In 1977, Puerto Rican artist Papo Colo tied himself to the body fifty-one pieces of wood, one for each state, including Puerto Rico, and ran with his bare torso down a Manhattan street until he collapsed from exhaustion. This performance, entitled Superman 51, is the focus of the Papo Colo exhibition, organized by the Museo de Arte de Ponce, in collaboration with MoMA PS1.
With Superman 51, the artist wanted to express his distaste for the political decisions taken during the administration of President Gerald Ford (1974-1977) in rejection of Puerto Rico’s request to become the 51st state. A set of black and white photographs and a video recording are presented as documentation of Superman 51 realizing how Papo Colo explored physical resistance as a tool in his protest against the socio-political realities of the moment. After almost forty years, Superman 51 continues to provoke reactions in visitors, and take on new meanings at the moment of crisis that is currently going through the country.
The exhibition will also present works by the artist made in more recent times: two photographs, and a video. In the performance Against the Current (1983), the artist performs an act of repudiation for the contamination of the Bronx River in New York paddling down the river in a canoe between garbage and waste. The effort to row against the current becomes a metaphor to show the situation that Puerto Ricans were going through in their search for economic and social stability during the term of President Ronald Reagan.
Papo Colo, a pioneer in the art scene in New York since the 1970s, has created performances of social and political criticism in which he expresses his feelings in an extreme and dramatic way to raise awareness in the community. Throughout his career, the artist has always been receptive to the problems that afflict society, especially Puerto Ricans, organizing protests in the form of performances. He was born in 1946, in Puerta de Tierra, Puerto Rico and today resides between New York and Puerto Rico. He is a performance artist, actor, musician, graphic designer, painter, writer and curator. He is co-founder of Exit Art, an international alternative art center located in New York. He won the New York State CAPS Fellowship scholarship twice. He has curated several contemporary art groups and has worked on the design of catalogs and materials for exhibitions.