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, and libraries like La Casita Books and Gifts in Aguadilla 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.
Sofia Maldonado is a visual artist mainly focused on mural painting, canvas and small drawings. Her last project, FEMTRAP, also included performances.
What got you into the visual arts?
During my high school years, hip hop culture got me started into creating murals. The streets and dilapidated buildings of Santurce, Puerto Rico, where my high school was, opened a new world of possibilities. Then in 2008, I obtained an MFA from Pratt Institute, NY. That’s where the true hustle started and my immersions into public art grew. I had the opportunity to exhibit at international art shows, museums and art fairs.
How did you develop your style?
My style has gone through many changes, but the core idea remains the same: “Create art that people can interact with.” Many of my public art pieces are in a way “interactive.” The observer can step in or step on it. For example, painting a mural in an abandoned pool that became a skaters’ haven. They are interventions using color & abstraction.
How has it evolved through the years?
Tons! Back in the days I used to paint female characters that represented women in different stages of life. These controversial figures were considered my “tag.” Although, my artwork had moved away from the figurative painting, this past year I revisited this theme in a specific project called @femtrap. In these performances some of these characters came to life as I explored other aspects of femininity. Today, however, my murals are mostly abstract, and I use an airless sprayer to blend the colors. The projects are conceptualized much differently: “I use color as a signifier of abandonment, rather that a beautifying agent.”
What are some of your influences and inspirations?
Lately, life! The more you center yourself, meditate and calm the mind the more purpose you find through your art. New directions start to guide you, if it sounds too spiritual blame it on Albuquerque’s vortex! jaja!
Is there any other form of art you wish to pursue? If so, what field and why?
Film & performance, or at least that was my initial intention with FEMTRAP.
I saw your project FEMTRAP. What is the purpose of the project? How did it come about? Who are some of the artists involved in it?
My curiosity for female trap lead to FEMTRAP, which started as a series of drawings focused on Hispanic female rap singers. Eventually, it turned into a multi-layer project with live performances, musical & media collaborations. It felt as if I had brought to life the “girls” I used to draw back in my graffiti days. It was a challenging project that pushed me to perform on stage! I took on the personality of one of the “girls”. It was a unique experience, indeed.
The main idea was to create a multimedia project with video & photo documentation, but there were some bumps along the way, so a few ideas were placed on hold. Last year was crucial to understand the complexity of the project’s conceptual elasticity.
FEMTRAP continues under construction. It had its formal presentation in MECA (@mecaartfair) and it keeps an active presence on Instagram (@femtrap) where we give credit to all our collaborators. More is yet to come, like a feature with Fortune Skateboards.
What do you think about the current state of the arts in Puerto Rico?
I haven’t been that immersed in the local art scene lately, due to teaching & traveling, but I’ve participated in various projects with Arte Fits Foundation, REM Projects, MAPR, El Local and other alternative spaces. There are many amazing projects post-Maria that are taking place around the island. Puerto Rican artists are very productive so it would be nice to see more collectors and private investments in the arts. This would help advance the Puerto Rican art scene further.
What do you think about the current state of the independent scene in Puerto Rico?
I can speak from my own experience. In Puerto Rico, we talk of “before and after Maria.” In mid-2016 Nicole Rodriguez and I opened Hielo Air (@hieloair), an art residency. It was taking off well. In 2017, Maria struck the island and, even though we had to cope with a long economic interruption -no electricity, no water-, we decided to continue our year’s agenda. That year we managed to host various local and international artists. However, alone and with no financial aid from local institutions, we have decided to close. After our last artist leaves this month, we will be closing operations. I honestly admire all those D.I.Y. art spaces in P.R. – they run out of love for the arts! The same goes for Open Studio, another space I had two years ago in Paseo Caribe, where we featured mostly art school students’ shows. As an independent artist, I have tried in my projects (Hielo A.I.R, Open Studio, Kalaña and Femtrap), to bring artists together and to develop a spirit of mutual help and collaboration.
If a young girl came up to you and said she wanted to be an artist, what would be your advice for her?
Just do it! Focus on your ideas, write them down, engage with artists you admire, travel, network and conceptualize the thematics you desire – as crazy as they may feel!
What is your biggest goal right now?
I enjoy my studio & mural practice. In early 2017, I was a full time professor at UPRM but the following semester I decided to trust my gut and work 100% on my art – so far, so good! Since then, I’ve developed various art commissions for design firms and participated in two mural festivals: Mural Fest, (NM), and Beyond Walls, (MA). Ideally, my goal is to keep traveling and working internationally. The desert is calling, new opportunities in L.A are lining up too! One other very important goal is developing a more sustainable practice, using less toxic paint and materials.
What do you seek to achieve with work?
My color abstraction murals have a nature of their own. Each one is unique in its kind. They bring up conversation. My work leads to “peace of mind.” Work, to me, means opening new doors to adventures, meeting new artists & friends, allowing me to go on road trips to explore, take color notes and draw inspiration from amazing landscapes. I trust and enjoy the process! The results never cease to amaze me!
All of the pictures in this article were provided by Sofia Maldonado