Isla de las Palmas

Paul Jimenez Thulin

2017 - Ongoing

Puerto Rico

My docu-literary photography project, “Isla de las Palmas,” addresses the cultural and historical complexities of Puerto Rican identity. Self-identifying as Puerto Rican (mother is Puerto Rican), I share a fractured sense of self with multiple generations of the Puerto Rican diaspora and native islanders. I want to shed light on the untold histories of Western colonialism, capitalist exploitation, Caribbean Catholicism, youth culture, and indigenous heritage politics that play a role in fueling, in essence, a perpetually colonized, psychological, social, and cultural identity crisis for millions of Puerto Ricans.

Experiencing the recent devastation from Hurricane Maria, the tragic ineptitude of storm and economic relief, and the subsequent political and media turmoil, it is evident that the importance of considered research into Puerto Rico identity is of paramount importance at this time. Oversimplification, essentialism, and mischaracterization must be counterweighted with a sustained, critical and creative inquiry that reflects the innate complexity of truly knowing one’s self, people, culture. The neocolonial strategies of power that purposely divide, marginalize, exoticize, and essentialize subjects must be counterweighted with critical and creative projects promoting change and initiating dialogue.

This project has taught me to remain impartial and patiently listen to everyone's story in hopes of comprehending a wealth of unique perspectives regarding Puerto Rican identity. To quickly judge or preconceive the "truth" is dangerous and divisive. This has ultimately altered the type of images I make and reprioritized how I choose to present them as an informed but hyper -complex portrait of a place, a people, and a state of mind. My desire is to complicate the subject but in a fashion that promotes serious reflection, civilized debate, and an inability to ignore the scope and duration of the humanitarian crisis unfolding in the oldest colony on the world.

The funds from this grant will allow me to continue to visit the island at least three more times over the next 18 months (for a grand total of 6 visits in 3 yrs) which is what I feel is needed to attain enough images and experiences to justify working on a book and producing a traveling exhibition. My hope is to have a book and non-traditional, public street opening in Santurce, San Juan, PR by 2021.

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