CANTO BORICUA: LAS DOS ISLAS / THE TWO ISLANDS
An exhibition of works by photographer Roger Cában
May 30 – July 30, 2014 Curated by Nitza Tufiño and Fernando Salicrup
Roger Cabán: ‘Canto Boricua: The Two Islands’
Roger Cabán was born in Puerto Rico in 1942, came to New York as a child and has lived here ever since. But like most Nuyoricans of his generation, he has shuttled back and forth, which explains the title of this refined and cordial solo show of his black-and-white photographs from the 1970s.
The Puerto Rican pictures were mostly taken in Mr. Cabán’s hometown, Isabela, on the island’s northwest coast: a place of lush vegetation, shadowed interiors and neighborly faces, the most charismatic being that of his grandmother, Doña Maria López. Many of the Manhattan shots are of interiors, too — indoors in this case being the New York City subway.
In East Harlem in the 1960s and ’70s, Mr. Cabán was part of a group of young artist-activists creating community-based cultural organizations. Among them was a writers collective, La Nueva Sangre. In 1974 he collaborated with a fellow member, the playwright Dolores Prida (1943-2013), on a book-length photo essay about the subway called “The IRT prayer book,” and his images from that work fill a gallery. Subway cars look as lived-in as city apartments or island homes, with night shift workers dozing, young people partying, and nuns saying a quick prayer, all against a background of the florid graffiti that bloomed in New York at that time.
Over the years, Mr. Cabán supported his photography with a full-time day job as a social worker. But in the show — organized by Fernando Salicrup, executive director of Taller Boricua, and the artist Nitza Tufiño — Mr. Cabán’s life and his art, like his two home islands, feel of a piece.