Monday, March 15, 2010

Sofia Maldonado's Times Square Mural Under Fire

Raquel Rivera sent me this video about the current controversy surrounding Sofia Maldonado's new mural on 42nd Street.  The Times Square Alliance is now dealing with calls to take the mural down because it "degrades" women of color by depicting them as "ghetto."  

The most striking thing to me about the video and article was the conflation of working-class/poor women of color with "prostitutes."  That people were able to argue that these women with their "long finger nails" were sex workers of Times Square's heyday was really complicated and problematic.  It speaks volumes about the degree to which Times Square is not a space for "certain types" of  New Yorkers, but rather a sanitized Disney version of New York City.  In that respect I appreciate Maldonado's claim that her mural makes visitors confront an image of NYC that they much rather ignore.  Maldonado said this about the mural:

“The mural illustrates strong New York City women as a tribute to the Caribbean experience in America. Inspired by my heritage, it illustrates a female aesthetic that is not usually represented in media or fashion advertising in Times Square. It recognizes the beauty of underground cultures such as reggaeton, hip-hop and dancehall and incorporates trends such as nail art and Latina fashion. Green organic forms represent the imaginary land that third generation immigrants create in their minds about their countries of origin. I represent the characters and happenings that tourists usually do not see in Times Square, even though it could be a frequent scene in the other boroughs of New York City. These women are strong single mothers or wives who enjoy life and have overcome tough experiences living in and immigrating from a third world country.”
Me personally, I rather look at this than a mural of a bunch of Latinas in business suits holding cell phones and briefcases.  

*image from Times Square Arts


M a r i s a said...

Your insights are spot on Marisol. I definitely recognized the classism going on here.

UNDOdigital said...

I don't understand why such a fuss.

Sofia did a great job here. Art should be appreciated, discussed and analyzed.

Much respect and admiration to Sofia's work.

Anonymous said...

Really? let me tell you something. This is not really about artists being misinterpreted by society. It's the other way around. This is about artists underestimating the general public and assuming they know what the public wants and lacks.

Sofia Maldonado is still a kid from Puerto Rico, with no real social knowledge and street savvy, much less the cred to establish such a claim as this mural does.

She wasn't born in NY, neither is she from the Bronx, nor has she spent time enough there to actually study its reality. She's not connected to the contemporary reality of the ghetto woman in actuality. Neither she has been responsible enough to do research. She has painted with a lot of graffiti writers and crews for the past 8 years in the island of Puerto Rico. Even thought this is the truth she has put down the name graffiti writer, even finding it insulting to be called that, while most of her recent techniques were borrowed from that world and obvious Dr. Seuss styled lines and color palettes. She does have formal artistic education in places like, The Central High School of Visual Arts, The Plastic Art School in Old San Juan and Pratt. This does not entitle her not to do research on the topics of her choosing, it actually obligates her to be more than responsible with them.

Puerto Rico's reality is not that of their counterparts in NY and the whole US. This is just a way of using art for arts sake and using the community to excuse and protect her art as misinterpreted. She has talent, a lot, that we know for sure. She has the technique and the know how. But she lacks, maturity, experience and the ability to respond to the deeper world of art as a concept to be taken to the masses. Much more, she lacks the patience to study her surroundings and thus is unable to bring to light what she aspires to display and represent.

Kristina Newman-Scott said...

Last summer, I had the pleasure of working with Sofia Maldonado as part of Real Public, four public art projects commissioned by Real Art Ways in Hartford, Connecticut. Sofia created a mural on the façade of the Pelican Tattoo building in the Frog Hollow neighborhood titled Hey Shorty! Tu tienes novio? (Do you have a boyfriend?). The mural’s intent was to portray the rural and floral landscapes of Puerto Rico and Latin America while celebrating the diversity of the women in the community. She thought of this project as a way to revive the female attitude towards life, youth, motherhood, and community recreation.

Frog Hollow is a predominantly Puerto Rican neighborhood. Before creating her mural, Sofia spent over a month in the community meeting with residents and local business people. She invited women from the Lily Nail Salon to adorn the exaggerated nails on her wooden cutouts before they were installed on the Pelican Tattoo building. There was such excitement about her project in the community. Many of the residents and business owners would come outside to watch her as she worked. Her work truly exemplified community spirit. Within this community, the mural’s depiction of women was a non-issue.

In a place like New York City where diversity is celebrated for Sofia’s mural to evoke such a negative response is surprising and disappointing. Sofia’s work is not limited by mainstream expectations of positive representations of women, but instead reaches deep into communities to find strong women who DON’T conform to those stereotypes.

I commend the Times Square Alliance for their support of Sofia’s work. Organizations such as these ensure that artists can stay true to their intentions and express their ideas in unexpected, sometimes controversial ways.

guavaflower said...

Sofia..please ignore what the naysayers say...This is an amazing Latina narrative as seen from your very talented point of view. Ignore the PC police and do what come from your heart!