In most minds, the phrase "Spring Break" conjures a tropical MTV landscape populated with "bros" and bikinis. Or, at the very least, a quiet week away from campus. But for graduate students and academics, work goes on! I did, however, take a "Spring Break" of sorts by putting my dissertation revisions down long enough to work on a side project: freelance editing Nayda Cuevas' forthcoming self-published book, Puerto Rican "American": Uncovering Suppressed Histories Between Puerto Rico and the U.S., which you can buy later this spring on her website: www.naydacuevasart.com.
I met Nayda in 2014 while working on her MFA thesis project as a writing tutor at Lesley University College of Art and Design. At the time, she was doing a body of miniature smartphone-scale paintings that dealt with Latinx identity and activism through hashtags. By tenderly and faithfully reimagining Instagrammers' selfies in paint, she illustrated a wide range of Latinx appearances and experiences - which often defy the limited stereotypes presented in the media.
Her latest series of silkscreen prints is quite a formal departure; at first I didn't realize she had made them herself! Instead, I mistook them for the authentic vintage advertisements and political posters that inspired them. My confusion was perhaps prompted by the fact that Nayda has collected and compiled a substantial dossier of primary historical documents pertaining to her family history: birth and marriage certificates, ship manifests, and even redacted declassified FBI papers! By following the trail of these documents and corresponding with historians and relatives, Nayda's text and images uncover a dramatic story that is both personal and political.
In addition to editing Nayda's draft, I was also able to see her prints and paintings in person at the Arlington Art Lounge at the event "It Wasn't Our Choice: Untold Histories Between Puerto Rico and the US." If she hosts more evenings like this, you should definitely attend: they are immersive cultural events with food and music in addition to art! I may not have been able to travel internationally over Spring Break, but Nayda's writing and visual art certainly took me to new destinations in my career and consciousness.
What are you doing for spring break? Share in the comments!