In the context of Puerto Rico’s ongoing debt crisis, two works stand out as original and insightful artistic responses to this difficult juncture: Antonio Martorell’s hybrid text, El velorio (no-vela) (2010), and the performance piece Manual del bestiario doméstico (2015) by theatre group Las Nietas de Nonó. Simultaneously narrative and theatrical, Martorell’s work is a series of monologues and scenes derived from Francisco Oller’s iconic painting, El velorio (1893), which depicts a drunken celebration in a peasant home during the wake of a dead infant. Las Nietas de Nonó’s play offers monologues and sketches about the suffering of present-day Afro-Puerto Rican families whose male relatives have been incarcerated for infractions large and small. The play ends with a scene evocative of El velorio, in which the audience is invited to pay its respects to the bed-sheet-covered body of a character who has been murdered. The significant presence in both works of Oller’s masterpiece of realist painting—itself a response to social crisis during Spanish colonial rule—helps us understand the message of Martorell’s and Las Nietas de Nonó’s works. El velorio’s images evoke Alejandro Tapia y Rivera’s notorious quote: “Puerto Rico is the corpse of a society that is yet unborn.” Similarly, in both El velorio (no-vela) and Manual del bestiario doméstico, the image of a dead child is a symbol of the paralysis inherent to the colonial condition, in which the body of the nation is always waiting to be born, always waiting to grow up, suspended in an endless state of infantilism.


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pp. 51-68
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