For her exhibition Graft at ICA San Diego, artist Edra Soto (b.1971, Puerto Rico; lives and works in Chicago, IL) continues to create the site-specific installations that have defined this project since 2012. Using a range of materials from aluminum and PVC, to concrete and wood, Soto generates a sculptural language to express her experience navigating the Puerto Rican diaspora. For more than a decade, she has transposed two common and beloved elements of Puerto Rican residential architecture into foreign environments: the geometrically-patterned rejas (wrought-iron gates) and quiebrasoles (decorative concrete breeze blocks) that surround many of the island’s homes. This reconstruction of such distinctly Puerto Rican structures in faraway places offers a poetic meditation on national identity, displacement, and belonging.
In 2018, Soto began to incorporate viewfinders with snapshots of life on the island into the gaps within the Grafts, inviting visitors to peek through the patterned structures. What seems initially to be a voyeuristic gesture akin to peering through a neighbor’s fence becomes more abstract as Soto’s images come into focus. Rather than an intimate revelation of the private sphere to a public audience, Soto’s photographs bring everyday images of Puerto Rican life–from the mundane to the catastrophic–to audiences with otherwise limited access to such information. Through this combination of sculpture and photography, Soto reimagines national and cultural identity at a distance that is both spatial and temporal.
For her presentation at ICA San Diego, Soto will reconfigure a series of Graft works, altering colors, surface textures, and the photographic components to create a new installation. Prompted by the ICA’s season-long investigation of consumption in all forms, Soto’s San Diego presentation considers her Grafts as an alternative cultural symbol for Puerto Rico and Puerto Rican identity both on the island and in the tourist trade. In place of the ubiquitous imagery of Spanish castles, fortresses, and watchtowers (garitas)–emblems of colonial power that appear on everything from restaurant menus to airport seat cushions, Soto proposes her Grafts as a new kind of marker for the nation. These familiar forms, whose influences include often-overlooked West African design traditions, reflect Puerto Rico’s diversity and offer a counter to the inequitable narrative embedded in representations of colonial domination. They are instead authentic signifiers of home.
MEET THE ARTIST
In residence March 4 – 19 and April 29 – May 21.
During Meet the Artist hours, the public is invited to speak with Edra Soto and contribute to an upcoming project. While in residence at the ICA San Diego, Soto will be crafting a fabric and metal flag out of four-pointed aluminum stars. This project, an expanded version of Soto’s 2021 work, Tropicalamerica 21, takinges inspiration from the all-black Puerto Rican flag, which has become a symbol of Puerto Rican independence, resistance to colonialism, and civil disobedience since 2016. Soto invites the community to join her in the construction of this flag, and will teach visitors how to make the four-pointed aluminum stars.
MEET THE ARTIST HOURS
Saturday and Sunday 3:00 pm -5:00 pm
March 4,5,11,12, Sunday 19.
April 29, 30.
May 6,7,13,14, 20 and 21.
Edra Soto is a Puerto-Rican born artist, curator, educator, and co-director of the outdoor project space, The Franklin. Soto has exhibited extensively at venues including El Museo del Barrio, NY; Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art’s satellite, The Momentary, AK; Museum of Contemporary Art of Chicago, IL; Smart Museum, IL; the Abrons Arts Center, NY and the Whitney Museum of American Art, NY. Soto’s large-scale public art commission titled “Screenhouse”, is currently on view at Millennium Park in Chicago. The artist has attended residency programs at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, ME, Beta-Local, PR, the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation Residency, FL, Headlands Center for the Arts, NY, Project Row Houses, TX and Art Omi, NY, among others. Soto has been awarded the Efroymson Contemporary Arts Fellowship, the Illinois Arts Council Agency Fellowship, the inaugural Foundwork Artist Prize and the Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters & Sculptors Grant, among others. Between 2019-2020, Soto exhibited and traveled to Brazil, Puerto Rico, and Cuba as part of the MacArthur Foundation’s International Connections Fund. Soto holds an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a bachelor’s degree from Escuela de Artes Plásticas y Diseño de Puerto Rico. The artist lives and works in Chicago.
*Edra Soto, Graft, 2019. Courtesy of the artist. Photograph by Michael Tropea | Portrait photo by Chi Essary photo by Diana Solis.