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The Puerto Rican Arts Alliance (PRAA), in partnership with University of Puerto Rico Professor Luis Orlando Casiano, has organized the exhibition: “ Loíza in Chicago”. This exhibition presents ten costumes and masks, as well as photos by Miami-based photographer Tony Arruza that present an overview of the history and contemporary manifestations of the celebration of The Festival of Loíza, an annual celebration held in Puerto Rico.
The Festival of Loíza is one of the oldest festivals held in Puerto Rico. Its roots dates back to 12th century Spanish Christian traditions combined with African Yoruba symbolism, which evolved into a modern ritual. Over time, the Vejigante festivals have become part of Puerto Rico’s native folklore culture celebrated not only in Loíza, but in towns and cities, such as, Hatillo and Ponce.
The Loiza Vejigante costumes and masks are brightly colored, bat-like forms that cover the entire body. Used in processions and ceremonies throughout the island, Vejigantes, link its people to Spanish and African origins. For this exhibition, the PRAA has focused on Vejigantes of Loíza, in order to focus on one region where Christian and African traditions have merged.
The feast day of St. James the Greater Apostle observed every July 12, marks the beginning of the festival season in Puerto Rico. Historically, Vejigante is a demon-like character that dances in the festival parades. The term Vejigante derives from the word vejiga (bladder) and gigante (giant) because cow bladders were blown up and painted for use in the processions. In the 12th century, St. James, patron saint of Spain, was believed to have led a Spanish militia to win a battle over the Moors. The Vejigante represented the Moors. By the 17th century it was typical to see processions in Spain in which Vejigantes, or masked demons, walked the streets in an effort to scare people into going to church. The tradition came to Puerto Rico with the Spanish Conquest and evolved with African influence.
This exhibition is the PRAA’s first program in its new location in a formerly vacant firehouse, located at Milwaukee and Central Park Avenue. We invite everyone to visit us at one of Chicago’s newest leading Latino/Puerto Rican cultural facility.
The PRAA expresses its gratitude to Professor Luis Orlando Casiano Torres of the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras, for his essay contribution for the exhibit catalog and expertise as a costume maker. We also thank famed mask-maker artisan Raul Ayala for his craftsmanship in the making of the vejigante masks for the exhibition.
The PRAA is grateful to the Chicago Community Trust, Illinois Arts Council and City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events for their support. Special thanks to AfriCaribe, Aspira of Illinois, Southwest Airlines, Wintrust Community Banks, LISC: Logan Square New Communities Program, Harris Theater for Music and Dance at Millennium Park and the National Endowment for the Arts.
The exhibition will travel to the South Shore and Douglas Park Cultural Centers, as part of PRAA’s Chicago Park District’s Arts Partners in Residence Program.