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In this artist statement for the exhibition In Search of an Island (1991), Bibiana Suarez discusses how her work reflects her search for self-identification and the problems of living between two cultures—that of Puerto Rico and the United States—as a self-imposed exile. Suarez describes how she attempted to define the spiritual side of her upbringing in her first group of large-scale graphite drawings, employing color in her autobiographical narratives only later in her career. More recent works have used space “iconographically” and have pointed out a sense of where she currently exists as a kind of limbo, neither in Puerto Rico nor in Chicago, but in her own imagined island. Suarez’s purpose for this exhibition is to reflect on the 1991 proposal for a plebiscite that would allow Puerto Ricans to decide between three political statuses. By exploring Puerto Rico as a geographical entity, a touristic caricature, a geological structure, and as other manifestations, Suarez aims to contribute to the reconstruction of what is meant to be Puerto Rican.
In Search of an Island was one of Bibiana Suarez’s first solo shows. Exhibited at Sazama Gallery, the exhibition took place from September 6 to October 12, 1991. The catalog included an essay by New York-based Puerto Rican artist Juan Sánchez. On November 1991, Art News published a review written by Garrett Holg. (For an expanded version of this statement, see doc. no. 1075729).By the time of the exhibition at Sazama Gallery, the U.S. Senate had decided not to pass the bill that would allow Puerto Ricans to decide in a plebiscite between statehood, independence, or Commonwealth status. Nevertheless, 1991 proved to be an active year for Puerto Rican politics. In April, the Puerto Rican legislature passed a law that made Spanish the official language. And, later in the year, a referendum was organized with the intention of amending the constitution of Puerto Rico. The amendment, however, was rejected by 53 percent of the voters.
The Puerto Rican-born artist Bibiana Suarez has lived in Chicago since 1980, where she received a BFA and MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She has exhibited widely in the United States and Puerto Rico and has written about bicultural identity, the politics of the colonial relationship of the United States and Puerto Rico, and contemporary art.