My Bella Vieques (My Beautiful Vieques) 2012, watercolor-collage, 22" x 30" (Collection of the artist).
Olga Cruz’s masterful watercolor-collage entitled Mi Bella Vieques (My Beautiful Vieques) iconologically investigates historical events on Puerto Rico’s little sister Island: Vieques. This island of 10,000 inhabitants, which belongs to Puerto Rico, has been a “bone-of-contention” between all Boricuas and the government of the United States; owing to the fact that Vieques has endured a tragic 60-year history of elicit US weapons testing on the island. Cruz hopes that through her art, she might be a voice for geo-political reconciliation and healing between the USA and all Caribeños, who are greatly dismayed by the enormous ecologically and psychological harm that US exploitation of Vieques has caused. Moreover, through the years, the bulk of Cruz’s art has valiantly examined the effects of breast-cancer on people; her investigations of this deadly disease led her to examine Vieques, where she discovered higher cancer rates than in Puerto Rico or on surrounding islands.
Since 1941, the US Navy and its Marine Corp have unilaterally (without permission) used Puerto Rico’s adjacent Island of Vieques’s southern peninsula as a massive firing range for naval gunnery target practice. Year-in-and-year-out, the island endured bombardment resulting in the detonation of over 20,000 bombs-a-year, including the explosion of several experimental (and “toxic”) uranium-capped slugs. By 2001, thanks to protests and global outrage, the United States Navy and the Marines ceased bombing the island’s southern peninsula, and they abandoned their ammunition depots throughout western Vieques. In Olga Cruz’s watercolor Mi Bella Vieques, she unflinchingly examines the ecological and psychological damage inflicted upon Vieques. Cruz accomplishes this by depicting an isolated beach covered with lethal piles of undetonated bombs wherein a grief-stricken Boriquen boy crouches in a sorrowful prenatal pose. The youngster is skillfully positioned in such a way that he is unable to “stand” nor “lie” nor “sit,” Like a stage-set, a deadly “wasteland” surrounds the desolate child and his unique pose connotes alienation and despair. In addition, his countenance and his form allude symbolically to T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land’s famous line, which precisely defines the basic characteristic of all “wastelands” as being emotionally unwelcoming bleak places where: “. . . one can neither stand nor lie nor sit.” The despairing child cowers amidst a milieu of death, recalling Jim Morrison’s painful lines from song The End by The Doors:
. . . . In a desperate land
. . . . . . Lost in a Roman wilderness of pain
And all the children are insane
As a major force in New Jersey’s Latino art scene, Cruz’s genius revolves around her animistic empathetic comprehension of human suffering, which is the dominant theme in all her oeuvre. Like both Morrison and Eliot in their (above-mentioned) famous works about human isolation and alienation, Cruz (in her watercolor) is referencing Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival with its insightful definition of the wasteland as a “dead land” that surrounds the Fisher King’s magic castle --- wherein the ‘much sought-after’ Holy Grail lies concealed, which adds another layer of sublime-meaning to Cruz’s watercolor Mi Bella Vieques; due to the Holy Grail’s resurrecting restorative power(s) to repair a broken-land, which affirms Cruz’s farsighted faint hope for Vieques’s distant prospects as a vibrant plush-posh tourist destination. It is interesting that her image was created at the exact same time as director Bruce Robinson’s 2012 film The Rum Diary based on an early-1960’s novel by the great Hunter S. Thompson about white-collar criminal Yankee real-estate speculation in Vieques during Eisenhower’s presidency.
A native of Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, Cruz arrived to the United States as a child; although later on attending fifth-grade on the island, which remains a fond memory that she affectionately recalls. Through the years, while residing in New Jersey, Cruz has frequently visited her family in Puerto Rico. For more information about this remarkable Latina artist, who is known as “The Mother of Neo-Latinoism,”