Adál Maldonado is one of the great Puerto Rican photographers. He’s a natural surrealist who was part of the Nuyorican movement of the 1960s and 70s (the Latin Harlem Renaissance). His body of work includes surrealist portraits and auto-portraits. Back in the day Latin New York City sat for him, from Celia Cruz to Rita Moreno.
Adál’s work has been exhibited and is in collections at MoMA, the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, El Museo del Barrio, the Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, the Smithsonian and many others.
Adál taught legendary New York photographer Robert Mapplethorpe how to develop and print photos.
My Puerto Rican Godfather
By Editor Keith “Coqui”
Adál Maldonado is my Puerto Rican godfather. Remembering his “Falling Eyelids” fotonovela, I interviewed him when I first came to the island and haven’t been able to stop laughing since. A couple hours with the master taught me to see the irony in life, and I became funny in Spanish. I was never funny before.
A true genius, Adál was also a very kind and generous man. He gave me my El Passport of El Spirit Republic de Puerto Rico, so I’m a dual citizen now.
He kept connecting me with heavy Puerto Ricans. I met Jan Galligan, who Adál said was the best art critic in Puerto Rico. Jan is.
Jan introduced me to Héctor Méndez Caratini, the Puerto Rican photographer of Táino and African Diaspora traditions in Puerto Rico and throughout the Caribbean. I had a mystical experience with Méndez Caratini’s art through which the Saints revealed themselves. That’s another story, but is very surreal. In hindsight, the Saints have been around my entire life, I just didn’t understand. Spending time with Adál helped me see.
One day Adál said to meet him at La Placita in Santurce. Mayra Santos-Febres was presenting an installation “Ofrendas de Luz” (Altars of Light). Santos-Febres is one of the great living Puerto Rican writers. From her I learned that you can be looking right at something, but not see what it is. There is a parallel universe in the African Diaspora. Once you learn to read it, you notice it everywhere, but if you can’t read it, you don’t see it at all. From her, I also learned that things my cultural upbringing taught were bad, were actually good. I just couldn’t see. My U.S. American cultural training had blinded me.
At the same presentation, I met the Cepedas, the first family of Bomba, and the Ayalas, the other first family of Bomba reached out to me. Bomba is the Afro-Puerto Rican drum, song and dance tradition. This was life changing. I spent time with the Cepedas. From them, I got the sense that Bomba was what brought me to Puerto Rico. I spent time with the Ayalas in Loíza Aldea too. They produce the most incredible Bomba stage shows. I probably wouldn’t have gotten there without Adál.
When Héctor “Coco” Barez (Calle 13) reached out to me for his El Laberinto del Coco project, I became a Bomba drummer. I feel most Puerto Rican when my hands are on the Bomba barill or a Plena pandereta, which my crew also taught me.
I’ve been a musician my entire life, harmonica, trombone, violin, vocals, guitar, drums, piano. I was a professional singer in the 1990s. I’ve also been an Argentine Tango dancer for the last fifteen years. Becoming a Bomba drummer and Plena singer changed everything. Now I drum with my feet and sing with my hands.
All this Adál gave me. Adál’s birthday on November 1, 1948, falls in the time of the Mexican Day of the Dead tradition. By that tradition, you live as long as someone remembers you. I can never forget you Adál. You are part of me now. Gracias Padrino.
Kidnapped By Aliens ~ Again
Adál’s thesis is that he was kidnapped by aliens, and he’s not kidding. After the interview, I asked him to look me in the eye and tell me if he was serious about being kidnapped. He was. For him, it was a metaphor for being colonized. But as a natural surrealist, his metaphors were his life.
The New York Times reported that Adál passed away on December 9, 2020, but those who know Adál, know what really happened.
Adál’s been kidnapped by aliens again. Being Boricua, he’s a smart guy who knows how to turn the tables. He’s using alien technology to plant la bandera bonita, the Puerto Rican flag, across the universe.
Have you seen him? Have you seen the Puerto Rican flag? That’s a sure sign he’s been around. Mark your pictures of the flag or Adál with the hashtag #AdalWasHere. We’ll publish our favorites. #AdalWasHere 🇵🇷
MUSEUM OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK
“El Barrio” East Harlem
Wednesday-Sunday, April 7 – August 18, 2019
Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens
Welcome to the Latin world(s). You might not have a heard of most of these artists, but each and every one will make you think (as in Kidnapped by Aliens).
Adál Maldonado Estate & Roberto Paradise
Adál’s photos are courtesy the Adál Maldonado Estate & Roberto Paradise. Used with permission.
Adál’s not making any more prints until he finishes planting our beautiful flag everywhere. To own a piece of history and some real Puerto Rican spirit, contact his art dealer Francisco Rovira Rullán on Twitter @RobertoParadise.
Adál come back to us. Stories are being written about the return of the great bearded one who will come from the east, and fill the world with peace, love, and platanos. You are a legend now. The world waits. I’m waiting to see my godfather again too! Miss you! Thank you!
OMG. #AdalWasHere. You think I’m kidding? Look me in the eye. 🇵🇷