Borikongo’s Artistic Legacy

By Felipe Rangel

On March 4th I received the following IM on my Facebook account from Sandra Garcia:
Family and friends, it is with the deepest sorrow that I inform you of the death of my husband Adrian Garcia from brain cancer on Saturday February 29, 2020 at his daughter Cristina’s home in West Orange, NJ. Adrian was 71.
It has been a heartbreaking acknowledgement to find out that my dear friend and cultural warrior has pass to a better existence in our lifetime. I met Adrian Garcia, when I was president of “La Hermandad de Artesanos y Artesanas Puertorriquenos En Nueva York” in 1998. At the time, I served as president and public relations liaison of the group. Adrian became a member a year after its founding and participated in many cultural presentations for approximately six years until the group was dissolved. Nevertheless, Adrian’s participation with “El Taller Boricua and as one of the founders of el Museo del barrio in 1969, testifies to his dedication to our people’s struggle back then.
“Borikongo,” as he was affectionately known, was and continues to be a consciousness in our Puerto Rican awareness of how rich and precious we truly are.  History has taught us that no matter how grim circumstances have been in our past, Puerto Ricans still reflect the absolute best of our cultural makeup. Adrian’s artistic mastery was loved by the New York Community for his outstanding artistic interpretations reflecting our African, Taino and Spanish heritage.
Adrian’s artistic passion shows us the beauty of the native and African presence in the culture of Puerto Rico.  Adrian fought against artistic discrimination as well as artistic neglect done by many institutions who took these Puerto Rican artists as pawns for their own financial gain and sharing little with these same artists. Borikongo helped me and many other artists and artisans realize that our struggle has always been to become ambassadors and representatives of our culture no matter where we were born. “El artesano se respeta y se le da honor”. These words remind us that our culture is strongly tied to those like Adrian who gave his life to the struggle for the preservation of our identity as Puerto Ricans. Borikongo represents the African fire that continues to burn for our identity that was lit many years ago in Adrian’s life and continues today in ours.
Of his many accomplishments, history will remember Adrian Garcia for being one of the founders of El Taller Boricua and El Museo del Barrio. His legacy is more than that though. He was dedicated to his community and was present in the struggles that came to define the artists community that we take for granted. I’m sure that many of his friends and soldiers in arms have much more to say about Borikongo than this short tribute.
According to Yasmín Ramírez (Center for Puerto Rican Studies, Hunter College (CUNY), New York City)” The Activist Legacy of Puerto Rican Artists in New York and The Art Heritage of Puerto Rico“:
“The cofounders of Taller Boricua—Marcos Dimas, Adrián García, Manuel “Neco” Otero, and Armando Soto—were art students and began working together in 1968 on organizing Puerto Rican art exhibitions in colleges and community centers in New York. Dimas, García, Otero, and Soto were also quite active in Puerto Rican societal struggles. Indeed, to support the Puerto Rican empowerment movement, the artists began Taller Boricua as a printmaking workshop in which they produced posters that publicized sociopolitical concerns, events, and demonstrations.”
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