La Jibarita IV
Jan Henle American
Not on view
This large "film drawing," as the artist calls it, concerns a sculpture made by Henle in southwest Puerto Rico in 1991–92. With four rugged "jibaros," Puerto Rican mountain men, Henle worked for eight months clearing a site on an abandoned coffee plantation, working with machetes, axes, a bulldozer, and hoes to reveal gradually the swelling shapes of the land. The garden of red clay they tended so passionately was no more (nor less) special than any other patch of earth, except insofaras their efforts brought to light its inherent structure and intense color. Through photography, a medium chosen for its noninterference, the land's own "drawing"—the subtle modulations of texture, shape, and color—became the image itself.
The artist's poetic idea is elemental. A collaboration of man and world, involving physical work to reveal a natural site, the Jibarita images yield a contemplative, aesthetic effect that recalls Zen gardens. While Henle's art is inflected by his study of Eastern thought, this particular garden is distinctly New World. Working with his neighbors and, for the most part, using hand tools, the men liberated the essence of their land, which is hot, sensual, and full of potential. Like other artists' muses, La Jibarita needs to be bare: she returns art to the earth and regrounds the spirit in the sacredness of basic physical experience.