When ceramic artist, poet, and social activist Roberto Lugo traveled to Utuado, Puerto Rico, to see about starting an art residency there, he asked locals if they knew his grandfather, who was from the area. “They remembered him as the man who carried the refrigerator up the mountain,” Lugo tells me.
This was the result, Lugo posits, of systematic discrimination against his people, the indigenous Taíno, by the United States. “They didn’t build roads to their land, so they couldn’t compete agriculturally with the rest of the people,” he continues. “My grandfather would have to climb a mountain in order to get to his home.”
While the terrain was flat where the younger Lugo grew up in Philadelphia, the Puerto Rican artist had a figurative mountain to climb from an early age.
“My neighborhood in Kensington was really synonymous with prostitution and drugs,” the artist says. He recalls the racial tensions he faced growing up there; and being surrounded by graffiti—an early font of artistic inspiration.
(published in Artsy, 2017)