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    The heuristic power of art / Elizam Escobar
    The Subversive imagination: Artists, Society, and Responsibility :  New York and London: Routledge, 1994.
    p. [35] - 54
    Book/pamphlet article – Essays
    Escobar, Elizam. "The Heuristic Power of Art." In The Subversive imagination: Artists, Society, and Responsibility, edited by Carol Becker,  35-54. New York and London: Routledge, 1994.
    Association of Hispanic Arts (New York, N.Y.); Barthes, Roland, 1915-1980; Foucault, Michel, 1926-1984; Marx, Carl

This text by Elizam Escobar, a noted Puerto Rican nationalist, artist, and writer, is a largely autobiographical account of his artistic and political evolution in the island and the United States. Written in prison, the essay reflects on his experience as an incarcerated artist, and considers make-do aesthetics and philosophical ideas related to art and politics, especially liberty. Escobar brings to the fore his situation as follows: “I am simultaneously an artist and imprisoned political activist. As a political prisoner and prisoner of war, others see me as a symbol and/or a martyr of the independence cause—an immolated living being. But as a thinker-activist who need to conceptualize and determine his role . . . I refuse to play the role of a ‘passive’ martyr.” Escobar writes that the practice of making his art helps him overcome the context of living in prison. As he declares, “Surrounded by obscenity, art becomes a salvation, the sacred activity of liberty.”


In this text, Elizam Escobar, a self-described and publicly acknowledged activist-combatant for Puerto Rican liberation, comments on his art, as both a poet and painter. His visual art mirrors the introspective philosophical bent of this text as it addresses issues of identity, personal ethics, liberty, and nationalism. In this text, Escobar persistently questions the purposes of art in relation to political action. Hence, this document’s relevance underscores a pair of research topics, “National Imaginaries/Cosmopolitan Identities” as well as “Art, Activism, and Social Change.” Moreover, it is also pertinent to stress that Escobar’s incarceration relates to “Issues of race and class.” The Puerto Rican activist wrote this text during his detention in U.S. federal prison on charges of conspiracy related to an alleged plot to bomb federal property in 1980, along with other members of the radical group The Armed Forces of Puerto Rican National Liberation (FALN, in the Spanish acronym). After Escobar’s release in 1999, he settled in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where he became a professor at Escuela de Bellas Artes.

Victor Sorell; Harper Montgomery, collaborator
Institute for Latino Studies, University of Notre Dame, South Bend, USA