Last week I had the opportunity to be invited to the round table about Francisco Oller’s work, a painter from the Impressionist movement from Puerto Rico. There is a major exhibition of his work at the Brooklyn Museum. I shared the conversation with curator Susana Torruella Leval, artists Juan Sánchez and Miguel Luciano and scholar Yasmin Ramirez. Storytelling approach is not new, but is a very strong tool for engagement. While speaking I projected 3 questions prompting a call for action from the audience for reflection and sharing them through social media or right there through printed cards. Here is my participation:
I need to tell the story on personal ideology so I can have people reflect of the effects they can have in the long run.
I am not a storyteller; I am a strategic designer who think like a painter. I design systems and things based on people stories.
So I will read you my 3 letters.
LETTER #1 To a painter friend who is dead.
Dear dead friend:
I was invited to a round table of Francisco Oller’s work at the Brooklyn Museum. If I could speak to Oller, I would not loose time, and question why he left Europe, and the Impressionist movement he helps create for returning home. I would start saying to him: “where you come from, I come from there too. A place of no importance”, like my friend Luisita said.
The old painter would be probably afraid of a woman artist.
I will be persistence, you know me, I will tell him: “I am woman with skills, you know I am right, I could have stay home with a cup of wine.”
If I could change things, I would take him down to a river. Any river back home, that have muddy water, the one near you parent beach house. On the way I would asked him:
“Why you left everything behind? Why you didn’t go forward? Why you turned your back on them?”
And I imagine that he will respond: “Maybe, I was a devil sent, when I decided to go back home. I have played it a thousand times like a movie, I lost my soul the day I decided to come back home. My shadow is as big as my doubts, I can’t swim up this river” and then Oller would look at me and said: “you unravel things, pull my head, pull my head, woman! It’s a long way down to the bottom of the river.”
I put him under, down, down, down, and I forgot all about him. Never to see him again.
I said to you now, my friend, that I found my soul on that river shore. It has been 8 years since I last painted. Every time I feel this way; I will have laid out my trouble in that muddy river in a place of no importance.
Glad that you are not here to see it. Missed you.
LETTER #2 I will read it to my godchild, who wants to be an artist, at bedtime
My loving young painter
1, 2, 3, 4.[snapping finger jazz tempo]
I spoke with an old painter call Oller from 100 years ago. Don’t worried about the details, only the truth of my story will remained. I said to him: “where you come from, I come from there too. A place, of no importance. Oller, Oller, come down to the river with me.”
“I am afraid of your ways, woman“. The old painter responded.
“I am woman with skills, you know I am right, I could have stay home with a cup of hot chocolate.”
I took him down to the river. A river where the water never goes dry. To a river that the water never goes dry. On our trail I asked him: “Why you left everything behind? Why you didn’t go forward? Why you turn your back on them?”
And he responds: ” As a child I sat down staring at the fire. It’s been a long time traveling on my way to home, it’s being a long way. Friends are hard to find. Good friends to the right, good friends to the left. There is nothing better than friends. Maybe, I was a devil sent, when I decided to go back home.”
I said to you now, my young, young painter, that I found my soul on that river shore.
5, 6, 7, 8. [snapping finger jazz tempo]
I left before the sheriff came.
The old painter said: “I have played it a thousand times like a movie, I lost my soul the day I decided to come back home. My shadow is as big as my doubts, I can’t swim up this river” and then Oller look at me and said: “you unravel things, pull my head, pull my head, woman! It’s a long way down to the bottom of the river.”
I put the old painter under, down, down, down, and I forgot all about him. Never saw him again. Every time I feel this way; I will have laid out my troubles in the river where the water never goes dry.
So, gather all your stories and let them sail away in a river that the water never goes dry. It’s a good mystery not a problem to be solved.
Give mercy to me.
1,2,3,4, he will hold his breath, [snapping finger jazz tempo]
5,6,7,8, I found my soul on that river shore [snapping finger jazz tempo]
LETTER #3 by email to the Queen of England (who I don’t know).
Madame, probably the one reading this letter is one of your aids.
I was told that I have to write you.
I fail to see why. Paraphrasing writer Luisita Torregrosa: “I come from a place of no importance“, because places like mine have no history, “unnoticed by the grander world.”
I was invited to a round table of Francisco Oller work at the Brooklyn Museum, New York. He was a painter that was part of the Impressionist movement. He is the only Latino in the Louvre collection, with a painting call “The Student”. He was Cezanne teacher and responsible to introduce Vincent van Gogh to Pizarro. He left France, and came back to his homeland, motivated by what I think a misguided national loyalty. He lost contact with the impressionist and even change the way he paints, in order to simplified political discourse of what he consider was authentically national.
Therefore, because of his decision, I feel we lost our seat in the international history in art. It has taken more than 100 years to get back and insert us again in the multi discourse of global art practice.
But you see, Oller is the result of colonial behavior, that symbiotic relationship that we can’t escape, both you as the colonist and us as the colonized. Paris is not escaping either, nor is Beirut, neither Syria.
Dr. María de Mater O’Neill