Art as Therapy: Assessing the Tyrant Trujillo

Featured in the new exhibit “Tyranny” are artists (from left to right) Alex Guerrero, Diogenes Abreu, Moses Ros-Suárez. (Photo by Sherry Mazzocchi via Manhattan Times)

Featured in the new exhibit “Tyranny” are artists (from left to right) Alex Guerrero, Diogenes Abreu, Moses Ros-Suárez. (Photo by Sherry Mazzocchi via Manhattan Times)

A new exhibit of works by 25 Dominican artists reflects on the abuses and violence inflicted by president Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina on his fellow countrymen. Even though Trujillo’s nearly 30-year reign of terror ended in 1961, the impact continues to be felt, reports Sherry Mazzocchi of Manhattan Times.

“El Jefe” demanded total and complete loyalty. Infractions, real or imagined, were met with swift and brutal retaliation. He was also known as “El Chivo,” or the Goat, for his rapacious consumption of the island’s resources, women and lives. The horned image is also reminiscent of another mythic and slightly more evil character.

Goats figure prominently in “Tyranny: A Search for Dominican Identity.” The exhibit at the Rio Penthouse Gallery contains 25 Dominican artists’ reflections on Trujillo’s impact, which reverberated though the Balaguer years until the present day.

Despite the passage of time, artists represented in the show still feel the effects of Trujillo’s rule keenly, and need to give voice to their pain.

“It’s a collective trauma that has never been addressed publicly,” said artist Moses Ros-Suárez. “The idea is to bring this out, talk about it so people can heal.”

The artist Diogenes Abreu has been haunted since his childhood, he says, by the 1959 photograph of José Mesón, his bruised body strapped to an electric chair and eyes wide in terror. He ended up using the photograph in an installation.

“[The image] affected me so much; it kept popping up in my mind,” he said.

When Abreu was in eighth grade everyone in his school was arrested and taken to prisons on trumped up charges. “It was very typical in the 70’s, during the Balaguer regime, to put students in jail. Being a youth was sort of like a crime in the Dominican Republic,” he said.

“My fear was that these people were going to do something similar to me,” he said.

“Tyranny: A Search for Dominican Identity” is on display until the end of June at the Rio Penthouse Gallery, 10 Fort Washington Ave. at 160th Street.

To read more about individual artists and their work, read the article in Manhattan Times.

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