Pepón Osorio’s art is not something you see—you experience it.
He creates big installations full of tiny objects, sounds and images that take over rooms, full of layers of Latino culture and memorabilia. Each of these installations takes Pepón three to four years to build and it’s —in part— because of the intricacy of his creations that his work is rarely on view in museums or galleries.
In 2023, the New Museum in New York City hosted “Mi corazón latiente/My Beating Heart,” the most comprehensive exhibition from the Puerto Rican artist to date—Pepón doesn’t like to call it “a retrospective,” because it makes him think he must be getting close to his death.
In this episode of Latino USA, we tour the exhibition with Pepón, and we learn about how he found a home in the Bronx, switched careers from social worker to full-time artist, and developed a passion for collecting objects.
Born in Santurce, the home of several art museums in Puerto Rico, Pepón’s artistic career followed a pretty unconventional path. He was 19 years old when he moved to New York City.
He studied sociology at Lehman College and then became a caseworker for child protective services in the city. His experience visiting homes across the neighborhoods, especially in the Bronx, the only place Pepón calls “home,” shaped his approach to art and representation of his Afrolatino culture.
Pepón’s life experiences accumulate in the spaces he builds —from a barbershop where he got his first haircut as a little boy to the scene of a crime, like the many he witnessed as a case worker— through the hundreds and thousands of tiny objects that form them.
“I was always ashamed of my mother’s knickknacks. And little by little, I realized the place of my mother’s memory and the importance of her memory through saving evidence of the process this family went through,” Pepón told Latino USA.
Featured photo by Marta Martinez.