Photography by Alex Weber
Art, at it’s best, is a catalyst for deep contemplation, conversation and introspection.
Such was the case at the recent unveiling of the innovative and interactive installation Plata or Plomo (“Money or Lead”) by emerging artist Eduardo Palma at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Palma’s mural was the 2014 winner of an annual competition powered by the Pratt Institute and Hennessey. This year’s challenge for Pratt’s students was to take Hennessey’s mantra, “Never stop. Never settle”, and create something magnificent.
Thus was Plata O Plomo conjured. The name of the installation comes from a phrase made popular by Colombian Drug kingpin, Pablo Escobar, which literally means you take the money (plata) or you get the lead (plomo). That was his modus operandi for dealing with the Columbian authorities, you either take the bribe or you get the bullets. The Colombian born Palma deconstructs the laden phrase to create a multi-layered mural that explores how language shapes society.
The first layer of the piece is made of postcards with a map of Columbia in the background and the words “Es Mejor Ser Rich Que Poor” prominently placed. The phrase is a Spanglish version of “it’s better to be rich than to be poor”. Each postcard was also inscribed with different Colombian colloquialisms that spoke volumes about class, culture, race and society in Colombia.
After explaining the thinking behind the first layer of the mural, the artist invited the attendees to remove the postcards and to unveil the hidden strata beneath. This time around the background was a made up of multiple images of Pablo Escobar transforming into Donald Trump with the words Plato O Plomo practically pulsating. The work evokes a country and a world where inequality and injustice seem to be only multiplying.
What followed the presentation was an in-depth and far-reaching talk on class, culture, language, race and society. Ably moderated by NPR’s Maria Hinojosa, the panel included Eduardo Palma as well as accomplished artist, Shantell Martin, and writer and professor, Ellery Washington.
Check out the video below to see the entire talk, you won’t be disappointed.