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Arnaldo Roche Rabell, ‘You Know I Am Aware,’ 1990.


Arnaldo Roche Rabell, You Know I Am Aware, 1990. Oil on canvas, 83 3/4 x 59 3/4 inches. Collection Metropolitan Museum of Art.

In celebration of Earth Day this year, we are reminded of the power of nature, as seen in the work of Arnaldo Roche Rabell from the early 1990s.


These provocative self-portraits use lush tropical foliage as a mask, exploring how identity is impacted by perception and geographic location. A native of Puerto Rico, Roche-Rabell moved from San Juan to Chicago in the late ‘70s to study at the Art Institute. He continued to split his time between both cities for the rest of his life, a duality intrinsic to the Puerto Rican identity and one he continually expressed in his art. As a student Roche-Rabell experimented with printing techniques and rubbings, building up the surface through repeated impressions, marks and incisions. Especially in his self-portraits, the richly layered surfaces evoke the complexity of underlying social, racial and political concerns, as seen through his own personal history.


In a 2005 interview with Mercedes Lizcano, Roche-Rabell explained “I have the advantage of seeing the island from the Anglo Saxon viewpoint and vice versa… I can comment on what it is like to live like a Latin American within the United States: the complexity of its society, of its institutions, together with its immense cultural diversity…”