Pepón Osorio is a Latino artist who uses different objects as well as video in his pieces to portray political and social issues in the Latino community. He was born in 1955 in Santurce, Puerto Rico and studied at the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico, Lehman College, and also Columbia University where he obtained his MA in sociology in 1985.
His work is held by the Walker Arts Center, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Whitney Museum of American Art, El Museo del Barrio, el Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, and by the Puerto Rico Museum of Contemporary Art.
In 1975 Osorio moved to the Bronx, New York. During 1987-1988 Osorio focused primarily on Puerto Rican identity through the perspective of an individual who lived there. He worked mostly with different objects of popular Latino culture during this time.
In 1985 Osorio changed his artistic approach to focus more on self-identity and cultural reaffirmation. This change in his visual vocabulary is what lead him to create one of his most popular pieces of work, La Cama (the bed). As a way to address and make clear the Latino culture, Osorio began to work in group shows while also working with choreographer Merían Soto as a set and installation designer. Osorio integrated performance and dance into his work as a way to more clearly portray the Latino body. In his piece La Cama there was an implied but physically absent body.
Focusing on the AIDS pandemic
In 1991 Pepón created a piece inside of New York’s El Museo Del Barrio called El Velorio – AIDS in the Latino Community in which 7 coffins were left to represent the victims of Puerto Rican people who died from AIDS. Each coffin was filled with information about the victims who died which included different items such as heartwarming notes from friends and family, flowers, and even a mirror which was meant to help the viewer connect more personally to the piece.
During the 1990s Osorio began to work with video which prompted his entrance into the mainstream art world. His piece Scene of the Crime (Who’s Crime?) was featured in a New York Times review as well as the Whitney Biennial. In this piece there is a mannequin on the floor that represents a woman who was murdered by her husband. Her body is separated from the viewer by police tape along with personal items that would have belonged to the murdered lady. Through this piece Osorio brings to the public’s attention the issue of misrepresentation through the U.S. mainstream media, more specifically with the film industry. Films depicting negative Latino stereotypes frame the space of the installation in order to more clearly emphasize the message. Pepón uses film as a way to be there in the piece when he can’t physically. Osorio decided after having his work at the Whitney Biennial that he wouldn’t have any more work in mainstream art museums unless it is first shown to the Puerto Rican community. This decision was made in response to the controversy of what kind of art and which social groups could/should be shown in the museum. His focus on the Latino body didn’t fulfill his intentions of shedding more light upon the Puerto Rican community, although it did bring attention to his own personal work.
In 1994 Osorio created an installation called En La barberia, no se llora (no crying in the barber shop) which he used to explore Latino masculinity. He described the barber shop as a place where men would go on the weekends as a sort of social gathering to do business and also play dominoes. There was no crying allowed in the barbershop because crying was a sign of being feminine which is strictly forbidden in a place that was meant only for men. Osorio had many different men from all ages featured in the videos for the installation as a way to portray and explore the issue of machismo in the Latino community. Osorio also brought women into the video installations as a way to try and break the gender boundary of the barbershop. Sixteen video monitors were put on display showing the different men in different physical and emotional states of masculinity along with 2 color monitors displaying men crying without any audio. The walls of the barbershop were lined with portraits of different Latino men, Benjamin Osorio (his father) being the biggest portrait.