“If all the professionals leave the country, we are going to abandon a whole section of the youth that won’t have people to get [inspiration from.] It’s our responsibility to be here, present, creating new work, new projects to build the country in a positive way.”
The amount of abandoned buildings in Puerto Rico can be overwhelming. You can drive blocks without finding a single occupied home. But instead of being covered in a web of overgrown plants, local residents and artists have repurposed them with colorful murals. Sofia Maldonado, an artist from Puerto Rico, who until recently called NYC home, has gone one step further by having students collaborate with artists in re-modeling empty buildings into public art. In her latest exhibition, Cromatica: Caguas a Color, which runs in Caguas until September 12th, groups of artists work closely with students on numerous interactive projects stationed throughout the city.
I’ve been living in New York for about eight years and I have always had a relationship with Puerto Rico, like I’ll come here and do projects. But in past two years I have started working more with abstraction and I was looking more to have a studio practice but also have more a public art career and I need the space and Puerto Rico has always been spacious for me. I feel like it’s more of a workshop here, I feel I have more friends that film, work on wood, I have a lot of artist friends. And so any project that has a big production, I rather do it here first, document them and then sort of pitch the idea internationally or to the United States,
I found myself in Puerto Rico with this huge economic crisis where there were a lot of abandoned structures, people leaving, and whole towns that were empty. I wrote this first proposal, where I was looking for any building, any building where i could do this project- it was more of a solo project. And when I pitched the idea to José Hernández Castrodad we started looking for different spaces, I told him the way you can collaborate is by bringing different artists and connecting the project along with a University. He said we have good connections with a university, they have been wanting to do something with us. So, this piece, Kalaña, turned into the hub for the other pieces and we decided to create a project, which is how Cromática was built. So Cromática, includes this piece, the workshop and the other pieces from other artists,Omar Torres Calvo, Quintín [Rivera-Toro], Guillermo Rodríguez and Javier & Jaime Suárez. These artists, they collaborated with the students from the university, gave them different workshops and those workshops turned into the actual pieces. It turned from being a solo project into a bigger piece. This project got me thinking and linked me up to people doing interesting projects. That way I decided I should stay in Puerto Rico a bit longer.
Basically, I think Puerto Rico is living a difficult time, but if you see it from a different perspective it can be a very interesting time for the arts because there are possibilities. Another thing I say is, If all the professionals leave the country, we are going to abandon a whole section of the youth that won’t have people to get inspired [from] or leaders. We can’t abandon a whole generation. It’s our responsibility to be here, present, creating new work, new projects to build the country in a positive way.
The logistics for a project like this is a lot. First we have the private sector, that have donated to us the location, the paints, the matierials, the work force. Then I have two project managers, we have a PR team, we have a public agency where they do the flyers, etc. Then we have the government under different officials, then we have the artists, students and interns. I have been super lucky to have a really cool team, everyone respects each other. It’s really good communication. Otherwise, it would be super complex. This is a whole team effort. The idea of the project is also to bring people, I’m still kind of inviting people. It’s a project that definitely wants to socialize the idea of the arts. Especially in the island, especially with the colonial mentality we carry on. So, for me, it’s a deconstruction of our culture; like re-education, create a vocabulary, create a statement.
Definitely. I’m not sure if i consider myself a feminist but I’m feminist oriented-whatever that means. It’s interesting,because all of a sudden I built this project and I’m the woman in charge. Before, I had my assistant, Susana Cacho, I was pretty much by myself and I had to work with Jose from Benjamin Moore and I had for other artists to work with and I was this woman running this man’s show. In projects like this, if I have some sort of conflict, say authority or organizational conflict, I do recognize, Puerto Rico, our community, is very macho like any other community in the arts so I always talk very straight, like if there is a problem, or something doesn’t really work for me I say this and that. I maintain very clear communication so I don’t get run over. This project has taken a lot of our time and has taken a lot of logistics, so we have to be super organized in order for everyone to be taken care of, like the artists who have their assistants, and students and locations and we have a film or two. It has been a lot of directing, in a way its interesting because it empowers you from a different perspective.
I also noticed, from the government side its been all women. It’s been a team of women i’ve been working with. It’s interesting, I can say its been a whole female run project, with the collaboration of men, but definitely. It’s been all women. Even my PR team is women.
After this project, I have another commission with a foundation in Dorado called Arte fits, there I will continue this line of thought, invading spaces with paint. I also have a few ideas I will develop in conjunction with veda local which is a residency space here in Puerto Rico and they’re more open to conceptual and rethinking ideas. The next project I would love to do is a Skype conference with different artists, more international, that do work in public art but their careers are very well renowned. Since we don’t have actual funds to [bring them here] I want to pitch the idea to have an actual conference with really renowned public artists that can bring a different conversation that we don’t actually have in Puerto Rico.
But I do want them to bring that conversation to Puerto Rico, because we don’t have too many international artists in our daily based dialogue. The museums here don’t usually bring international artists, it’s really rare, thats something we definitely need for this generation of younger artists, or older artists to be synced in. That’s what helped me in NY, to meet and be exposed to different ways of thinking. Part of it, if I wouldn’t have done this project had I stayed in Puerto Rico forever. Even if you can’t travel outside of the Island , then I think it’s good to bring people [here] for those who cannot. I think it’s my responsibility to bring those sort of talks, those sort of dialogues.