Relocating Home: Sofia Maldonado in Conversation

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Nicole Rodríguez interviews Puerto Rican muralist Sofia Maldonado Sofia Maldonado for Art Slant. Here are just a few excerpts:

Sofia’s work has always been almost immediately recognizable as Caribbean—its undulating, entangled lines, bold graphic colors and vibrant portraits of local personalities are quickly identified by both Puerto Ricans and outsiders alike as steeped in this very specific culture. But for almost a decade now she had been living and working in New York City, with the occasional stint in Miami, L.A., or elsewhere abroad. Her trips home had been short and planned. Now, she’s returned for an indeterminate amount of time, set up a local studio, and started teaching at La Escuela de Artes Plásticas in San Juan.

Six months after beginning the conversation we picked up the topic again remotely while she was traveling in L.A. Having re-settled the artist talked about her anxieties about “returning home”—and her evolving notion of what it means to be local. [. . .]

NR: What has been people’s reaction to you returning and beginning to work in San Juan again?

SM: When you are living and working between two places, people always expect you to pick up and leave soon. You get a lot of “When are you leaving?” questions. I guess you just have to make it official like I did through Instagram. [Laughs]

NR: As a Puerto Rican—particularly a traveling artist and cultural producer—one is always caught startling lines, being a semi-local, only half involved in a conversation. How would you define local? What has that come to mean for you?

SM: It’s complex. We live on an island and are a colony, so we have this very strange colonial mentality. We are American but not. We are Puerto Rican but not. From my perspective as an artist there are many ways of being a local. There is the localization, sure, but it is entirely different to have a local mentality.

[. . .] NR: Do you think there is room for this conversation in Puerto Rico?

SM: Artists like Juni [Figueroa], Chemi [Rosado], Bubu [Negrón] or myself—artists that are traveling all the time—often feel like they are not part of the local schema because the community might no longer understand where you are trying to go. So all of a sudden you don’t have space in your own country because institutions and patrons want to cater to just what’s happening there. This is an education problem. People seem comfortable with only a certain type of artwork and set of topics. Additionally, there aren’t many spaces to exhibit; there are only maybe two galleries that have an actual international dialogue and if you are none of those then you have to escape. And make your own path.

[. . .] NR: What is needed in order to make your own path?

SM: We need creatives with different mentalities. After six months I can say that I feel pretty comfortable and engaged in what’s happening on the island. Though I’m not rooted to the local discussion like I once was, I’m creating my own space. I think that’s important. And in the end that’s the nice thing about Puerto Rico. You have that possibility. So for the moment I’m creating projects, documenting, all with the idea of having it exported. I’m looking into giving a course at the University of Puerto Rico with a cycle of international conferences about the “public” and the “ephemeral”—a conversation that still does not exist here. I’m also pitching for a project in Caguas—actually I have a meeting with the Caguas city major coming up. My plan is to take an abandoned building before it gets remodeled and do a painting and installation project alongside a series of workshops touching on themes of the local economy and how prevalent abandoned buildings are on the island. This will be sometime this summer.

Puerto Rico is a studio for me—a project generator. So for now: to be continued. Let’s just wait and see.

For full interview, see http://www.artslant.com/la/articles/show/42939

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