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"Blood Memory" awakens the stories of ancestry

A small yellow cabinet adorned with colorful paintings of birds sits in front of a white wall. On the cabinet are pictures, candles and other items. On the wall above the cabinet are collage photos and a small Puerto Rican flag in the form of a wall hanging.
A detail of "Caldero Familiar," an altar created by Candida Gonzalez as part of their exhibition "Blood Memory" at Public Functionary in Minneapolis. (Photo courtesy of Public Functionary)

The exhibition “Blood Memory,” which opens tonight at Public Functionary in Minneapolis, explores how immigrants who have been separated from their ancestral homeland find reconnection in new spaces. 

“Blood Memory” features six different installations by Puerto Rican artist Candida Gonzalez. Gonzalez says they are inspired by the idea that, by connecting with everyday objects, it’s possible to reconnect with your ancestral homeland without actually going there. 

“Because, for many reasons, so many people cannot return to their homelands,” said Gonzales. “This show is saying there still is a way to connect to your ancestors. You hold those memories in your blood. They are there. Your ancestors are living in your body. It is my love letter to Puerto Rico. My love letter to all the Puerto Ricans living in the diaspora. And really anybody who is living in diaspora and separated from their ancestral homeland, either by choice, or not by choice.” 

Gonzalez says they began traveling to Puerto Rico in 2018 to connect with their ancestors and cultural heritage. Then the COVID pandemic happened.

“I was laying on my living room floor in front of my altar and thinking about how I was going to continue this work being stuck in my house, and not being able to travel; and not being able to be in the mountains, in the river, in the ocean,” said Gonzalez. “I picked up a rock that I found in a river in Puerto Rico that was very significant to me. And I just sat there holding it, and I realized that by holding this object and putting it against my skin, and smelling it… It was awakening something within my blood. And it was allowing me to continue to connect to my ancestors in a significant way.”

"Birthright," digital collage, 2024 - part of the installation I Wear Gold to Talk to My Ancestors (Image courtesy of Public Functionary)

Gonzalez says the river rock inspired their decision to center the exhibition around altars. Not the traditional altars that are commonly used to honor religious worship or ritual, but what Gonnzalez identifies as “everyday altars.” 

“The first installation that you see when you walk into the gallery is called ‘I Wear Gold to Talk to My Ancestors.’ And it's really exploring this idea of Latinos, Caribbean people, Black people,” said Gonzalez. “When we adorn ourselves with gold, are we not creating altars on our body? Putting this gold on as a way to speak to our ancestors, to claim our ancestors? To let our ancestors claim us?" 

Gonzalez says they view the kitchen as another altar, which inspired the installation Caldero Familiar, a tribute to their father who died in 2015. 

“My dad, I swear, like once a week – all of my life – would talk about Panapen [Puerto Rican breadfruit], and how much he missed it,” recalled Gonzalez. “It was impossible to get to Minnesota because it ripens so quickly. That longing for this taste, this object, this feeling that was forever beyond his reach… In this installation, I've put him back with the Panapen.”

Other installations involve objects, photos and collages, and also audio, like in the installation, “‘Brujeria Musica,’ otherwise known as ‘Everyday Spells.’” 

Gonzalez says while the exhibition conveys their journey as a Puerto Rican, at its essence it is a common experience that is shared across communities of color.  

“This promise that was made to them that the United States was the country of abundance… And that if they left Puerto Rico, they would come into abundance. And then their realization at different points in their journey of how, no, actually, Puerto Rico is the land of abundance. And this was a manufactured lie, designed to move them off the island so that the island could be more prosperous in capitalistic terms. And really feeling their betrayal and disappointment and longing for that reconnection back to their island, ” said Gonzalez. 

Gonzalez says they hope the exhibition inspires folks to begin their own ancestral discoveries. And most importantly, to know that these ‘blood memories’ of before are still alive.

“Blood Memory” opens tonight with a reception from 6-10pm, and continues through April 13 at Public Functionary in Minneapolis.


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