Great Paintings: The Transculturation of the Puerto Rican by Carlos Irizarry

Although artistic ideals and styles shift over time, one aspect of art remains constant: the artists of the past inspire the artists of the future. Carlos Irizarry’s painting The Transculturation of the Puerto Rican is a good example of this phenomenon.

Irizarry drew his inspiration from Ramón Frade’s famous painting El Pan Nuestro de Cada Dia. Frade’s painting celebrates Puerto Rico’s traditional jíbaro lifestyle. The jíbaro way of life was primarily an agricultural culture in which subsistence farmers live off the land in a traditional way. Of course, this lifestyle is fraught with difficulties; however, it has long been romanticized by those who believe the jíbaro lifestyle has inherent honor and dignity. To some modern observers, the jíbaro lifestyle represents a simpler way of life that preserved the Puerto Rican culture and allowed everyday people to become self-sufficient property owners.

The Transculturation of the Puerto Rican plays off of this idea. The painting shows the central figure of Frade’s El Pan Nuestro de Cada Dia standing next to a robotized, metallic body. The mountains of Puerto Rico loom in the background. As the title suggests, the painting explores the cultural changes the island has undergone since becoming an American colony.

The contrast between the traditional jíbaro man and the robotic, metallic figure suggests that Puerto Ricans are in danger of losing their culture. Irizarry’s painting was created at a time when more and more American stores, chain restaurants, and cultural institutions were beginning to become more common in Puerto Rico (let’s call it the Wal-Martization of Puerto Rico). Irizarry is clearly concerned that these economic trends will sanitize and Westernize Puerto Rican culture, hollowing out the traditional social institutions that made up the island’s cultural backbone. As the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico explains, “The use of…juxtaposition of images is constant in his work, which is characterized by its critique of the local and international social and political situation.”

Originally published at on March 16, 2020.




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Maria Cristina

Music, Art, and Pop Culture

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