A New Photo Exhibit Looks At Decades Of FBI Surveillance On American CitizensBreaking News
tags: FBI, Puerto Rico, Law Enforcement, domestic surveillance
Growing up in Puerto Rico, Christopher Gregory-Rivera has always been deeply engaged with issues around colonialism, which he said has “unequivocally reshaped the island — and many parts of the globe.” Most of his work looks at the territory’s history as a way to understand the present and attempt to unravel the forces behind the injustices that colonized and marginalized communities face.
He began his photography career in Washington, DC. “I intimately experienced the way politics and power is crafted but grew increasingly disillusioned with the ability of political journalism to truly speak truth to that process,” he said. He kept this in mind for years before he saw his first “carpeta” (Spanish for “binder”), files on Puerto Rican residents compiled by a Puerto Rican secret police with the support of the FBI. The files targeted ordinary citizens who were suspected of aligning with the territory’s independence movement, whom authorities considered to be a political threat to US interests. Over the course of four decades, the FBI and the Puerto Rico Police Bureau maintained a secret network throughout the territory, “surveying, infiltrating, discrediting, and disrupting” any national movements for independence by instilling a culture of fear, violence, and intimidation. This movement threatened the lives of ordinary citizens and political activists and turned national folklore into a real and ugly story of American colonialism.
Las Carpetas, an exhibition now on view at the Abrons Arts Center in New York, was curated by Natalia Viera Salgado, the current curatorial resident at the Abrons Arts Center, and the assistant curator at the Americas Society.
Tell me about the exhibit and the project, which you’ve been photographing for six years.
Christopher Gregory-Rivera: The project is a look at one of the longest continuous surveillance programs conducted by the US Government on its own citizens, which happened in Puerto Rico.
“Carpeteo” is what they called it — “to be foldered,” in the popular imagination in Puerto Rico. When I was going to protests for a variety of causes as a young photojournalist, my mom would always tell me to “be careful, te van a carpetear” — “they’re going to target you.” I always grew up with it.
After finishing internships and professional opportunities here in New York and DC when I was starting out, I thought about what long-term projects I wanted to do in Puerto Rico that were important. This stood out to me, and I started exploring it. And when I saw my first folder, it all became very real. I realized, this isn’t just a boogeyman or myth. It’s a very real thing that happened. The more I learned about it, the more I realized that this ties into why Puerto Rico is the way it is today. That gave me more momentum and energy to work on the project.
The exhibition is a collection of my still lives of the files and objects from the surveillance program as well as appropriation of archival photographs the police took or collected.
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