“In Puerto Rico the homosexual world is centered around el ambiente. El ambiente is the place for an ‘imagined community’ where both gay and straight spaces cross – since in Puerto Rico, very few homosexuals have the luxury of living in homosexual-centered communities. El ambiente is heterogeneous. In it all mentalities crisscross, reproducing the class and cultural system of the society and its corresponding ideologies. There are bars, clubs, beaches and other places exclusively homosexual. There are also ‘mixed’ spaces, interstitial spaces, such as gyms, billiard halls and even bars where everyone keeps their masks on. “
Andres Torres, The Puerto Rican Movement: Voices from the Diaspora
“The damaging part of learning to live your life in two parts, whether in reality or fantasy, cannot be underestimated. It is an infectious skill that you learned, one that would eventually spread beyond the bedroom of your life. Life wasn’t ever what it seemed on the surface. Nothing could be trusted for what it appeared to be. After all, you weren’t what you appeared to be.”
Alan Downs, The Velvet Rage
The work presented here connects two locations of East Berlin, Germany to San Juan, Puerto Rico for the conjuring of Queer Magic, the space that is this exhibition El Ambiente. Through puppets, prints, film, sound and installation, the work inspired by these spaces find commonalities through the use of folklore, history, popular culture and themes of personal and collective queer identity. In East Berlin, inspiration comes from Ludwig Hoffman’s 1913 Märchenbrunnen im Volkspark Friederichshain (Fairy Fountain in Friederichshain Park). The joyous fountain itself is made up of a multi-level basin surrounded by 10 limestone figures
from Grimm’s fairy tales and an arcade filled with multiple animal sculptures. Like most of the city, it was all severely damaged during the bombings of World War II and left in various states of condition through the GDR period and until 18 years after the wall came down.
The park was a known as one of the few meeting places for gay men during the GDR. The word “Märchenbrunnen” was code for being gay during this time. The beaches of San Juan represent a similar space for gay men on the island. The freedom “La Playa” represents has fed the spirit of my newest work. As my mother’s family emigrated from Barcelona in the 19th century, I returned this past March to revisit my own past and formation of identity. The resulting imagery combines imagery from Juan Bobo folklore stories, religious iconography and Latin Pop Culture.
While much of the work comes from specific German and Latin sources, my desire is to create metaphorical works that speak on abstract and emotional levels: a true celebration of the resilience of queer identity in the face of fear, repression, and homophobia.
El Ambiente es para todos nosotros!
El Ambiente is dedicated to the memory of my mother, Margarita Abram Roger, and my father, Max Abram. The connections between Germany and Puerto Rico happen because of them as well. As parents, they filled my spirit with love, culture and adventure.
by Ron Abram
About the Artist
Ron Abram has been a printmaker for thirty years. His recent work brings together multiple artistic disciplines, extending printmaking to include animation, film, sculpture, and installation. Situated at the intersection of personal symbolism and popular collective iconography and myth, the themes of his work speak to the residue of the memory, repression, homophobia, and queer aesthetics. His work has been exhibited throughout the USA and abroad, and Abram has work in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Mint Museum, and Moravian College. He received his BFA from the University of Central Florida and his MFA from Tyler School of Art of Temple University. Abram has taught printmaking and drawing since 1989, and currently holds the position of Associate Professor of Art and Queer Studies at Denison University where he has taught since 1995.
Queer Prism: Casting a Light on Latinidad, Intersectionality, & Place
Saturday, December 2 at 1 PM
Moderated by Larry La Fontaine, “Queer Prism” builds on the themes of Abram’s El Ambiente exhibition. The panel investigates Latino and Queer identities, and the stories created around places that bring people together. Looking at Puerto Rico’s queer spaces (el ambiente) and how they have become more visible in society, the panel will explore the transformation of Latino identity in light of growing acceptance of queer identity. Participants include Ron Abram, David Acosta, Gerard Silva, and Nikki Lopez.
The panel is part of Taller’s Diálogo Series, whose goal is to deepen our understanding of broader social issues of struggle, community, economic upheaval, and identity. Funding for Diálogo has been provided by a generous grant from PNC Arts Alfirive, a multi-year initiative of the PNC Foundation dedicated to supporting visual and performing arts groups with the goal of increasing arts access and engagement in new and innovative ways.