Latest of our Pearl of the Caribbean series showcasing talents from Puerto Rico, Stylist and Art Director Adrian J Ramos talks to artist/club kid Aldrin Manuel Canals
Photographs by Annemarie Sierra Pagan.
After years immersing myself in queer NYC nightlife, I had little hope of finding anything that could compare on my home Island of Puerto Rico. Yet to my delight I discovered a thriving if modestly-sized scene. San Juan’s clubs might not have the polish and glamour of fancy night spots of the Big Apple, but with a little effort, you can find a host of places with the same kind energy. An energy that comes from the people as much as the music. Club kids are something bigger than the walls they party in, they embody a freedom and a passion for self-expression that I wish more people would embrace. With their unapologetic fabulousness and desire to push back boundaries, they give everyone permission to be themselves and explore their own individuality. Much needed in a place where there is so much pressure to conform.
In all cities you have to know where to look to find the good stuff. In San Juan a good place to start is the Avenida Universitaria, a street of hole-in-the-wall bars where all the young hip kids from around town and students from the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) hang out.
It was on an expedition to Avenida Universitaria that I first came across a particularly arresting club kid. Sat outside El Boricua among a group of friends was 23 years old, Aldrin. I was enthralled by his full black contact lenses and his gender neutral attire. In a hyper-masculine culture like Puerto Rico’s to challenge gender stereotypes is a sure way of marking yourself out in a crowd. It’s an act of bravery that carries with it a real threat and therefore takes genuine courage that all but a small (but growing) number of people on the fringes of society have. He gave off the same refreshing energy I felt around my favourite club kids in New York, his creativity and potential flowed out of him. I immediately made it my business to find out more about him. As I got to know him I discovered a lively, friendly, witty but self-aware and courageous young artist who is willing to put himself on the line and challenge convention and call out social injustice. Since that first meeting I briefly have developed an admiring relationship with Aldrin and recently caught up with the ravishing muse for a one to one chat exclusively for Homoculture…
Who is Aldrin Manuel Canals?
I would say Aldrin is an ever-growing being. I don’t like to limit myself to think that I am just a human being. I believe that people can transcend from being ordinary through education, knowledge, and exposure to various experiences whether they’re good or bad.
In a conservative landscape such as Puerto Rico, what triggered you to use style and make-up as a form expression?
Since I was a little kid, I have been exposed to art in almost all its forms and platforms because of my mother. So the conservative way of thinking in my family was never a problem and I am very grateful for that.
It helped a lot for me to be strong when I deal with people like that today. What motivated me to use style, fashion, makeup and other platforms for my work, was the absence of imagery of the things that don’t necessarily need imagery such as feelings, states of minds, emotions, essences, sounds, and colours. It doesn’t stop there obviously, my goal is to create a whole sensory experience with my work adding sounds, videos, and other things.
As an art student, would you share one thing from your persona that we can’t see from your pictures? What would you like the viewer to take away from your them?
Profundity, essence and meaning; I would share that with everyone. My pictures have a lot more meaning than meets the eye. They have a whole research and thought behind them. They may be aesthetically pleasing but after all, I am an artist and I like to think that I have the responsibility to make work that has worth AND aesthetics.
You are currently a student in the Escuela de Artes Plбsticas y Diseсo (school of plastic arts and design) the only one of its kind on the island. What do you major in and how has this helped with the evolution of your looks?
My major is in Fashion Design and that major is directed towards the industrial aspect in the fashion industry. Doing my major has given me a whole new perspective of what to do with fashion. I see my major as a tool for my work more than what defines my whole career. What has helped me develop and evolve in my work is also the interest to work in a multi and interdisciplinary way. It has made me do extensive research in other areas that help me create imagery for things that don’t necessarily have and eventually a whole sensory experience.
Since you’re currently studying fashion design should we expect to see you transition into a designer? Who are your major influences?
I would never say never, but most probably not, because I am using my major as a tool, not as a definite career option. I have always been interested in science so my method for research in my artistic work is very scientific. I start with looking for a problem to solve, then I look for references to solve those problems, then I proceed to experiment with different options and eventually refine the results through practice. My influences would fall into the references category. Daphne Guinness, Ryan Burke and Alexander McQueen and the concept of the extraterrestrial have always been present but music, sounds, textures in fabric, unusual silhouettes in fashion, colour and sensory experiences will be something that influences me almost all the time.
I have a hard time labelling you as a club kid even though the nightlife inspirations are there since nightlife here is so different from the traditional club kid sitting across cities worldwide. Do you consider yourself a club kid?Â Have any local artist inspired your work and if so whom?
I don’t consider myself a club kid. As you stated, the influences are present and I am aware of what a club kid is. My work transcends the nightlife. I’ve been out on the street in the morning and afternoon with what you see in my pictures but definitely in the night too. The reason why I do this at daylight is completely political. I want to expose myself in the streets as what I feel. Opposing to what the majority of Puerto Rico views as normal and protesting with my external appearance provokes thoughts in people’s minds. Even in the queer community which to this day I feel like it’s still conservative in a negative way.
Yes! There’sFofe, Eduardo Alegria, Buscabulla, Rafael Caсals, Edwin Muсiz, my friends at college and various professors who really helped me dig deep into myself to help me understand why I do what I do. Who are your greatest inspirations and why?
My greatest inspirations are people who fight to be comfortable with themselves. Also, unconformities, I get the drive from them until I am satisfied and confirmed with the initial problem. If I am not confirmed with how my external image portrays how I am feeling inside, I’ll do whatever I possibly can to make the outsides match the insides.
At a time where the island is facing one of its most staggering social political breakdowns, what would you like to say to others in and out of the LGBTQ community that feels threatened to be themselves out in the open?
I would like to say to them that most of the LGBTQ+ community understands what it’s like to be threatened to be ourselves out in the open and that is not something to do easily. To take that step is to change your life for the better with yourself. It’s a heavyweight to have and eventually, when you become your true self you’ll feel way much better. Most of us are not privileged with an understanding surrounding so we should understand that it’s not something easy to do but for that exact same reason most of us are willing to support each other and be the family that you choose to have. Looooooooove.
Have you ever felt physically or emotionally threatened by just being yourself?
Yes! Not physically but emotionally and I can’t say is as equally as scaring as the physical threat at all because I haven’t been through that. I just wish strength, mentally & emotionally to everyone.
What is your favourite part of being in Puerto Rico right now?
My favourite part of being here right now is that I get to educate people who are interested in understanding the modern world and people who are new to this type of experiences. Also, that I get to support people in any type of struggle.
Where do you see yourself taking your body of work in the future?
I see myself providing a whole new platform to understand feelings, emotions, sounds, colours, and states of mind through my work. I hope someday people of all ages can connect with my work that way.
You can keep track of Aldrin by following his Instagram @drivenbyfashion