Puerto Rican Women Killing It in the Independent Art Scene: Imalay Arroyo Surita of Bandolera Clothing



With the internet being so easy to access, it has become easier for independent artists to find an audience and let their work be known. As a result, a variety of movements, collectives, and scenes have found a way to pave their path. The independent art scene in Puerto Rico is no different. Recently, many artists from a variety of disciplines have found platforms that have made it easier for them to share their work. In addition, small businesses such as Electroshock in Santurce and Rio Piedras, bars like Off The Wall in Mayaguez, book stores like La Casita Books and Gifts in Aguadilla, Libros AC in Santurce and Libros 787 online, and independent festivals like Feria de Libros Independientes y Alternativos and Tintero: Festival de Cómics y Arte Independiente de Puerto Rico have provided up-and-coming artists a space to display their talents. “Puerto Rican Women Killing It in the Independent Art Scene” is a series of  interviews that provides a glimpse at some of the women who have recently gained recognition in the art scene. Though the artists are asked similar questions, some are asked queries surrounding their work, specifically.

Imalay Arroyo Surita creates exclusive clothing and jewelry under her brand Bandolera Clothing.

What got you into clothing?

Since I was a little girl, I saw the power clothing had regarding one’s emotions, attitude towards confronting certain things and others’ perspective. Clothing for me has always been a beautiful costume for each day.  It is a form of expression and living, and that’s why I always looked at it from a different point of view and wouldn’t conform with what I would in every store. I would dream about hidden mini-boutiques where I could find unique pieces. I didn’t want the same costume for each party. I would fill my notebooks with surf magazines, girls in swimsuits and scandalous clothing. I always thought about creating. In high school they ask you the big question about what you want to do when you grow up and I would always reply with three answers: designer, architect and farmer. At the end of my thoughts, due to society’s standards I would think “study something that’s more secure.” So it wasn’t until one day where I had the courage to pick up some cloth and my grandmother’s sewing machine where I made a top to go out that I decided to do this.

What got you into jewelry?

I’ve been a fan of earrings and rings since I was a kid. They looked like things pirates and damsels would wear in colonial times. They seemed magical and filled with history. After starting my clothing line and seeing how it was being loved, I took the step towards earrings. However, I’m still developing jewelry. For now, these have been my first few steps of what I hope becomes magical pieces that last from generation to generation.

How did you develop your style?

Before learning to sew, I drew and painted a lot. I was one of those kids who pressed the crayon a lot and picked the brightest colors eventually getting out of the lines. Before creating and finding out one has a style, said style is already inside one. Thus, without thinking much of style Bandolera emerges along with its colorful stamping which I mix with others that people might not find fitting.  This is where name of the line comes from. Many people never play when it comes to the way they dress and they end up going with what’s safe and acceptable. Bandolera tries to be restless by choosing different colors and stamping when one wants to go out. My style is also complemented by my surroundings. I watch a lot of nature documentaries. I’m an island girl and I know clothing can serve as a form of expression, always remembering that it’s important. Let’s make fruits popular in this McDonald’s-filled world.

How has it evolved through the years?

Bandolera has only existed for a year and some months. It turns two in the summer. Truthfully, I can’t say much, but as a few fun facts, I haven’t taken classes to do anything that I’m doing; not even YouTube videos. I’ve learned due to being fearless and a dreamer all my life. I believe in what I do and am very passionate about it and the arts as a whole.

What are some of your influences and inspirations?

As mentioned previously, nature and all its forms, colors, textures, and melodies. Another big influence comes from my love for Brazil, Spain and where I live. The spirit those places exhume, the open clothing, the embracing heat and that sensuality of doing everything. Last but not least, movies, models and songs also inspire me.

Is there any other form of art you wish to pursue? If so, what field and why?

If it was for me, I’d learn everything related and non-related to art. Art enriches us. However, if I were choose a specific one it would be architecture. I would love to create spaces where people would eventually get together and create their lives. Locations are important parts of what makes us individuals and a society, just look at the pyramids.

What do you think about the current state of the arts in Puerto Rico?

I’m very happy with it. Right now, Puerto Rico has a bug movement promoting and supporting local work. It is still in its baby steps and I believe it is part of a bigger revolution in all its forms. On another note, I think there should be a redefinition of what qualifies as an artisan and what doesn’t. The government should also look at the spaces used for the creation and presentation of art because some are being used incorrectly and others aren’t even being used.

What do you think about the current state of the independent scene in Puerto Rico?

It is marvelous. I hope it continues to grow and that new generations are pure art, promoting local work and such. Let there be more of us and less of those who oppress us.

If a young girl came up to you and said she wanted to be an artist, what would be your advice for her?

Let your priority be your happiness. Listen to your internal voice. The life of an artist is a lot more and happy and beautiful. You can be your own boss, have control over what you produce, promote a more sensitive society and with each piece you will send a message that can live off art and that’s worth as much as any other job.

What is your biggest goal right now?

My biggest goal is to graduate from sociology and study fashion.

What do you seek to achieve with work?

Change the world.

All of the pictures in this article were provided by Imalay Arroyo Surita