project image
Polina Riabova

first performed on July 26, 2019
Vital Joint, Brooklyn, NY
performed once in 2019


Brooklyn, NY


“Bandera Negra” was presented during a night of performance curated by Lorene Bouboushian. I was suffering from a fever at the time, which forced me to present a piece that was subtler than I had originally envisioned. Storytelling became the anchor that tied all the other actions together: I spoke about my recent cancer scare, discovering that a friend I was hoping to reconnect with had succumbed to a lifelong illness, and my regret that I had no way of contacting another mutual friend whom I had lost touch with.

While telling these stories I laid out a piece of canvas and began spreading black paint on it. By the time it became obvious that I was creating a black Puerto Rican flag, I segued into talking about the recent protests on the island: chat logs between Puerto Rican governor Ricky Roselló and other high ranking officials were leaked to the public. These messages were filled with homophobic, racist, classist, misogynistic rhetoric that poked fun of those who suffered following Hurricane Maria and casually discussed “a future without Puerto Ricans.” The Puerto Rican people responded with non-stop protests for two weeks resulting in Ricky’s resignation.

Once the flag was complete I applied “corpse paint” to my face, an aesthetic used by black metal musicians. I juxtaposed this with singing “The Calendar Hung Itself,” a song by the band Bright Eyes that was an inside joke with my two friends who were no longer in my life.

The Puerto Rican flag has always been a symbol of anti-imperialism: it was designed by Boricua artists in NYC following the takeover of the island by the United States in the 1890s. Based on the flag of Cuba, it originally had a sky blue triangle. The US outlawed displaying it, but eventually chose to make it the official flag of the territory. The colors were changed to match the colors of the US flag in a (failed) attempt to strip it of its meaning. The black version I recreated here was designed in 2016 by an anonymous group of female artists in response to President Obama’s creation of La Junta, an oversight board meant to regulate how the Hurricane Maria relief money would be spent; none of its members were elected by the Puerto Rican people, none ever lived on the island, or were Puerto Rican themselves. Imperialism 101. The black flag represents revolution.