“Picking Up the Pieces” envisions hope amid the wreckage in Puerto Rico

A Lower East Side art show timed to mark the five years since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico took on added resonance when Fiona roared through the island just two days before its opening.

“How’s your family?” an attendee asked a fellow visitor in the compact CLLCTV Gallery on East Third Street, where New Yorkers with island roots greeted one another with embraces on Sept. 20.

The answer: “They’re good. Tú sabes, without water or electricity. But at least they’re alive and well.” 

“Picking Up The Pieces,” the exhibit created by Adrián “Viajero” Román, a multidisciplinary visual artist from Puerto Rico, was designed to commemorate the deadly impact of Maria. His work conveyed new meaning in the wake of Fiona, which again left millions of islanders without power and exposed to flash floods.

“The community coming out was a testament to the need for us to continue talking about Maria,” said artist Andrián Viajero Román, who calls the found objects included in the exhibit “PR-tifacts.”

Now, Román said, the exhibit, on display through Sept. 25, has “more of a purpose of being a fundraiser and just asking people to please donate” to alleviate the latest suffering.

The work is a collection of art he put together in 2018.

After the twin disasters generated by Irma and Maria in 2017, Román—whose family is from Lares and Jayuya—traveled to the island multiple times to deliver relief aid. That’s when he conceived of preserving and collecting found items and presenting them as art.

Román calls these items “PR-tifacts,” examples of the rubbish, or escombro, that was washed up or disposed of on streets and mountainsides. Some were found, others were given to the artist. Román sees the mementos as a way to connect with the stories of those who were lost.

Viewers are moved by a wall-mounted assemblage of found objects that can also be viewed from chair where spectators can get their feet wet in water held in a tarp-lined container.

A wooden chair, where spectators can sit, get their feet wet and view a wall with empty frames and a transparent box filled with found objects stands as a centerpiece of the exhibit. 

There’s also a toy dinosaur perched on a wall display.

“This is from Antar,” Román said. “He is from La Perla in San Juan.” 

A boy in San Juan believed his dinosaur could provide protection for his family from the deadly 2017 hurricanes.

Antar, now 15, gave Román the figure, which he lost during Irma after placing it outside of his home in the hope that the T-Rex would protect his family.

Twelve days later, Maria followed. Antar, who still lives with his mother in the same home, found his toy protector across the street. 

“It’s a family legacy story and I see that as an iconic piece of family, of protection, of faith, of imagination,” Román said. “And I couldn’t see that being at some point disposed of.”

Román is collecting donations for the Mi Patria organization, a grassroots charity that addresses displacement, affordable housing and educational resources in Puerto Rico.

He plans to visit the island soon to provide more emergency supplies. 

“The community coming out was a testament to the need for us to continue talking about Maria, to continue talking about the need in Puerto Rico, the political issues in Puerto Rico, the lack of education about our culture and our history,” he said.