Aubiquitous sound in Puerto Rico is 
the patient tapping of dominos as a 
player awaits his opportunity to play. 
Bibiana Suarez's installation is a 
visual simulation of the ambiance, atmosphere 
of chance, and gamesmanship involved in her 
island's national pastime. The domino is a for- 
mat that allows her to discourse on the dualistic and multilayered issues of national and 
personal history and identity.

Each domino contextualizes issues like race, 
gender, family, religion, politics, economics, 
stereotyping, tropicalism, etc. The line 
between the two sides of a single domino can 
be a barrier bulwarking oppositions, or mark
ing a transition between variants. The implied 
line where two dominos meet, however, is 
meant to indicate the conjoining of like numbers, of the comparative juxtaposition of visu
ally delineated issues.

Stylistically Suarez has chosen to be as var
ied as she has been in choosing her visual sources. Cartoons, photos, souvenirs, images 
from Puerto Rican art history, and conceptions from her imagination all give credence 
to the pervasiveness of the ideas she addresses and their relevance to all periods of her 
national and personal histories. These domi- 
nos register imposed American images, gen- 
erated Puerto Rican imagery, syncretized real- 
ities, and autobiographical experiences.

Although several years in the making, this 
installation has always meant to be first 
viewed in 1998. It is Suarez's way to observe 
the centenary of her nation's transfer from 
Spanish to American colonialism. The territorial Spanish American war of 1898 continues 
in 1998 to be a cultural war between 
"Spanish" and American, or "Anglo". She, 
like many born and raised on the island, pursued her university education in the United 
States and continued to live on the "Anglo 
Mainland". She has become bi-national, bi- 
cultural, bi-lingual. Being simultaneously two 
things in one persona was a prompt for the appropriateness of using the domino-one 
object with two designated zones. Awareness 
of dual simultaneity elicits the parallel 
conundrums of appropriation, adaptation, and 
assimilation. Suarez visually aligns these concerns, whether by contrasting a Puerto Rican 
almuerzo with an American fast-food lunch, or showing a Caribbean rumbera with Anglo 
bleached blond hair. Paradox is evoked in 
ironic images of colonialism like the souvenir 
postcards and family photos from Guanica, 
the site on Puerto Rico's Caribbean coast 
where the invading Americans landed on July 
25, 1898.

Shuffling, an integral part of playing domi
nos, assures that each game will be different, ruled by chance, and not controlled by a 
single player. Suarez intends that her pictorial dominos can be reshuffled and reconfig
ured. Cultural identities are not static. They 
are constantly being negotiated and in 
process. Each installation will be like a different game and the changed relationships 
will establish new contextual associations 
and interpretations-as in reality, the only 
constant is change.

This installation is about raising questions, 
not advocating solutions. Suarez provides 
icons, symbols, and images to evoke a dialogue about identity and historical interpretation. Her politics are purposefully oblique; it 
is not evident if she favors independence, 
statehood, commonwealth status, or some 
other future political/cultural reality. Through 
viewer participation, new layers of meaning 
will accrue to the work's contextual armature, 
and, hopefully, new or renewed insight (s) will 
be gained into what is Puerto Rico and Puerto Rican, as well as into the constituents 
of one's personal and national identity.

Goldabelle McComb Finn Distinguished Chair of

Art History, Theory and Criticism
School of the Art Institute of Chicago