cuento-Retratos/The Portrait-Stories de/of Puerto Rico should be visible online for free viewing on ARECMA-associated websites or webpages and on portraitstoryproject.org so people across the world may share the perspectives. The content’s redundancy on multiple URL addresses increases the possibility of readers finding the content quickly and easily.

*That anyone may photograph Los Cuento-Retratos/The Portrait-Stories.

* That if ARECMA chooses, it may print and market reproductions of Los Cuento-Retratos/The Portrait-Stories of Puerto Rico and reap 100% of the proceeds.

*That as much as circumstance allows, ARECMA should exhibit these Cuento-Retratos/Portrait-Stories de Puerto Rico in clean, indoor, well-lit spaces where the public may enter at no charge to see these Cuento-Retratos/Portrait-Stories in person.

*That for the purpose of public transparency this memorandum will be posted on portraitstoryproject.org and an ARECMA-associated website, that the signed hardcopy of this memorandum should display beside The Cuento-Retratos/Portrait-Stories where they exhibit.


After the co-signing of this memorandum, Portrait-Story Project participation continued as Vascio also painted plein air landscapes and still life studies for his hosts, an undeniable sojourning pattern, which leaves un-inventoried beauties in its wake.  Perhaps this wasn’t the first time he foraged the least sandy, dirty chunk of clay from the nearest ravine, to dry and grind into particulate, dispersing the native dust unto 3 or 4 emulsified mediums, making paint from the same land which subsequent painting would depict.  Apparently some task must await forensic experts, geologists, sociologists, archivists and art historians.

In late March 2018, half a year post-Maria, gorgeous violet morning glories would continue blossoming across heaps of refuse. In this lushly verdant and proto-post-apocalyptic landscape, after helping to clean wind-damaged, yet still-operational photovoltaic modules, Vascio would still disentangle fallen powerlines, apparently without courting any danger. The post-bourgeois artist would remain unscandalized, with his own sort of forward-looking constructive sardonicism, after electric utility subcontractors left the area with no mission accomplished to speak of, except for roads damaged by their heavy vehicles. Besides taking wires off the ground, Vascio would set a metal ladder on the asphalt, foraging from unfallen powerlines with his bare hands, musing on the non-occurring “Darwin Award.” Wrapping wires into makeshift coils around his palm or between his palm and elbow, he would consider this a convenience for displaying those endemic Cuento-Retratos which denizens del barrio had a stake in. “Third World privilege,” Jurwayne would joke in reference to this material availability supplied by broken progress. Not too dissimilarly, Vascio’s passing, speculative remarks about frugality harbinging creativity and belonging amongst ruins, would tend to mix grandiosity with irreverence, carrying faint echoes of Buenaventura Durruti’s most famous quote from the Spanish Civil War.


Comments are closed.