Adál Maldonado’s photographic career is marked by surrealism and politics. And since Adál is Puerto Rican, both things frequently coalesce in images that are dark and humorous, introspective and ferociously critical. After studying at the San Francisco Art Institute, he spent several decades working in close contact with the the Nuyorican scene, creating a conceptual “embassy” and “passport for Puerto Ricans,” U.S. citizens who frequently get treated as foreigners in the United States because of their language, race, and culture. El Puerto Rican Embassy, which today has its own website, was designed to represent: “a new generation of experimental Puerto Rican artists working at the margins of established art movements – who take risks which illuminate contemporary issues, question established cultural aesthetics and challenge dominant political issues.” He has published seven books, the most recent of which are I Love My Selfie, in collaboration with Ilan Stavans, and Los ahogados / Puerto RicansUnderwater, a series first published through social media. In 2016 he relocated from the island of Manhattan to the island of Puerto Rico. (In)visibility and identity are the central concerns of his works, which he has explored extensively through self-portraits, celebrity portraits, and staged photography.
In this my thirtieth year,
Drunk and no stranger to disgrace,
I grin like a fool from ear to ear
Despite the trickle of tears on my face,
Clown that I am, condemned
By Thibauld d’Assole’s command,
Threatened and even damned
By the faker with the crozier in his hand.
Oh, how I crave Bloody Marys at night, tomato and vodka,
kick of Tabasco, spices make everything in life a hell
of a lot better, or at least a hell of a lot more interesting,
and I think that’s what we’re aiming for, and maybe what
I really want is tomato soup, like Andy Warhol used to request
“Could you take a picture?” the girls ask, and I jump up from the bench outside the candy store and check they are all here, all thirteen. I am pleased they want a picture together, considering their history, which is fraught and filled with ugliness.
This is their Senior Trip. We’ve only been off the ferry for two hours, and the girls have spent most of that time weaving in and out of the gift shops on Main Street, finally emerging with a concerning excess of commemorative merchandise.
For the picture, they dress in their loot, rummaging through shopping bags to pull off tags and tug new items over their regular clothes—ball caps and sweatshirts and long-sleeved T’s, Put-in-Bay scrawled over the front in block letters or cursive or cartoon fonts, accompanied by graphics of anchors and lifesavers and compasses, in theme with this Lake Eerie Island off the coast of Sandusky, Ohio. The clothing is boxy and not particularly attractive, but the girls sell it because they are masters at posing. “Smile!” I say, and they throw up their arms and jut out their shoulders and squeeze at their waists. They embrace. They grin with their whole faces, which are fresh and round with youth. Posing, they look happy, and this makes me happy. I tell myself that I am seeing their true selves. “Another one!” I say. “Another!”