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Remembering Adal Maldonado Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

2 January 2021

Adal Maldonado, who focused his work on the meaning of being Puerto Rican, passed away from pancreatic cancer early last month. He was 72.

"Adal created numerous notable bodies of work, including musical performances and complex installations," recalled Deborah Cullen, former director of the Bronx Museum of Arts, "but his photo series -- by turns beautiful, moving, and bitingly funny -- form the backbone of his contribution.

"His brilliant work addresses the complexity of Puerto Rican identity, its political status, its history and its rich folk expressions, and the conflicted position of the Puerto Rican diaspora in New York."

His portraits, which he began in the 1980s and were used in the social studies classes of the New York City public school system, included Antonio Lopez, Clemente Soto Vélez, Pedro Pietri, Marc Anthony, Rita Moreno and Tito Puente. Twenty of the images were acquired by the National Portrait Gallery in 2014.

Born in Utuado, Puerto Rico, in 1948, Adal moved to New York City when he was 17.

He went to San Francisco in the early 1970s to study at the San Francisco Art Institute as a photographer and master printer. Visiting photographer Lisette Model encouraged him to go by a single name. He came up with Adal (variously written Adál and ADÁL).

His work progressed from surreal photographic collages in the early 1970s to a series of self-portraits to his out of focus Nuyoricans, of which he was one. "Adal has collapsed self-portraiture's allegedly self-referential quality. Indeed, a great deal of his work's satiric trademark arises from the constant mockery of the possibility of ever achieving an ultimate, definitive picture of one's self," wrote Maximilíano Durón in his ArtNews obituary.

His first series of photographs, The Evidence of Things Not Seen... was published by Da Capo Press in 1975 and has become a collector's item. Four more books followed: Falling Eyelids: A Foto Novela (Foto Graphics Editions, 1980), Portraits of the Puerto Rican Experience (I.P.R.U.S., 1984), Mango Mambo (Galeria Luiggi Marrozzinni/Instituto de Cultura Puertoriquena, 1987) and Out of Focus Nuyoricans, published by the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard University (2004).

His most recent work Puerto Ricans Underwater/Los Ahogados (The Drowned) was inspired by early self-portraits done underwater and the current crisis in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. It features the image of a submerged man in a black T-shirt (which the man, an artist himself, created) with white letters proclaiming "Muerto Rico" in caps. The man's head is swathed in red fabric showing only one eye, the other obscured by air bubbles.

He was the co-founder and co-director with Alex Coleman of Foto Gallery in New York City.

Adal also collaborated with many different artists.

In the mid-1970s, Adal met the late Pedro Pietri, with whom he worked until Pietri's death in 1994. Together they developed El Puerto Rican Embassy Project (1994) and Mondo Mambo: A Mambo Rap Sodi with musician Tito Puente and choreographer Eddie Torres, which was presented at the Public Theater, New York City, in 1990.

Adal also collaborated with Ntozake Shange to create the photographic environmental design of the play Love Space Demands (1992) and with Robert Mapplethorpe in the early 1970s to develope his photographic printing style.

Adal's has been exhibited and is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museo del Barrio, the Musee Modern de la Ville de Paris, Musee de la Photographie a Charleroi and Lehigh University Art Galleries. A retrospective of his work was exhibited in 2004-2005 at the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, Harvard University.

When he was hospitalized for treatment of his pancreatic cancer, Adal said, "I was looking at clouds from my hospital bed and felt like they were metaphors for transition and impermanence of things."

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