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Being inspired by a particular place or county is not a new concept. Artists and makers have long been inspired by their surroundings and environments — local and international. Take the creation of James Bond for example. Author Ian Fleming lived in Jamaica for two months every winter between 1946 and 1964 and ended up writing 14 Bond novels! (The Telegraph, 2014). This inspiration by place is a theme which clearly continues today.

In another part of the Caribbean — approximately 704 miles from Jamaica — Katherine Bernhardt and José Luis Vargas recently displayed works inspired by Puerto Rico.

For Vargas, who was born here spent years abroad studying and travelling before relocating back. However, inspiration from the country itself is not the only influence behind the paintings Vargas creates. These paintings refer to the wider Caribbean and Africa, in that the history of colonisation and slavery is a meeting point. Yet for Vargas ‘Caribbean people, especially Puerto Ricans, do not fully understand and value what we have in our DNA. What we have in our spiritual inheritance’. This is an interesting point raised by Vargas, as conversations on ethnicity and race have been vocally debated (on social media at least), particularly relating to people in the Dominican Republic.

Bernhardt on the other hand has travelled to Puerto Rico over the past 14 years for shows or commissions. Much of Bernhardt’s art is inspired by everyday life which extends across many cultures. From Bernhardt’s collection of art displayed, I noticed the repetition of certain items juxtaposed with vibrant colours was a consistent theme. Objects ranged from cigarettes to bottles of Heinz Mayochump. As a component of the exhibition title, it’s worth exploring the significance of Bernhardt’s choice of including this condiment within the works.

Despite Heinz’s Maychump launching in 2018, this combination is by no means a new creation. The Latinx community already combined ketchup and mayo prior to this launch. To add to this mini condiments history, I remember being introduced to a ketchup-mayo combination — in the form of burger sauce — as a teenager. In a way, this points to how multiple meanings can apply even to condiments depending on the cultural context it is placed (or launched) in.

For me, Vargas draws together a variety of styles across mediums. Yet, there is a consistent image present within these paintings — the Garadiablo — ‘a mythical blood-sucking creature that is part of Puerto Rican folklore’. This speaks to the interest Vargas has in Voodoo, where he explains that ‘Haitian Voodoo is not Voodoo without African Voodoo. You have to go to the roots and work through the layers’. I find this quote emphasises the strength culture plays in how the past is understood. Especially in the context of Puerto Rico where this history Vargas explores spans cultures, nature and continents…

If there are any artists, makers, writers or creatives reading this, I’d love to hear what place(s) inspire you!

Hi I’m Lisa | Based in London, UK | Curator | Blogging to challenge the idea that history, art, culture and heritage is irrelevant| Twitter & IG: @heritage_io