Taíno Project proposal

This Spring I’ll be paired with a couple High Schools via the Puerto Rican Arts Alliance. I had the honor of working with both Lowell Elementary School (where I graduated 8th grade back in ’92’) and ASPIRA last year. Below are what we as a group created.

This year the project will be more individual and I’d like to go deeper as the new students are in High School! Below is the proposal letter (and demo art piece) I am quite proud of :”) Feel free to comment.

So… I have been reading more in depth about the Taíno peoples and it seems that a lot of information about them now is speculation. There are artifacts but most accounts recorded or better yet, survived, are incomplete and extremely biased as they are from the spaniards perspective. Choosing to focus more on what we all as humans have always needed and craved in order to survive; FOOD, I made a pot in honor of the cassava plant, as it is and remains to be a staple food throughout much of the island nations raped and pillaged by the spanish.

Apparently, the cassava plant is very poisonous if not treated before consumption. That said, it is recorded that many Taíno’s took their own lives [in order to escape enslavement] by hanging or ingesting the untreated cassava plant. With that heavily charged past this tuber and this pot are somewhat of a “trojan horse“. I call my piece “a los conquistadores, con amor” [to the conquerors with love].
So… if it isn’t clear, I’d like to propose that our group of students create hand-built pots in honor of some aspect they connect with in the little history we do have and are given regarding the Taínos. The final showcase would consist of all the pots made to be displayed with a note defining the connections made. Either set up as a market scene or each on a pedestal of it’s own.
I would spend half a day going over sketches with the students, the other half creating the pot: covering basic hand-building techniques and speaking about the pottery that evolved in the Greater and Lesser Antilles [the area we are studying; as Taínos are not only from Puerto Rico but from many, if not most of the islands bordering the Caribbean Sea]. The next day we will create the 3D aspects and then paint them. I figure we can do the project in 2 days, but 3 days max.
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2 thoughts on “Taíno Project proposal

  1. Heres some of my writing soon to be published for the gallery exhibition:

    Over the course of three days in April, teaching artist Alexis Ortiz was partnered with 160 students from Kelvyn Park and Clemente High School to design and implement the art component for this yearsTaíno Project. In order to honor what the seven separate classes had learned about this now lost peoples, Alexis introduced them to a simple hand-building technique used by this and many other ancient civilizations. His concept was based on an aspect we can all connect with, food and drink; All the clay pots made are safe to eat, drink, and serve from. The majority of information we have regarding the Taíno is speculation, as most of the data that has survived is from the perspective of the very people who wiped them out. But through diligent yet basic ethnographic research and cross reference, many similarities, such as anthropomorphic vessels, certain methods of hunting and food preparation have been directly associated to the people of the Greater and Lesser Antilles, the islands bordering the Carribean Sea. Mr. Ortiz himself also made a pot, embellished with a botanical study of the Cassava plant, which was and remains a staple food of the islands as well as ‘a charged symbol of defiance’. It is recorded that many Taíno people ingested unprocessed cassava (which is lethal) in order to escape enslavement; hence the name of his piece, “A los Conquistadores con Amor”. As much of the culture has been rooted in symbol, each vessel expresses a unique interpretation and thus connection, between a group disseminated and a group of thriving youth… who include (insert/list names of participating students here)  

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