Las Nietas de Nonó: Decolonizing Puerto Rican Culture

Nono never imagined that name would cross seas and languages, and that the beloved granddaughters - mapenzi and mulowayi - would forever espouse this unconditional surrender to the familial.

But they did, and with an oasis in their knapsack they reimagined their childhood playground as their stage. In 2011, the duo from Barrio San Anton in Carolina, Puerto Rico decided to "feel the space, be present" in the known surroundings, says mulowayi Iyaye.

They fashioned a brand of homemade theater, the product of the tension between desire and their surroundings.
Mulowayi experienced "how complex it can be for people like me, who look like me, to become artists, to have access to this way of working and expressing ourselves."

"When I looked at the art of Puerto Rico, I didn’t see myself reflected there, represented there, visible there." And the sisters, through the use of their memories, began to "decolonize" the prevalent vision of theater.

This conception of space brings, according to the sisters, "an opportunity to be touched." The house becomes a site of discovery. There's food, shared power, and no physical distance between stage and the audience. In this context, they began delving in theater, then photography and multimedia. "We just have to find the spaces to imagine these decolonized futures... you find conflicts and challenges - but you take those and transform them."

The transformation entails the possibility of discussing the island's problems in what they term "moments of instant dramaturgy." Poverty, race relations, the killing of black men in Puerto Rico appear as past of the space they create.

"The space and the ambience is the piece. The space has traveled," they say, and it has appeared in Haiti, Germany, New York, among many places they have shown their art. "This house has traveled the world as theater."