Gilberto Rivera

Gilberto Rivera is a self-taught artist of Puerto Rican descent who was raised first in New York City and then inside the walls of the federal prison system. His work, both as incarcerated artist and since his release from a two decade prison sentence, explores his personal experiences of subjugation. This includes the psychological effects of solitary confinement, the harms enacted on Latino communities at the intersection of the U.S. criminal legal and immigration systems, and the manifestation of colonialism and exploitation in the prison industrial complex.

Rivera works in mixed media, integrating materials with biographical and social resonance. His prison works include carceral castoffs like torn pieces of his prison uniform, a drop cloth, commissary reports and floor wax. More recent works frequently integrate construction materials, evoking the raw physicality of his present vocation, the often invisible toil of working class people, and the material culture of a rapidly gentrifying city. He also draws on contemporary newspaper and magazine articles and historic references to prominent Latinx activists and other movements for liberation. Rivera’s work was shown at MoMA PS1 in the exhibition Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration. He has also shown at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Schomburg Center, Brown University Gallery, Basel Art Week with Malin Gallery, SHAG, Martos Gallery, and the Andrew Feldman House in the Bronx. His work was featured in Artforum, Art in America, ArtNews, and The New York Times.

Right of Return Project

Rikers Jail Bird Series

The “Rikers Jail Bird Series” is an exploration of the conditions on Rikers Island, one of the most notorious jails in the United States, and the embedded histories of imperialism, exploitation, and colonialism in the Caribbean Island of Puerto Rico and throughout Latin America. As a Puerto Rican survivor of both solitary confinement and Rikers Island, Rivera probes the criminal industrial complex’s connection to historical exploitation and profiteering off of marginalized people.

Enclosed spaces, some directly referencing prison cells, evoke claustrophobic confinement, while the “jail birds” themselves evoke resistance, resilience and a yearning for freedom. The series integrates contemporary newspaper articles and media as well as labels from Latin and Central American products and from Americanized products marketed specially to the Latino community. Rivera is interested how the labels beautify and cover containers that, in turn, confine.

Upon completion of the series, Rivera intends to use the works to continue to amplify campaigns and conversations about abolishing the use of solitary confinement and closing the Rikers Island Jail complex. He also hopes to make connections to broader efforts to end racialized oppression in the criminal legal system and connect the struggles of marginalized communities across.