On Chemi Rosado-Seijo’s “El Cerro”

By Pushti Vachhani

In this essay excerpt, Mishkin Gallery Nagelberg Fellow Pushti Vacchani discusses Chemi Rosado-Seijo’s work “El Cerro,” which is currently on view at Mishkin Gallery as part of the exhibition “We didn’t ask permission, we just did it…,” curated by Embajada. “We didn’t ask permission, we just did it…” is on view through December 8, 2023.

Renowned artist Chemi Rosado-Seijo has significantly advanced the field of social practice art. Rosado-Seijo, a native of Vega Alta, Puerto Rico, bases his artistic work on the idea of “art as social intervention,” making use of public areas as forums for action, conversation, and collaboration. His upbringing and firsthand experience with the transforming potential of art in communities are profoundly ingrained in his work. He had a formal education in the arts to start his artistic career. He graduated from the painting department of the Puerto Rico School of Visual Arts in 1997 where he honed his technical abilities and deepened his awareness of the function of art in society. However, it was during his studies that he became aware of the drawbacks of conventional art-making methods and he began to look into alternate strategies that directly involved communities.

The aspect of Rosado-Seijo’s artistic practice that I love the most is his commitment to community involvement and public art is one of its defining features. Instead of restricting his practice to gallery spaces, he aims to bring art into the open air, frequently making an appearance in underutilized or under-appreciated areas. He addresses social and political concerns that have an impact on the neighborhood through imaginative interventions, creating a forum for discussion and introspection. Collaboration with local people is a common feature of Rosado-Seijo’s artistic contributions. He actively involves people, inviting them to take part in the making and understanding of his works. He aims to empower and instill a sense of responsibility in communities that have traditionally been ignored or silenced. His works serve as catalysts for social change, bringing people together and igniting dialogue that extends beyond the boundaries of the arts.

The artistic career of Rosado-Seijo has received praise and respect on a global scale. He has taken part in prestigious art events including the Venice Biennale and the Havana Biennial, and his work has been shown in galleries and institutions all around the world. Numerous scholarships and accolades that recognize the influence of his work on the artistic and communal levels have been given to him as a result of his artistic practice.

We didn’t ask permission, we just did it…, installation view, Mishkin Gallery, Baruch College, 2023. Photography: Isabel Asha Penzlien.
Chemi Rosado-Seijo’s El Cerro is on view in the upper right of the image.

El Cerro, a collaborative work with the inhabitants of El Cerro is a remarkable and ongoing multidisciplinary project that was started in 2002 by the artist Chemi Rosado-Seijo. This revolutionary project, which is located in the thriving Puerto Rican town of El Cerro, is an example of how art can reenergize communities, encourage teamwork, and spark social change.

With El Cerro, Rosado-Seijo aimed to both empower the local people via art and reclaim and reimagine an abandoned government-owned structure. The artist set out to revive the abandoned place, not only physically but also emotionally and socially, working with neighborhood residents, artists, and volunteers. The undertaking stimulates artistic expression and civic involvement. El Cerro became a representation of hope, empowerment, and resiliency by converting the abandoned building into an art space and cultural hub. The once-forgotten structure today hums with activity, acting as a center for artistic inquiry, cross-cultural dialogue, and educational projects.

El Cerro embodies the concepts of self-management and group action. It celebrates the idea that art can cross social and physical barriers and belongs to everyone. By working together, the community creates the space, taking an active role in its programming and developing a sense of ownership and pride. The story of the project develops as evidence of the ability of art to transform. El Cerro blurs the distinction between art and everyday life by challenging preconceived concepts of public places. It is a constantly changing endeavor that adjusts to the requirements and goals of the neighborhood it serves. It demonstrates the tremendous impact that art can have on promoting discourse, motivating collaboration, and establishing a lively and engaged community via the combined efforts of locals, artists, and Rosado-Seijo. It serves as an example of the transformative power of public art by energizing public areas, involving communities, and promoting social engagement. It is a remarkable example of public art because it shows how art can serve as a catalyst for cultural expression, community empowerment, and public participation.