The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2022

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SEPT 2022 Issue
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The Price of Chaufa

Sacred Cinema and the Roots of Revolutionary Celluloid

Left to right: Uncle Guillermo, Aunt Angelica, cousins Luisa, Bienvenido, Guillermo, Ricardo, Lima, Peru, 1970. Courtesy William Cordova. Photo: Emperatriz Rojas
Left to right: Uncle Guillermo, Aunt Angelica, cousins Luisa, Bienvenido, Guillermo, Ricardo, Lima, Peru, 1970. Courtesy William Cordova. Photo: Emperatriz Rojas

The price of Chaufa references Peruvian Chinese Fried Rice. The mix of ingredients and their multiple geographic origins, parallels. Complex and diverse societies are essential to existence. Sometimes this mix of diversity is so easy to see in a bowl of Chaufa that we just need to pause and appreciate it for what it is. 

1960, Jean Michel Basquiat is born, during the infancy stage of the Cuban revolution. 1960, Nicolas Guillen Landrian, the grandson of famed Cuban poet Nicolas Guillen, leaves his studies in the Social Sciences to pursue filmmaking at The Cuban Institute of Cinema tographic Art and Industry (ICAIC). Graduating in 1963 Landrian quickly becomes a prolific short experimental filmmaker. Using celluloid to juxtapose the various complex layers of Cuban society; class, Race, gender, ethnicity, politics and religions. Landrian had a natural reverence towards Marxist cinema and the European Avant Guard. “A multiplicity that might sometimes seem contradictory, he developed a specific (sometimes polemic) political and filmic sensitivity connected to his experience that allowed him to address his object of concern differently, blending his films with a knowledge foreign or even suspect to most of his colleagues at the ICAIC and elsewhere.” 1 Nicolas Guillen Landrian’s first film after graduating from ICAIC, “En un Barrio Viejo” (1963) is a film that in many ways encapsulates, Basquiat’s own early awareness to “the radical fracture between image and sound, the breakdown of the sensory system which underpins the effectiveness and credibility to audiovisual and its relationship to power.” 2

At the end of the film “En Un Barrio Viejo” a Santeria/Lukumi ritual is proceeded by the end credit “FIN” but then Ladrian adds “fin pero no es el fin,” (the end but not the end)… maybe suggesting the constant cyclical nature of life and death…


Jean Michel Basquiat lived in Puerto Rico from 1974 till 1976, incidentally, during the tail end of the Golden Age of Political Poster Art in Puerto Rico, 1957–1973. Still, growing up in NY and being pre-exposed to the visual arts through his Mother, Matilda, who was of Afro Puerto Rican descent, and an artist in her own right, would have given him an advantage and awareness to seek out or at least take note of the local art and culture scene during his time Puerto Rico. Conceptual Cuban Artist Felix Gonzales-Torres also lived/studied in Puerto Rico between 1976–1979. Art Historian Elvis Fuentes stated that for Gonzales-Torres, “poster art opened two paths: “letter-ism” and the conceptual variant of the graphic arts. Also, the mass character of this production influenced printmaking, in particular the portfolios that became a popular format with large print runs. The idea was to bring art to the people. In terms of criticism, an analogy was made for posters with the metaphorical expression of “freed sheet.” Graphic arts was the first class González-Torres ever took at La Universad de Puerto Rico, marking a turn toward the visual arts.”3 His first ever “paper stacks” would eventually materialize in 1988 titled Sin Titulo, #26.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s Puerto Rican poster art was very politicized and complemented poster art made by OSPAAAL or Organization of Solidarity with the People of Asia, Africa & Latin American. The NY based FANIA record label was a also major presence in Puerto Rico and its recording artists; Willie Colon, Celia Cruz, Hector Lavoe, Ruben Blades, Ray Barretto, Papo Lucca and others, had an equally politicized agenda that supported radical Puerto Rican community activist groups like the Young Lords Party in NY and on the island.

Since all of these activities were going on at the same time it is difficult to assume that Basquiat like Gonzales-Torres would not have been influenced one way or another by their short but culturally rich experience in Puerto Rico. Jean Michel Basquiat applied silk screen printing processes in the form of limited edition prints and canvas in as early as 1982. Eventually, adding photocopies and large scale silk screens on canvas many years prior to collaborating with artist Andy Warhol.


Many of Jean Michel Basquiats early works, 1981–1984 utilize a temporal template of secular and religious iconography that could possibly parallel Haitian Drapo flags or even Asafo, Fante flags from the Akan people in Ghana. The imagery on the Drapo flags acknowledges and celebrates Haitian Vodou Loa’s (Gods). Jean Michel Basquiat’s own works also allude to celebration of both spiritual and secular beings. The duality of the 1930’s DC Comics superhero Batman’s alter ego Bruce Wayne created by artist Bob Kane and Bill Finger complement Basquiat’s own interest in dual dimensional narratives; pop culture and the African diaspora spiritually charged tableau both operated, for Basquiat, as entrenched warriors in between worlds equipped with cyphers and equations.

In a rare interview with New Art International Magazine (published Oct 1988) Jean Michel Basquiat stated, “I’ve never been to Africa. I’m an artist who has been influenced by his New York environment. But I have a cultural memory: I don’t need to look for it, it exists. It’s over there, in Africa. That doesn’t mean that I have to go live there. Our cultural memory follows us everywhere, wherever we live.” 4

West and Central African derived symbology in Jean Michel Basquiat’s work emerged early, not in the shape of cosmograms but in his representation of Bantu ceremonial masks that he was constantly rendering on different surfaces, windows, doors and walls.

“Walls turned sideways are bridges” -Angela Davis


  1. Ramos, Julio, Los Archivos de Guillen Landrian, La
  2. ibid.
  3. Marhöfer, Elke, Nicolas Guillen Landrian, On Film p.69-70
  4. Fuentes, Elvis, Felix Gonzales-Torres in Puerto Rico: An image to reconstruct, Art Nexus, p.4



Arroz Chaufa / Chaufa Rice

  • 4 tazas de arroz blanco cocinado previamente
  • 1 pechuga de pollo ó 1 steak de carne de res/ cortado en cubitos en tiras pequeñas
  • 2 huevos
  • Medio pimiento
  • 1 ají amarillo peruano para darle un toque extra de magia y de picante
  • 2 tallos de cebollino cebolla china
  • 1 cm trozo de jengibre de unos 2
  • Una pizca de ajinomoto
  • Salsa de soja en Perú le dicen Sillao
  • Aceite vegetal
  • Sal
  • 4 cups of white rice previously cooked
  • 1 chicken breast or 1 beef steak / diced into small strips
  • 2 eggs
  • half pepper
  • 1 Peruvian yellow pepper to give it an extra touch of magic and spice
  • 2 stalks chives Chinese onion
  • 1 cm piece of ginger about 2
  • A pinch of ajinomoto
  • Soy sauce in Peru they call it Sillao
  • Vegetable oil
  • Salt

(excerpt from “Rete Fó: Too Fly 4 the Swatter O La Sisntesis de Jean Michel Basquiat,” Sugarcane Magazine, December 5, 2017)


William Cordova

William Cordova lives and works NY, Lima, Miami, BFA, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, MFA, Yale University. Cordova is a cultural practitioner, mentor, author, alchemist, currently building a residency in upstate NY.


The Brooklyn Rail

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