Puerto Rico has endured 523 years of continuous and ongoing colonial rule: first under Spain, and, since 1898, as a possession of the United States. The island, an “unincorporated territory of the United States” has been plunged into a catastrophic debt crisis and a punitive program of austerity. It is widely regarded as the world’s oldest colony.
The Museum of the Old Colony is a work of conceptual art conceived by Pablo Delano. The exhibit gathers still photographs and moving images of Puerto Rico that reveal the visual logics of colonialism. This repertoire of images and subjects form a visual history of the political and cultural hegemony imposed by the United States on virtually all aspects of Puerto Rican life.
The installation’s title and style ironically invoke traditional historical or anthropological museums, their use of ethnographic imagery, and their didactic text panels. The title also derives its name from a U.S. brand of soft drink named “Old Colony,” popular in Puerto Rico since the 1950s and still sold at island groceries and restaurants. The Museum of the Old Colony therefore references the subtle, the naturalized, and the pernicious forces of colonialism in Puerto Rico, its political economy, and its everyday life.
The Museum of the Old Colony is an intervention into Puerto Rican cultural history and political memory. It is also an intensely personal exercise by Delano to understand and come to terms with his own relationship with the island, where he was born in 1954.