Sunday, April 1, 2018

Carlos Rolón at NOMA

Where did cities come from? Many seem to have just happened as travelers at crossroads began trading what they had for what they needed. Some stuck around and one thing led to another. Since then, that process has been infinitely repeated, especially in places with active street life like Latin America, the Caribbean and New Orleans. When Carlos Rolón's parents moved from Puerto Rico to Chicago, their living room became his mom's nail salon while his father taught boxing in the basement. Later, in his travels as a widely exhibited artist, Rolón noticed how much New Orleans reminded him of Puerto Rico, and this Outside/In mixed media installation explores what both places have in common, from  tropical plants and architecture to the enduring tradition of street vendors. In fact, his Nomadic Habitat – Hustleman (pictured) is a kind of 21st century pushcart outfitted with all of life's essentials – trays of street food, sunglasses, salsa or hip-hop CDs, memorial portraits of Prince, customizable ID cards, you name it. Designed to be interactive, it will feature ongoing contributions from local arts and community activists as well as tarot card readers, see NOMA's web site for details. 

Much of the show reminded me of the way the families of the Cuban refugee kids I grew up with turned living spaces and backyard cabanas into little mini-Havanas with touches like ornate iron latices and hanging baskets of flowers. Rolón also uses the decorative ironwork found on windows and doors in Nola and the Caribbean to fame mirrors so our reflections appear as time travelers traversing portals into the vestigial visual legacy of Spanish colonialism. Similarly, Creole Tiles, left, deploys jazzy tile patterns to evoke the creative mingling of ethnicities that characterize Creole cultures wherever they are found. A swirling maze of crescent shaped mirrors takes us through yet another reflective rabbit hole in the form of a wall sculpture, Maria, above, named for the hurricane that devastated Puerto Rico like an even more apocalyptic version of Hurricane Katrina. Here again, the mirrors bring us into the picture, reminding us that climate change is what we inflicted on ourselves by placing dollar signs above the health and well being of the world that sustains us. Throughout this show, Rolón's mirrors allow us to see the true nature of “otherness” – and realize that it is us. ~Bookhardt / Outside/In: Mixed Media Works by Carlos Rolón, Through Aug. 26, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100.